Thanksgiving can be an excellent time for seniors to catch up with their extended family—but the holiday can come with extra challenges for them as well. A little preparation and planning can ensure this Thanksgiving is safe, accessible and fun for all your older loved ones.
Dietary restrictions can affect any generation, but increased health conditions with aging mean a higher likelihood that seniors will need to be cautious about their sodium and sugar intake. Offering a variety of different foods is an important part of meeting those restrictions, as Jen Hernandez, RDN, CSR, LDN, explained:
“Most people don’t get enough fiber, but it’s very important for many reasons. Fiber has been shown to help both blood pressure and blood sugars. It’s naturally found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes. Green beans, collard greens, even mashed potatoes have fiber.”
Some tips for preparing senior-friendly meals:
- Replace half the sugar in baked goods with a natural sweetener like stevia or monk fruit.
- Make stuffing from whole grain bread, and go extra heavy on the veggies.
- Use almond flour for pie crusts to cut carbs and increase protein.
- Skip the canned cranberries and whip up a sugar-free version instead.
- Try cutting half the salt from your regular recipes.
- Offer salt alternatives if approved by your loved one’s physician.
- Use plenty of herbs and spices to increase flavor without sodium.
Include seniors in meal prep
It’s easy for the elderly to feel left out during the hustle and bustle of the holiday. They may remember when they were able to cook the entire feast on their own or how they used to carve the turkey with pride. Of course, just because they might not be able to do these things anymore doesn’t mean they should be relegated to the couch. Depending on their abilities, there are many ways to include seniors in preparing the holiday meal:
- Sharing a lifetime’s worth of cooking tips, tricks and secrets
- Mixing and stirring batters and sauces
- Preparing salads with pre-chopped ingredients
- Rolling out pie dough
- Decorating cookies
- Arranging veggie platters or charcuterie boards
- Assembling deviled eggs and other finger foods
- Setting the table
While the meal is the main attraction, there are plenty of social activities that can also engage each generation before and after eating. Crafts are one great way to bring everyone together, and decorating pumpkins is an excellent option: Gather paint, glue, glitter, ribbon, buttons, feathers or whatever else is available and give everyone a miniature pumpkin to decorate. Another fun idea is mixing the tradition of everyone naming one thing for which they’re thankful with a craft project such as a gratitude tree.
Games with gratitude can be another great way to engage thankfulness as a family. Cut out slips of paper, ask everyone to write what they’re grateful for, and throw the slips in a hat. Read one slip at a time, and take turns guessing who the gratitude belongs to.
Another fun option is a family sing-along. Ask that musical person in your family to bring along a guitar or other musical instrument, or just throw on some tunes and enjoy the camaraderie.
Many families enjoy storytelling already, and this can be a great way to include older generations. Seniors often enjoy recounting tales from their youth, which can help them feel valued and included, or just make up a story as a group. Have grandpa or grandma start the story, then allow each family member to take a turn adding a line or two.
If your Thanksgiving celebrations include traveling, take a few extra steps to make sure the senior in your life is comfortable. Plan ahead and make sure all accommodations will be accessible—whether this is a hotel or another relative’s home. Make sure the space, including bathrooms, can be navigated with whatever mobility devices your loved one requires.
When driving to your destination, ensure your loved one’s comfort:
- Provide blankets and pillows.
- Keep them hydrated.
- Be sure to stop for breaks to prevent deep vein thrombosis.
- Have all medications on hand.
- Offer low-sodium snacks.
Among ongoing COVID-19 infections, surging influenza and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) (and now a hybrid flu-RSV virus), protecting your elderly loved one from germs will be a big concern this holiday season. Start by improving the air quality where the gathering will be hosted. Place HEPA filters in each room, crack open windows (even if it means blasting the heat for a day) and use exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom.
Consider asking family members to practice disease mitigation for the weeks prior to the gathering, if they don’t already. Naturally, anyone with symptoms of the flu, RSV, COVID-19 or even a minor cold should stay home. That doesn’t mean they have to be left out of the celebration completely, of course; have them join via a digital option like Zoom. And if they’re local, a doorstep delivery of turkey with all the fixings should definitely help them feel better.
Lastly, ensure that leftovers are put away within two hours and that all hot foods are properly cooled. By doing so, you can safely enjoy those leftovers the rest of the weekend. After all, there are plenty of great recipes to make the most of what’s left of that holiday bird.
Creating a senior-friendly Thanksgiving will benefit members of the whole family—and it doesn’t have to be difficult! Plan ahead and enlist the help of other members to make it go smoothly. And don’t be afraid to hire a little extra assistance if it will help your loved one enjoy themselves, as Larry Meigs, CEO of Visiting Angels, explains:
“Professional elderly care can be a big help over the holidays. As elderly care providers, it’s important to us that your family – and your loved one –are able to get the most out of your Thanksgiving.”