Holiday Meals 101: Our Guide to Enjoying Holiday Dinner with Your Loved One

Brianna Maguire

Written by Brianna Maguire on Mon Nov 07 2022.

Holiday Meals 101: Our Guide to Enjoying Holiday Dinner with Your Loved One

When you’re caring for a loved one with a specialized need, holiday meal times can feel intimidating. Whether you’re hosting dinner or you and your loved one are visiting family, we’ve compiled some of the best caregiver tips to ensure that everyone enjoys the holiday spirit.

How Should I Prepare for Holiday Meals?

When preparing a meal as a caregiver, there are a few things that can ensure the experience is as joyful as possible for you and your loved ones:

  • Ask for help. The holidays are a stressful time, and big family dinners can increase stress even more. Suddenly, you’re not just worried about your loved one’s day-to-day care. You’re also trying to ensure their meal is enjoyable, safe, and tailored to their needs. Not to mention, sometimes caregivers are also responsible for serving the whole family. The holidays are the perfect time to speak up and be really clear about where you might need support - even if it’s just something simple like setting the dining table or making plates. 

  • Prepare and research. Your loved one might have unique needs around the holiday season, especially during mealtime. Having special foods that support any dietary restrictions and thinking about how you can best prepare your home and dining table to support any specialized needs can go a long way in ensuring your loved one feels comfortable. 

  • Plan a rest day. When the entire family comes to town, it can be tempting to squeeze in as much time as possible. Be sure that you add a day of rest for your loved one after a big meal or a family celebration.

  • Don’t overemphasize the food. Mealtimes should be about gathering with loved ones and enjoying each other’s company. If you or your loved one is managing a condition that makes eating difficult, try not to worry too much about what you are or aren’t eating. Instead focus on the time you have with the people you love.

Holiday Mealtimes for those with Incontinence

Tip 1: Add a booster pad for additional absorbency and easier changes

Booster pads add an extra layer of absorbency and stretch the length of your incontinence products, meaning that loved ones can stay dry and odor free for longer. They also make changing simpler for anyone enjoying a meal at someone else’s home - rather than changing your entire product. You can swap out the booster pads themselves, making things much easier when you’re in someone else’s bathroom.

Hear it from a caregiver: Traci W. says, “These booster pads are a lifesaver!! No leaks when I use these in addition to any regular incontinence underwear.”

Tranquility TopLiner Booster Pads

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Tip 2: Use a Reusable Underpad

Underpads sit on the furniture and provide an added layer of protection against leaks. Reusable underpads, in particular, look similar to a regular blanket and come in attractive patterns like plaid - many caregivers bring them to restaurants or to rest on church pews. Whether you’re eating at home or traveling, a reusable underpad may help you or your loved one enjoy a family meal with more peace of mind. 

Beck's Classic Reusable Underpads, Heavy

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Tip 3: Pay attention to what you eat at dinner

Certain foods can irritate the bladder so try to avoid:

  • Caffeine (coffee)

  • Chocolate (go for the pumpkin pie instead!)

  • Carbonated drinks

  • Citrus fruits

  • Chili peppers 

Holiday Mealtimes for those with Dementia or Alzheimer’s

Tip 1: Be flexible with mealtimes.

Have an earlier dinner if your loved one struggles with afternoons or evenings. Remember that you get to define your holiday traditions - so there’s no saying you can’t enjoy a holiday brunch!

Tip 2: Seat your loved one with people they feel comfortable with.

Ensure the person you’re caring for is seated by someone they’re more likely to recognize rather than a more distant relative or someone they don’t see as often.

Tip 3: Cook your loved one’s favorite foods.

It can be challenging to get a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s to eat, and disheartening when they aren’t interested in the meal you’ve worked so hard on. Consider breaking tradition and simply cooking a few of your loved one's favorite foods instead. 

Holiday Mealtimes for those with Cancer

Tip 1: Enjoy comfort foods that are easy on the stomach.

Some holiday classics like sweet potatoes and pumpkin are easier to digest - load up on those to ensure you continue feeling comfortable.

Tip 2: Make some mocktails!

The important thing about the holidays is that they feel special and bring joy - craft some yummy, non-alcoholic drinks that make the day feel special.

Tip 3: If you’re dealing with taste changes, try rinsing your mouth with water to help clear your palate.

For those that struggle with a metallic taste, it can be helpful to switch to plastic utensils over metal silverware. 

Holiday Mealtimes for those with Parkinson’s

Tip 1: Use Weighted Silverware

Weighted utensils keep the hands from shaking, making mealtime much more manageable for loved ones managing Parkinson’s. 

Alimed Weighted Handle Fork

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Alimed Weighted Handle Teaspoon

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Tip 2: Use a cup with a lid, or a spill-proof cup

Cups with lids and wide bases can prevent spills, making mealtime easier for both you and your loved one. This Spillproof Drinking Cup is an affordable caregiver favorite.

Tip 3: Incorporate “finger foods,” which are easier for those with Parkinson’s

Cheese boards, fruits, olives, or even sandwiches are great options to incorporate if you have a loved one managing Parkinson’s. 

Holiday Mealtimes for those with High Blood Pressure

If you or your loved one is managing high blood pressure, the holidays can be hard to navigate.

Tip 1: Avoid high-sodium and over-processed foods.

If you’re preparing dinner, be careful about how much salt you add to your food and make as much from scratch as possible. If you’re traveling to a loved one’s home for dinner, take smaller portions of the foods that are more harmful - like ham - and larger portions of healthier options like broccoli. 

