Tips on Cooking for the Elderly

Splendid Table

When we start getting up in years, our experience of taste starts to change. As Lynne Rossetto Kasper of the Splendid Table put it on this past week's episode, "It's like wearing earmuffs and you have to have the music turned up even louder because it has to get through the earmuffs." She has a few suggestions for how we can turn up the volume when cooking for elderly loved ones. Do you have any tips of your own?

Lynne explains that she learned a lot about cooking for the elderly when she was taking care of her own mother. She says that salty and sweet are usually the first tastes to become muted, followed later by sour and bitter. Regular food starts tasting bland and uninteresting.

Lynne's solution, and the one she suggests to us, is to do everything we can to amplify the flavor. Try adding more acidic elements to dishes, cooking with more fresh herbs, and using wine to deepen flavors. By making dishes more intensively flavored than we would normally eat them, we can at least make food taste like something to the older people we're cooking for!

Another thing to keep in mind is that older people produce less saliva, which affects how food tastes, feels in our mouths, and gets digested. With her mother, Lynne said that she tended toward foods that were very moist and didn't require a lot of chewing. This means a lot of soups, stews, and braises, for certain, as well as sauces and dressings that can be added to taste.

What stories or cooking suggestions do you have about cooking for the elderly friends and family in your life?

Also in this episode of the Splendid Table: a conversation with Harold McGee about terroir, a trip to the kitchens of Sri Lanka, and a look at what makes Chinese cuisine unique. Download and listen to the entire show from the Splendid Table website.

Related: On Cooking with Restrictions

(Image: Flickr member hweiling licensed under Creative Commons)