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Thursday, September 12, 2024

How to Plan Holiday Meals for Older Adults With Dietary Restrictions

This holiday season, what food are you most looking forward to? Maybe a tender ham, a sweet slice of pie with ice cream, or even a cocktail or two?

If this sounds similar to the menu for your holiday meals, you aren’t alone. Unfortunately, for many older adults who are on doctor’s orders to follow strict dietary restrictions, these holiday meals leave little to get excited about.

Luckily, with a bit of planning, everyone can enjoy a tasty holiday meal – no matter the dietary restrictions. The importance of accommodating individuals with dietary restrictions isn’t just a matter of physical health, either: John Gould, Director of Food Services at Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services, explained, “personalizing meals to fit the dietary needs of each individual not only helps them to maintain or improve their health, but also allows them to feel included and look forward to meals.”

If you will be cooking for someone this holiday season that has a restricted diet, the following tips will help you prepare a meal that everyone can enjoy.

1. Get clarity on what they can and cannot eat

Friends and family members often misunderstand the dietary restrictions of their loved ones. Before you begin meal-planning, talk to the people you will be cooking for about what they can and cannot eat. You may be surprised to find out what their restrictions truly entail. This is also a great time to get input about what dishes they would love to have – helping you take the guesswork out of what to cook.

2. Look for inspiration online

Your loved one isn’t the first to require a special diet. Luckily, there are many places on the Internet that can offer delicious and diet-abiding recipes. Websites like Pinterest, All Recipes, and Recipe Key make it easy to search for dishes that will meet the needs of your loved ones.

3. Use a buffet-style serving system to make the meal inclusive for all guests

Many holiday dishes can meet an older adult’s dietary needs if each person is able to pick and choose the toppings for their food. That’s why having a buffet style serving system, where each person can choose their own sauces, toppings and other “extras” for a dish, works well. Not only do all guests get to customize their dish to their preferences, but your guests with limited diets won’t feel like they’ve caused anyone to go out of their way to cook food they can eat.

4. Save the labels for the ingredients you use

Individuals with dietary restrictions often have a good eye for reading food labels. They know that many foods have ingredients you’d never suspect or have high levels of nutrients such as sodium, sugar, or cholesterol. While you’ll likely be tempted to throw out your food packaging as your cooking, we recommend keeping the labels around in case your loved one wants to double check that the food complies with their diet.

5. Substitute ingredients

Some foods can easily be made diet-friendly by simply swapping out specific ingredients. For example, heart-healthy olive oil can replace butter, almond flour can replace white flour, and soy milk can replace regular dairy milk.  Often times, these types of substitutions won’t drastically change the taste of your dish! Not all substitutions will be used in the same quantity as the ingredient it replaces, so be sure to research the ingredients you are swapping in prior to cooking.

Will you be cooking for someone with dietary restrictions this holiday season? What is your go-to, recipe for restricted diets? Let us know in the comments!


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