Written by Pauline Ng, Chief Editor
Many of those of my generation are busy not only managing the household work at home even though our children have grown up and have their own homes. We are also spending more time “looking after” our ageing parents. When we say “looking after”, it is more than just finding someone to look after their daily needs. Elderly persons need company, attention and most important of all, the ability to see and enjoy the things they find much pleasure in. And there is nothing more pleasurable than eating!
However, we must all accept the reality that our swallowing and digestive systems will deteriorate as we grow old. As there is still a long way before symptoms of swallowing difficulties emerge, elderly persons should not be deprived of delicious cuisines and nutritious foods. There is a Chinese saying" While you can eat, eat!" We should therefore be aware of the needs of our ageing parents, prepare foods which they enjoy, and allow them to share the foods which are cooked for the entire family.
Elderly persons who have spent their whole life in Hong Kong are generally food lovers. Some are even epicures, having gained a lot of eating experience from extensive travelling during their younger days. Even for those who have seldom travelled, the fabulous “Wok smell” (鑊氣) from the instant and high-heat frying on the Chinese wok brings them great memories of their glorious past. While we may not be able to cook like the chefs at Ta Pai Don, we can still provide the same food ingredients, taste and presentation to elevate the level of enjoyment in eating at home.
Here are some tricks I normally use:
Choice of ingredients to make the dishes vibrant, delightful and nostalgic
There is always a misconception that elderly persons should only be given very lightly seasoned foods to the extent that some are only given scalded vegetables at all times. In effect, elderly persons also need a balanced diet which is nutritious and delicious. Thoughts should be given to choosing ingredients with less fibre content so that every part of it can be swallowed easily. Examples are potatoes, beetroots, peeled tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, etc. Fish is always popular among elders but fish with small bones should be avoided. As for meat, chicken is a good choice as it contains high protein and can be cooked in many ways. Pork and beef if minced are also fabulous choices.
Treatment of the ingredients to avoid making them too chewy
Treatment is most important. Elderly persons like to eat a combination of different ingredients in a dish as they cannot eat a lot. It is useful to plan a meal in such a way that some ingredients can be used for different dishes. For example, one onion can be cut in different ways for adding to soup, a fried dish and making a sauce for meat. If two or more dishes are prepared (not only for the elderly persons but also for the entire family), different cooking methods can be used. For example, if there is already steamed eggplants, the other dish should not be a steamed fish but a pan-fried cod with Japanese sauce. Mix and match is always the best approach. Cut the ingredients in smaller pieces or use slow-cook to soften the meat or even vegetables. Try not to embarrass them by making the food too chewy or too hard to handle.
Use of seasonings to make the dish pleasurable for all
While we are advised to cut down on the use of salt and sugar when preparing foods, it does not mean that they cannot be seasoned. There are a lot of natural seasonings and herbs which make the food equally tasty. For example, figs and dates are very good supplements to give a sweet taste to food. Garlic and shallots produce the aroma for meat dishes while parsley, dill, lemon add much flavour to fish and seemingly boring dishes. A small amount of soy sauce drying out on a wok can replace salt and make a pan-fried dish even more tasty. Needless to say, the best seasoning for preparing food for parents is always - LOVE!
Foods that remain good even as leftovers
Elderly persons would not want to waste anything. They tend to keep leftovers for a day or two despite warnings. It is always wise to cook the portion of vegetables that can be consumed at the same meal. Avoid putting green vegetables in a dish that is meant to be kept for a few days. Only serve the portion that can be finished and keep the excessive portion in a container free of any spring onion, parsley, etc. Use as far as possible ingredients like mushrooms, red dates, fungus, etc. as vegetable supplements to these dishes. Dishes made with tomato sauce can be kept in glass containers for a few days in the fridge, and they remain appetizing. Leftover rice, which can be used for fried rice, should be cooled for an hour before being put in ziplock bags to be stored away in the fridge.
Your actual involvement in the preparation
There is nothing more satisfying for elderly persons to boast in front of their peers that they have enjoyed the foods prepared by their children. It is therefore important to make them know your involvement in the preparation of the foods so that they would make an effort to eat it and talk about it whenever the opportunity arises.
It is a great joy to prepare food for elderly parents. If you have not done that so far, try it out NOW!