Tip 2: Don’t snack!

For almost all of us, the holidays can be a time of overeating, and for those with high blood pressure, this can be especially dangerous. Avoid snacks throughout parties and get-togethers so you can focus on enjoying the meal. 

Tip 3: Be mindful of stress - and don’t attend dinners that may be high-stress for you

The holidays can be challenging for many of us, and avoiding stress is key to managing high blood pressure. Don’t feel bad about skipping specific dinners or events that may be more challenging for you. 

Holiday Mealtimes for those with Dysphagia or Difficulty Swallowing 

Tip 1: Use food and beverage thickeners like Thick-It to achieve the desired consistency

For those that need a certain consistency to swallow, food thickeners allow you to continue enjoying your favorite meals and beverages. 

Thick-It Food & Drink Thickener, Unflavored

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SimplyThick EasyMix Instant Food Thickener, Mildly Thick

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Thick & Easy Clear Food and Beverage Thickener, Nectar Consistency, Unflavored, 1.4 Gram Packet

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Thick & Easy Clear Food and Beverage Thickener, 4.4 oz. Canister

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Hear it from a Caregiver: Paula P says, “I got this for my grandfather. He [can’t] stomach [regular] food anymore, so we use this to help him have a good meal.”

Tip 2: Try pre-made purees and meals

Pre-made thickened meals make it easy for loved ones with trouble swallowing to get convenient, delicious nutrition. If you or your loved one is traveling for the meal, bringing a few of these along can ensure your loved one can still enjoy mealtime with family. Holiday-favorite flavors like Turkey with Stuffing, Caramel Apple Pie, and Broccoli ensure the meal still feels festive. 

Tip 3: Incorporate pureed options 

The holidays are a magical time with lots of foods that are already pureed, and having some of them available for loved ones that need it goes a long way in showing you care. Some great options are:

  • Mashed potatoes and gravy - just make sure the potatoes aren’t lumpy!

  • Cranberry sauce

  • Pumpkin pie (filling only!)

  • Sweet potatoes, mashed 

How can I get my loved ones to pitch in?

When preparing a meal as a caregiver, be sure that you ask for help. The holidays are stressful, and big family dinners can increase stress even more. Be very clear about where you might need help, and pick specific tasks like:

  • Picking up groceries

  • Setting the dinner table

  • Making a plate for those that need care

  • Cleaning up after

I’m hosting a holiday meal, and inviting a loved one that needs care. How can I help? 

The best way to prepare is to ask your loved one or their primary caregiver what they need to make sure the stay is as comfortable as possible. Depending on your loved one’s need, they may require:

  • A quiet room for their loved one to rest in case things get too loud

  • Specific snacks and meals

  • Ensuring that loud music isn’t playing, candles aren’t lit, etc., depending on their need

How can I make mealtime easier?

We rounded up some of caregivers’ favorite mealtime products that may make holiday meals more stress-free for you and your loved ones. 

  1. McKesson Overbed Table, Non-Tilt, Spring-Assisted Lift, 28.25-43.25"

If your loved one needs to take their holiday meal from their bed, ensure they have a comfortable surface by getting an overbed table. Caregivers love this one because:

  • It locks in place and doesn’t roll around

  • It features a woodgrain finish which feels more like it’s part of home furniture (rather a plastic finish which can feel more medical)

2. Thermophore MaxHEAT Moist Heating Pad

Comfortable and portable, this heating pad can be used at the dinner table to relieve pain and promote comfort for you or your loved one.

Hear it from a Caregiver: Laurie A. says, “I’ve been using this brand for over 40 years. It’s absolutely the best there is.”

3. Beck's Classic Highland Blue Plaid Reusable Underpad, Heavy Absorbency

With a pretty plaid color and comfortable backing, this reusable underpad can be placed on a kitchen chair, recliner, or across a bed to prevent any damage to furniture. Can be used by those with incontinence to prevent leaks or those with Parkinson’s to catch any potential messes. 

Hear it from a Caregiver: Mary M. says, “Great bib for an elderly, very ill person I’m helping. A lifesaver for laundry issues.”

4. Beck's Classic Reusable Snap Closure Bib, Green

This reusable bib keeps holiday clothes fresh and clean, even for loved ones that may make a mess from time to time. Pop it in the washer and use it again and again. Caregivers use them traditionally, or you can place it in your loved one’s lap to protect their pants and your floor. 

Hear it from a Caregiver: Freda R. says, “So soft and pretty too. Just the perfect reusable pad in every way.”

5. Naplkleen Disposable Clothing Protectors

These bibs are peel and stick and disposable - caregivers love them because:

  • You can stick them exactly where clothing protection is needed most

  • Conveniently disposable - toss and grab a fresh one for each meal

Joyce B. says, “After years of trying to keep napkins, towels on my chest while I eat, I luckily came across your clothing protectors. Now, when phone rings, or I have to get up, I still have the 'bib' on. Always a miracle when something works these days!

Need more information?

Holiday mealtimes can be challenging for caregivers and the ones they love - Carewell is here to help. If you need help finding the perfect product for your needs, talk to one of our caregiving specialists today. Call 855-855-1666. We’re here to support you, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Brianna Maguire
Brianna Maguire

Brianna Maguire heads up Carewell’s Customer Care Team, and serves as a resource for caregivers that need support. Whether it’s helping customers decide which products are best for their needs, answering caregiver questions, or just providing a shoulder to lean on on a tough day, her job is to make caregivers’ lives easier.