Healthy Cook: Culinary tips for the caregiver turned chef

There is no denying that our taste buds age with the rest of us.  They get tired, just like our knees and hips.  Doctors can replace some worn-out parts, but have you ever heard of a taste bud implant?

One of the burger chains uses a slogan something like, “You Gotta Eat.”  Well, it’s true.  No matter how little you feel like it—you have to eat.  But, Pain can be an appetite-killer.  Some drugs do the same thing.  Boredom can be fatal to desire for food.  Some people have teeth that don’t work too well.  And if a caregiver is responsible for feeding a patient—or a loved one has taken on the responsibility of an elder relative—the job falls on his or her shoulders.  That’s a big responsibility.

Some years ago, I did a story on getting cancer patients to eat.  Much of the research boiled down to the patient just not being interested in eating because food didn’t have much taste.  The way around it, the experts said, was to pump up the taste.  You can do the same thing.

Start by ascertaining any diet restrictions.  Those are your boundaries.  Working in the diet lines, find out what foods used to be favorites—mac and cheese, beef stew, spaghetti and meatballs?  Why are they passed over now?  If the answer is lack of taste, you’re off to the culinary races.

Let’s revive the grilled cheese sandwich.  Many years ago they were okay with a layer of cheese slices on white bread.  No more.  Change the bread to whole wheat.  Switch the cheese to sharp cheddar with a sprinkling of Romano or blue or gorgonzola or smoked Gouda.  If the patient likes a little spice, add pepper jack.

Tomato soup that used to go with the sandwich is boring too.  Add a small spoonful of jarred Italian pesto to the soup.  That’s a new, eye-opening dish.

Mac and cheese can get basically the same treatment as the sandwich… more, sharper cheeses… with small pieces of red and green pepper mixed in for looks.  Cook the peppers a bit if the texture is too hard.  Add Romano cheese and herbs to plenty of buttered breadcrumbs baked on top of the dish.

There used to be four tastes: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.  Now there are five.  The new one is umami.  It was first recognized in 1908 in Japan, but it is currently considered a distinct taste by scientists, separate from saltiness.  It’s the savory sensation that comes from glutamates and is found in mushrooms and soy sauce.

It goes back to Roman times, when fermented fish sauce, called garum, was popular.  It doesn’t taste great on its own but makes other things taste better.  And that’s what we’re after here.

Make a batch of beef stew and add soy sauce and a healthy dash or two of Worcestershire sauce.  Ripe tomatoes have ample umami, so put some of those in.  Sauté mushrooms and add them and their pan juices to the pot.

Publix carries a product in the sauce department (top shelf) called Bragg Liquid Aminos.  It’s what we’re talking about.  A couple of sprays enliven plain, old sautéed zucchini.  Add a few drops to a pot of beans.  It even livens up popcorn.

Dried red pepper flakes will put new life in spaghetti and meatballs.  Add them to the meat mixture or the sauce.  If spice is not nice, there’s nothing like fresh basil to enliven a dish.  Put it in at the last minute so the flavor doesn’t cook away and don’t be worried about too much.  Sprinkle more on top.  Serve it with garlic bread that will melt paint off the walls if it makes the patient happy.

Soups are easy to make and eat.  Start with a soup base in a jar and use more than you think you should.  Check the sodium and use low sodium if it’s a problem.  Better Than Bouillon brand is my favorite.  I often mix mushroom and vegetable bases for extra oomph.  Try the mushroom and ham bases for a bean soup.

You can buy bean, grain, and lentil soup mixes and add soup bases to them.  Chopped potato, onion, carrot, celery and what-have-you added near the end makes a simple meal . . . with more of that garlic bread for dipping in the broth.

Don’t be afraid to reach out when cooking for senior taste buds.


article by TRENT ROWE

Trent Rowe is the food editor of Central Florida Health News.

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