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What to Serve Seniors at a Cookout

Hosting seniors at a backyard barbecue can be a bit nerve-wracking. What can you serve that will appeal to elderly guests and meet their needs without turning off younger ones?

Agingcare.com talked to three experts who shared their ideas:

"In a nutshell, keep it plain and simple," says Pat Marone, executive chef at The Regency, an assisted living seniors community in Glen Cove, N.Y. Chef Marone, who previously has been associated with five-star restaurants, serves traditional foods like grilled barbecued chicken at outdoor parties for his guests, but marinates it with a low-sodium, low-fat dressing, flavored with pepper and garlic. To protect his diabetic guests, he doesn't add sugar or uses sugar substitute products; to keep the fat content low, he provides turkey burgers, watermelon and baked beans.

Cut the Fat

Renata Gelman, clinical manager at Partners in Care, the private care arm of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, also says that it's especially important to stay away from fatty foods, since elderly people tend to develop high cholesterol readings. While, surprisingly, some cookout foods like corn and barbecued meat (with the exception of fatty pork) aren't that bad for seniors, she says better choices are low-fat, high-fiber foods like fruit, vegetable kabobs and fake hot dogs made out of soy. For dessert, substitute popsicles for high-fat ice cream. As for beverages, stick to lemonade or water and avoid serving seniors alcohol, which is dehydrating. "Older people don't always know when they are becoming dehydrated," she said. "They can pass out, even die."

Not-So-Red-Hot

How about spicy foods? Judith Beto, professor of nutrition sciences at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., says that elderly people's tolerance for them depends much on what they've been used to eating all of their lives, as well as how physically active they are. Her advice: Offer a wide variety of options, such as salad bar where guests can assemble their own choices (something that will also appeal to younger guests who are calorie-counting or just plain picky). Include dressings with low-fat mayonnaise, since older people often prefer them because they tend to have dry mouths.

Consider Comfort Foods

Also, be sure to have a few soft "comfort" foods, like macaroni with low-fat cheese, which can be enjoyed by people with denture problems. Older people are often suspicious of the latest food fads and will steer away from them. For instance, Ms. Beto says that her in-laws, who are in their 80s, don't like latte drinks and don't 'get' yogurt—to them, it tastes like sour cream.

But if, after all this effort, you find that your senior guests are picking at their food or claiming not to be hungry, don't take offense. Ms. Beto points out that seniors' eating and medication patterns are often out of whack with those of younger people—her in-laws, for instance, are often ready for lunch at 9:30 a.m.—so if they beg off food, honor their response and don't make an issue of it. "It's just one event," she says.

Chef Pat Marone's Pasta with Peas

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 cup onions, diced

1 cup Roma tomatoes, seeded, diced

2 cups peas

4 cups pasta water

2 cups chicken stock

1 pound Ditalini pasta, cooked al dente

6 each basil leaves, chiffonade

Pinch red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan, add olive oil on medium high heat. Once oil is hot, add garlic and lightly toast until slightly golden in color. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, then the onions. Let the onions cook down, stir so the garlic doesn't burn. Add tomatoes and cook down for 1-1/2 minutes. Add basil then season with salt and pepper. Add peas, stir to combine. Add chicken stock and pasta water. Cook for about 3 or 4 minutes. Add pasta to sauce and toss. Let pasta cook in the sauce for another minute. Plate up and enjoy!

Reprinted with permission

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