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Starting the Dialogue with your Aging Parents: Questions About Food Choices

March 25, 2013

As adult children of aging parents it is imperative that we talk with our parents about their choices in life as they advance in age and face end-of-life decisions. It’s not an easy prospect to step into these discussions.  If it was I probably wouldn’t need to blog about it, write a book, or give seminars.

My entire purpose in writing this blog is to give you ideas so that starting those discussions in easier. I’ve talked in the past about various approaches to take, given you ideas on certain topics, and recently I’ve been posing questions. I don’t have a magic wand or a crystal ball which tells me the best questions to ask or how to ask them. What I do instead is pose the questions to you and hope that you take them and integrate their viability into your individual scenarios with your parents or elderly clients.

Today’s topic hit me when I ran out to grab some milk for my breakfast. I try to eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise. As a nurse I know how important these two topics can be to my overall health.  In turn, my overall health will have profound effects on how I age and experience my later years It’s the same for you and your aging parents.

As I walked through the grocery store I actually felt a strong feeling of revulsion. At the end of the first aisle was a display of energy drinks. These are known to cause changes in brain function and have been implicated in strokes or cerebral events in young people who drink them like soda pop. You can check this out online and see the list of cases for yourself. These particular drinks were being sold by the case in a special sale this morning.

The next aisle had a display of candy. Don’t get me wrong, I love candy. But this display was all licorice and gummy candies–not a chocolate on the display. Have you ever read the ingredients in licorice or seen how it is made.? Look it up. There is cartilage and other animal parts incorporated into the licorice rope. There is also plastic. Think I’m kidding, look up the ingredients and find out what those chemical names are all about.

The third aisle had cans of frosting advertised at a discount rate. Lots of sugar, but that’s the least of the worries. Check out all the chemicals included. Have you ever wondered why they charge the same for the “light and fluffy” frosting in a can? Do you know what makes it light and fluffy? Air! They mix in air to fill the can and you pay the same price as the non-light and fluffy kind. Sugar and air, but that’s not all. The list of chemicals and preservatives is amazing (and scary).

Ok, I’m supposed to be giving you questions to get the dialogue started so I’ll get off my soap box. I’m not a health freak, or someone who is going to tell you all the things you need to do to change your diet. Instead, I’d like you to stop and think about the benefits of the food you put in your mouth and also the benefits of the food your parents eat. Here we go with some questions and possible scenarios:

  • “Hi Mom, I thought I’d like to invite you and dad over for dinner tonight. What’s your favorite vegetable?  Oh, you like sweet potatoes that’s great I have some in the bin. Do you like broccoli? I have a great salad I’d like you to try and the base ingredient is broccoli. Ok, see you around seven. You want to bring dessert? I’d love some of your oatmeal raisin cookies with walnuts. Sounds good. See you then!”

Mom’s coming to dinner. You convinced her to bring somewhat healthy cookies to the meal and you’re going to serve her two forms of vegetables you know she likes. The key here is not to lecture her about food, but to present it in ways that maybe she’s never had it before and so it kicks up the nutrient value.  The broccoli salad will include grapes or raisins, some sunflower seeds, grated carrot, a light lemony dill mayonnaise based dressing, and lots of broccoli. It’s much healthier than plain old steamed broccoli and it has interesting flavors and valuable antioxidants, protein, and vitamins to boost health.

One simple dish and you get all that. Then there’s the sweet potatoes. Serve these in the form of sliced rounds that have been parboiled then brushed with a little olive oil, sprinkled with some sea salt and baked in the oven until crisp. Again, you’ve got a simple dish with multiple health benefits. The olive oil, if used sparingly, is a great oil for the body, the sea salt adds flavor without negative benefits to those who are supposed to limit their salt intake, and the sweet potatoes, or yams, are power packed with wonderful nutrients.

Mom and dad show up for dinner. They enjoy your meal and you’ve opened the door to conversation about other healthy recipes, pairing of beneficial foods for optimal nutrition, and ways to liven up mundane vegetables. Encourage a creative discussion and maybe make a plan for weekly dinners together to try out new recipes and see what works for each of you.

The meal is balanced out with a nice oven baked portion of fish you cooked in parchment paper with various herbs, slices of homemade whole grain bread, some white wine and big tall glasses of water.  Everyone leaves the table feeling satisfied and you’ve had good discussion about vacation plans and upcoming birthdays.

  • Another question to ask in a manner that elicits feedback and exploration is about what kind of protein your parents like to eat. Are they big red meat eaters? Do they like fresh fish, but don’t know how to prepare it? Do they love shellfish, but need to avoid it because of certain medications. Explore the possibilities.
  • Get a feel for your parents eating habits. Do they eat a big breakfast? How many meals a day? Full meals or snack style? How often do they eat out and what restaurants do they favor?

Once again. Just ask the questions, let them give you the answers and then explore together. No preaching, no talk about canned vs. fresh, organic vs. non-organic, no big debates about sugar, protein or  starches. Just ask questions, get the answers and help them build nutritious meals around their preferences.

I’ve only given a few questions in this post, but I hope you get the idea that you aren’t the nutrition police. You’re asking these questions to find ways to make meals more appetizing, eye appealing, and nutritious for your parents. The health benefits will keep them younger and more vibrant. An additional benefit is the trust and communication you are building with them as you show that you are interested in their preferences and not there just to tell them how to change things.

Do you have dietary tips  to share about how to get your aging parents to eat healthier?  I’d love to share them or have you do a guest post. Your comments are always welcome!

Thanks for reading my blog and being a part of this community.




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