Community Magazine

How To Get Your Parent to Eat Well

By Careforparents @Careforparents

How To Get Your Parent to Eat Well

My mother lives in senior apartments.  Her next door neighbor has become her dear friend.  They share a porch and often you will find them and several other women gathered on their porch in the evening sharing news about great-grandchildren, new flowers blooming, what is on sale at the local grocery  and probably even a little gossip about the new person moving in.  Two evenings per week they all walk up to the community room with snacks and play different games like dominoes, Wa-Hoo, and Bunco.  Most all these activities are free because most all these apartment dwellers are on small limited incomes and have little money to throw around.  At this point in our economy, none of them do.

I am lucky that mom, at 74, still drives and is completely independent.  In fact, she is in such good health she will soon be taking care of my grandson (her great-grandson) for about 10 hours per day through the week while my daughter and her husband work.  She takes many of her neighbors to their physician, therapy, and even hair appointments.   The one thing mom skimps on is nutrition.  She has food; it’s just really bad-for-you food.  Living alone, she sees no reason to buy food to cook because it must be purchased in larger-than-she-needs quantities and it will go to waste as mom was never good with leftovers.  Consequently, her cupboard is filled with peanut butter, Little Debbie’s cakes, cookies, and Vienna sausages.  That is until recently.

One of the local grocery stores had a run on ham from the deli leaving ends and other random slices which they vacuum packed and, in an act of kindness, brought to the residents of the apartment complex.  Each resident was given a 5 pound vacuum packed bag.  5 pounds is a lot of ham for a single person! When I arrived that afternoon, most of the women were sitting on the porch discussing what they would do with all that ham before it spoiled.  Even if they froze it, they didn’t know what they could possibly do with so much ham!  Between the 4 ladies gathered and one who was home ill, there was 25 pounds to deal with quickly.  Before I knew what was happening, mother volunteered me to figure something out and off they scurried to bring back their packages to me.

The next day was my day off and I had NOT planned to spend it making individual meals for 5 different people!  Cooking does not come easily to me so all I saw in my future was a ham-handed headache.  When I arrived home, I asked my husband for help carrying in the parcels.  When he saw them, he just rolled his eyes and chuckled under his breath.  I adhere to Ellen’s “haters are my motivators” mantra so this only spurred me on!

The next morning I got on the Internet and went to my favorite recipe sites: and  I knew they would supply me with the recipes these rural women would eat and I could just cut down the quantities to fit each woman’s needs.  After an hour of hunting around and idea was born:  why not prepare dishes that would serve 8 people?  This would have them all eat properly for that meal, they could each bring a little side or dessert, they could socialize and each take leftovers home for the next meal!  Finally!  All that college was paying off!

I choose 8 person servings because American’s have increased serving sizes a great deal over the last 30 years and these women’s appetite have all decreased as they aged.  Next, I went to the store and bought heavy-duty aluminum foil, gallon freezer bags and other ingredients needed.  The oven went on and I roasted and baked and braised and crock-potted until the sun went down!  Then I wrapped and labeled and bagged all the items with instructions taped to the inside of the bags for protection and clear reading.  With that 25 pounds of ham, some potatoes, onions, green peas, cauliflower, broccoli and sweet potatoes (total cost to me $25) they had 20 meals to share.

2 days later, after the food had frozen solid in my own freezer, I put them all in a box and went to mom’s place.  I explained my plan and without hesitation they all began planning that very night’s meal.  Each of them took 4 of the dishes to put in their own freezer and on those nights their responsibility would be to thaw and heat up the main dish while the others took turns making tea, dessert, and sides as well as bread.

That was over a year ago and the five women have continued eating together about four nights per week since.  Not only is my mom eating and feeling better, she acts more social and has saved a tremendous amount of money because she no longer buys large amounts of junk food, doesn’t snack nearly as much, and what she does purchase does not go to waste because it doesn’t have time to spoil.  They have added 2 more people to their Cooking Club and with the rotation schedule, yes they have a schedule, they each only have to contribute something twice a week.  The other two nights, they just show up and eat.  Lastly, during good weather they have incorporated a walk with their dogs after dinner each night.

Every three months, that local grocery store brings ham or chicken or turkey to them, they call me and my day off is turned into a cooking frenzy but when it is complete, I know seven seniors will eat well for 30 meals during the next 90 days.  It generally costs me less than $50 and it is worth every penny!  I see it as just another way to take care of mom.

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