Spice it Up!

According to a group of family caregivers surveyed in a Harris Interactive poll conducted for Home Instead Senior Care, nearly 44 percent help their loved ones cook, while 59 percent assist with grocery shopping...

Food Network Star Rachael Ray and Home Instead Senior Care Say that Cooking for Older Adults Shouldn’t be Boring

According to Rachael Ray, host of the hit cooking show 30-Minute Meals, toning down the flavor in seniors’ food is not only unnecessary, but undesirable.

“There’s no excuse for making food dull, lifeless and boring,” Ray said.  “Seniors want good flavor.  Cook to impress; cook to be excited, or, at the very least, cook to share.”

Ray says that while adult children often assume their senior loved ones need bland food for their digestive health, foods from these older adults’ earlier years actually can offer many important benefits.

“Food helps seniors reconnect with the past,” Ray said.  “As its nostalgia factor ties all of us to where we’re from, it can be a wonderful tool for seniors who have trouble with short-term memory loss, dementia and other illnesses that remove them from the world.”

Food also allows seniors to “travel” via no more than a trip to the grocery store.  Whether your senior is from Russia, Germany, France, Ireland – wherever – serving food native to those places can take them back to things that help make them feel good, whole, happy and excited about living.

Ray, who was raised in a multi-generational Sicilian restaurant family, said she was lucky to share food with many generations.  “There’s something really intimate about many generations sharing delicious food together,” she said.

According to a group of family caregivers surveyed in a Harris Interactive poll conducted for Home Instead Senior Care, nearly 44 percent help their loved ones cook, while 59 percent assist with grocery shopping.  Home Instead Senior Care often steps in to assist with meal preparation when family caregivers can’t.

“We know from experience that seniors like their mealtimes to be interesting – and not just for the food, but also for the setting, companionship and conversation,” said Paul Hogan, CEO of Home Instead Senior Care.

Ray and Hogan agree on the importance of involving seniors in meal preparations as much as possible.

“Our CAREGivers really get to know their clients’ preferences, and often help them prepare their favorite recipes,” Hogan said.

While having help in the kitchen can definitely influence whether or not a senior eats well, Ray advises caregivers to make meal planning and preparation a shared activity whenever possible.

“Even if they can’t help you with any of the preparations, try to have them in the room with you when you’re cooking,” she said.  “Talk to them – let them smell and feel the food as it happens.  It’s a visceral experience that involves all the senses and makes seniors feel whole.  Really good food doesn’t just fill you up – it makes you feel alive.”
Four Quick and Easy Ways to Achieve Senior Meal Success

“A little creativity goes a long way toward improving on the flavor of seniors’ food while staying within their dietary guidelines,” said Ray, who advocates moderation rather than denial.  She recommends the following ways to enhance your seniors’ diets without compromising their health:

  • Add low-sodium, no-salt stock to a sauce to make it taste like it has been simmering all day.  Likewise, cook rice in chicken or vegetable stock rather than water, and replace cream with stock when making mashed potatoes for a flavorful, low-fat alternative.
  • Fresh herbs are a no-fat addition, and readily available in grocery stores to brighten the flavor of salads, dressing and sauces.
  • Purchase better cuts of meat for better flavor and less fat.  “Seniors shouldn’t sacrifice quality, even if they’re on a budget,” Ray said.  She also warns against buying fatty instead of lean, healthy meats to save pennies, because in the end you won’t – you’ll have to trim.  And the amount of waste, balanced against lean, clean meat evens out the expense.  In the long run, a small amount of lean protein is better than a larger amount of fatty protein.
  • Stock up on fresh meats and vegetables when they are on sale, then divide and freeze them.  “Prepared foods aren’t good for seniors because they can’t control the amount of salts, fats and additives in them,” Ray said.  “Seniors should instead invest in raw foods they can fully cook – which will taste better to them, as well.”
Three 30-Minute Meals Recipes for Seniors!

To spice up a senior’s culinary life, Ray recommends the following:

Double-Dipped Spicy Chicken

Vegetable oil, for frying
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 cup buttermilk
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 pound chicken breast tenderloins
Salt and pepper

Heat 1 1/2 inches vegetable oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat. A cube of bread should brown in a 40 count when oil is ready. Set out three disposable pie tins. Mix flour with paprika, poultry seasoning, cayenne and allspice. Divide seasoned flour between two tins.  Pour buttermilk into a tin.   Line up tins as such: flour, buttermilk and then flour. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Coat chicken in flour, then buttermilk, then a second coating of flour. Cook chicken 6 minutes on each side, until deep golden brown and firm. Drain chicken on paper bags and cool before packing up for picnic basket.

Yield:  4 servings

Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad with Maple Dressing

1 (10-ounce) bag baby spinach
1/3 pound blue cheese, crumbled
1 (6-ounce) can walnut halves, toasted
1/4 cup maple syrup, warmed
1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Place spinach on a large platter. Top with blue cheese and walnuts. Warm maple syrup in a small saucepan. Pour vinegar into a small bowl. Whisk oil into vinegar in a slow stream. Whisk maple syrup into dressing in a slow stream. Pour dressing down over the salad platter and serve. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Yield:  4 servings

Chocolate-Dipped Bananas

4 bananas
8 Popsicle sticks
3 cups good-quality chocolate bar
3 tablespoons butter, cut up


  • Chopped nuts
  • Toasted coconut
  • Cookie crumbles
  •  Colored sprinkles or chocolate jimmies
  • Mini chocolate candies or mini semi sweet chips
  • Granola

Peel and cut the bananas in half crosswise, so that you have 8 pieces. Place peeled bananas on sticks. Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper. Place bananas on cookie sheet in the freezer, keeping them there as long as possible – at least 10 minutes. Heat chocolate bits with butter in a double boiler over low heat until the melted chocolate and the butter are incorporated. Dip the chilled bananas in chocolate and roll with your favorite topping. Chill or freeze until ready to serve. If frozen, allow time to thaw so that bananas soften before serving.

Yield: 8 chocolate-dipped bananas


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