Stuck in a Rut with Side Items, an Ask the Audience

Heather says:

Frequent commenter Mrs. Jen B left this in Monday’s post on meal planning:

I am absolutely stuck in a rut when it comes to side dishes – heck, even main dishes! My father in law is the pickiest, pickiest eater I’ve ever met in my life. Seriously. We need for him to eat, so I’m stuck making the things he likes. The worst part is, he has very little short-term memory, so he doesn’t even remember that I just made stuffing three times in one week. Or I’ll make something one night and he’ll like it, and the next time he won’t know what it is and won’t touch it. And sadly, unlike with a child, you can’t make a child eat something because you’re the parent!

Home Ec 101 readers come from all walks of life, some of you have been in her shoes; I have not. I suggested that she talk to a dietitian, who would have more experience in dealing with caring for the elderly. I also suggested that she prepare some of his favorites in bulk to freeze and serve as requested while she and her husband ate a more varied diet. An aging relative does not fall into the same category as a healthy child who needs to expand his or her horizons.

What advice to you have for Mrs. Jen B? How would you suggest she introduce variety into their diet without upsetting her father-in-law?

Send your domestic questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Don’t forget Fearless Friday returns April 2.



19 Comments

  1. @MrsJenBardall on April 1, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    This is all so fantastic, thank you everyone for your kindness and for taking the time to share. I can't tell you how much it's appreciated!!!!!
    My recent post Divine Deviled Eggs

  2. ThatBobbieGirl on April 1, 2010 at 4:16 am

    This is my favorite way to get a zucchini hater to eat zucchini – and people who have tried this have told me that they've also made it other veggies as well. My mom was famous in Perry, Ohio for this casserole.

    http://nofunkystuff.blogspot.com/2009/06/how-to-g
    My recent post Note to self

    • HeatherSolos on April 1, 2010 at 11:29 am

      That looks great, thank you for sharing the recipe. Hopefully my mom will have another bumper crop.

  3. Sarah on April 1, 2010 at 2:40 am

    I really appreciate that your advice was respectful to the aging adult's wishes 🙂 I know it's not always the easiest or even the right thing to cater to everybody's whims when you're the main cook-that's not really my point. I just thought the respectful tone was refreshing.

    Many people are not sure what to do with or feel about the elderly. Or, they feel that it's ok to treat them like kids-'You're diabetic, I'm not *letting* you have XYZ'. Maybe XYZ is a bad idea, but they're adults even if they make bad choices. That's what being an adult-even an older adult-is about! *ahem*

    Short term memory problems make it difficult because maybe he would choose more variety if he remembered more of his diet. I like the bulk cooking suggestion as solution for this too. If you have a few of his favorites stored, you can offer a choice every time. I definitely think this will save your sanity too 🙂

    • HeatherSolos on April 1, 2010 at 11:28 am

      Thank you, Sarah. I don't play short-order cook in my home, but at the same time I don't set out to please only myself.

  4. Stacy on April 1, 2010 at 2:28 am

    I was thinking along the same lines as someone above–you might put purees into foods like you can do with kids. You could also, if you don't have time to make the purees, buy some baby food and put it into sauces and the like. I've done this and nobody noticed. If we have a stew type of meal, I've just added grated carrots and such, and again, nobody seemed to notice or have a problem with it. You could see if he'll drink a smoothie–maybe you could slip in one cooked vegetable along with bananas, juice, yogurt, etc. (sweet stuff).

  5. Jackie on March 31, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    "If they hate it, I grate it." I love this!! It works for preschoolers ~ picky husbands and I bet just about any super picky eater. You're doing great. The suggestions have been great! Good luck!
    My recent post You Can Not Be Thin If You Feel Fat

  6. Mrs. Jen B on April 1, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Brilliant – "if they hate it, I grate it". I love it!!!!!
    My recent post Divine Deviled Eggs

  7. CG Jenny on March 31, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    I add my agreement to the others who said to bulk cook some of his favorites. Stuffing works really well cooked in muffin tins and then frozen.

    Between raising my kids, doing day-care and now being a professional elder-care giver I have had to change my strategies to fit the situation many times.

    Also, my motto for years has been "If they hate it, I grate it." You can put grated zucchini, beets, carrots and even sweet potatoes into spaghetti sauce. Better yet, as was said, puree it.

    I also add one or two pealed carrots when I boil my potatoes for mashing. When you mash the potatoes and carrot, it just looks very buttery and tastes nice and rich.

    Twice baked taters with chopped broccoli mixed in and then a layer of melted cheese on top… no one sees the green flecks of broccoli until they have had a few bites.

    Make some carrot cake or zucchini bread. Rice pilaf with tiny tiny diced vegetables. Cream of ____ soups can have lots of veggies in them but since it is pureed, they aren't noticeable.

    I'm sure one you begin thinking with some of these ideas, your own methods will develop and you will also realize (like you have already) that you are doing better than you think.

    Good luck!

  8. @MrsJenBardall on March 31, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Thanks for all of the comments!
    He does eat meat, he's a real meat-and-potatoes kind of guy (although his love for potatoes waxes and wanes…very unpredictable!). He also takes a multivitamin every day with his myriad of other pills. I really didn't think about that and I'm glad it was brought up – maybe I could stress a liiiiittle less about that.
    GREAT idea on the pureed veggies – can't believe I didn't think of that! I usually make my own spaghetti sauce and we do have that maybe twice a week, I'm sure I could get more veggies in there. And the mashed cauliflower w/potatoes? Brilliant!
    I put out sugar-free applesauce with just about every dinner because I know he likes it. The other night he said "Applesauce?" with a quizzical look, and I said, "Look buddy, I have to get SOME sort of nutrition into you! Cut me some slack!". That got a laugh!

