Dear Misery Loves Cookery,
My Grandfather is 91 now and having trouble maintaining his appetite and weight. His teeth give him trouble too. Soup, mashed potatoes and ice cream are not great foods for a man who loved salads, steaks, franks N’beans—any suggestions?
Thank you for your letter. Ninety-one years old! That’s fantastic.
Food can lose a lot of its appeal as we age, sadly, and having teeth that can’t cut through the crunchy, salty, spicy dishes we most enjoyed can add insult to injury.
Years ago, a friend of mine told me how, whenever she saw blue cheese dressing, she thought of her time volunteering in a nursing home. According to her, many of the residents put it on everything—even jello—because it was one of the only flavors that their weakened taste buds could really pick up. The nursing home could barely keep their blue cheese dressing stocked, it was consumed so fast.
I would seek out bold, umami, briney, pungent flavors for your grandfather, and see how he responds. Blue cheese is a start, as would be soft cheeses like brie or camembert. Go to a good cheese shop, and ask the expert for soft, strongly-flavored cheeses, and I’m sure they can give you a host of suggestions.
Mushrooms, cooked until soft with some soy sauce and herbs added, can give the taster the umami flavors they are missing when they can no longer chew a good steak. And speaking of steak, consider fattier (cheaper) cuts of meat, like chuck, which you can braise for hours until they are so tender, they hardly need chewing.
Pickled vegetables, olives, and anchovies can also be a win, either eaten alone or thrown into dishes. Many of these are also quite soft, but pack a big flavor punch. Save the pickle juice and use it to brine meats before cooking them—not only will it add a lot of salty, sour flavor, the brine will really help break down the meat, making it more chewable.
In the inevitable mashed potatoes and soup he will still have to eat, don’t be afraid to go heavy-handed with herbs and garlic. If hot sauce is his thing, keep it available; if it wasn’t his thing when he was younger, have him give it a try now, as it might be a new favorite.
And of course, consult with his specific dietary needs (for salt restriction, sugar restriction, etc.) before cooking. Think herbs and acids (like lemon juice) if sodium and sugar are not healthy for him.
I hope these suggestions help you and your grandfather to enjoy some delicious meals together. Let me know how they turn out!