    My recent post Divine Deviled Eggs

  9. caroline on March 31, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    We had a similiary issue with both of my grandmothers. One was in a retirement facility/nursing home, and the other was at home with a health aide and me. Obviously there wasn't much choice with my first grandma, she ate what was cooked at the home that night and that was it. Towards the end she would only eat chocolate donuts, vanilla wafers, and milk, so that is what they served her. My other grandma wasn't a picky eater, but she would say she wasn't hungry and refuse to eat, we had to resort to creative ways to get her to eat (like making smoothies). I like Danielle's idea, maybe seeing pictures of the foods he likes will help trigger his memory even if he can't say, 'i want meatloaf for dinner'.

  10. Mrs. Jen B on March 31, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Thanks for all of the comments!

    He does eat meat, he’s a real meat-and-potatoes kind of guy (although his love for potatoes waxes and wanes…very unpredictable!). He also takes a multivitamin every day with his myriad of other pills. I really didn’t think about that and I’m glad it was brought up – maybe I could stress a liiiiittle less about that.

    GREAT idea on the pureed veggies – can’t believe I didn’t think of that! I usually make my own spaghetti sauce and we do have that maybe twice a week, I’m sure I could get more veggies in there. And the mashed cauliflower w/potatoes? Brilliant! (maybe I could even fool my husband, in which case I would probably fall over in a dead faint)

    I put out sugar-free applesauce with just about every dinner because I know he likes it. The other night he said “Applesauce?” with a quizzical look, and I said, “Look buddy, I have to get SOME sort of nutrition into you! Cut me some slack!”. That got a laugh!

  11. Rebekka on March 31, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    P.S. Bless you for taking care of your father-in-law!

  12. Rebekka on March 31, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    I will second (third?) the suggestion to prepare his favorites in bulk and freeze in individual portions, as this will both ensure that he eats *something* and save you from frustration and insanity. If he has an *extremely* limited diet, or his diet becomes even more restrictive, ask for a referral to a dietitian, preferably one who has experience with patients with acquired brain injuries.

    If he eats meat, he's getting a lot of important nutrients and essential fats and vitamins as well as protein. If he doesn't eat meat, it's important to consider his protein intake (particularly since he's recently been ill, which is very demanding on the body). Does he eat eggs, cheese, dairy, fish? Will he eat beans? A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is an ok source of protein and fat.

    Sick people and the elderly have different needs than regular adults and can tolerate a much more energy-dense diet (ie, more fat, less "bulk"). Small eaters can turn the "food pyramid" on its head.

    If he takes medication, slip a multivitamin into his pills and that will cover a lot. He doesn't need to be on a low-fat diet as such. Prioritize protein, fat, vitamins and that he gets enough fibre to keep him regular. If necessary, you can disguise foods – if he will eat tomato sauce, you can puree well-cooked veggies into it. Puree cauliflower and mix it with mashed potatoes. That sort of thing. If you are completely desperate you can add protein powder and psyllium seed capsules for fiber to whatever it is he will eat. If he will drink protein drinks (I think Ensure is the name of one in the States?) that can be a good supplement to his regular diet.

    You don't need every meal to be well-balanced. Jot down what he eats and try to shoot for variation and balance over a longer period of a week or so. A meal diary will also be really good if you contact a dietitian.

  13. Alice Dick on March 31, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    If he hates vegetables, maybe he'll eat fruit? And I do think the in bulk and freezing idea is great. Does he take multivitamins? If you can get him to take one a day that might be helpful. Vitamins aren't a substitute for fruit and veg, but in this situation they could help.

  14. Mrs. Jen B on March 31, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Thanks for the feedback, Danielle!

    I tried to leave a comment via my iphone earlier but I guess it didn't go through? Anyway, to clarify a bit more, this is the result of an aneurysm which we *hope* will get better with time. Outside of memory loss, he's just fine, and was a terribly picky eater before this happened. He remembers that he hates vegetables, which is a shame because of all the things he forgot I wish that had been one of them!! Back then, who cared, he was an adult and could do what he wanted. Now I feel like I'm "in charge" of his health via his diet and he's making it very, very difficult for me and my husband. Lunch is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every…single…day! And as I alluded yesterday, the fact that he is an adult and knows that he's the parent but not that he's sick is what makes it that much more complicated.

    I do appreciate any more comments, very much! 🙂
    My recent post Divine Deviled Eggs

    • HeatherSolos on March 31, 2010 at 1:25 pm

      Mobile comments take a while to show up. They do eventually arrive. I don't know why there is a lag and I'm trying to sort it out.

  15. Danielle on March 31, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    Definitely make 2 or 3 things in bulk that you'll know he'll usually eat, and freeze in individual portions to reheat quickly. I would also suggest to make laminated cards with the picture of the items on them, so he can point to what he wants if he refuses what you make for the family.

  16. Mrs Jen B on March 31, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Thank you for posting my comment! I do want to clarify, though – prior to his aneurysm, which caused this, he was the pickiest eater ever! Like, if it wasn’t a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it wasn’t lunch! Haha So really this IS sort of a superficially picky situation, though now I need to make sure to feed him well so he can hopefully recover. I do appreciate you posting this for others to see in case someone has an idea – I love the idea of freezing extra stuff!

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