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Holiday Dishes for Seniors with Special Dietary Needs

Holiday Dishes for Seniors with Special Dietary Needs

The holidays are the perfect excuse for the family getting together and enjoying a good meal. However, these days, it’s not always as simple as carving a turkey and serving up traditional fare like stuffing or candied yams.

If a senior loved one has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, or celiac disease, they may not be able to enjoy many of the foods on the menu that they once did. These special dietary concerns may not only leave them feeling left out of the meal, but may also make them feel a little down-in-the-dumps about not enjoying traditional dishes they once looked forward to or once prepared themselves.

To help make sure everyone feels welcome at the holiday table, here are a few tips and for revising some favorite family holiday meals and side dishes for seniors with special dietary needs.

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Gluten-Free Holiday Dishes for Seniors

Contrary to popular belief, a gluten-free diet isn’t solely reserved for younger people who have sensitivity to wheat gluten, or for those hopping onto a trend in an attempt to lose weight. In fact, many seniors over the age of 50 are diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease of the small intestine caused by ingesting wheat gluten and other grains. This sensitivity results in inflammation, diarrhea, and an inability to absorb nutrients — which can lead to malnutrition and even loss of bone mass.

Unfortunately, many holiday treats — from cookies to cakes to stuffing — are made with wheat-based ingredients. However, due to more recent awareness about celiac disease, gluten-free alternatives have popped up, making it safe for seniors to safely chow down on some of their old favorites.


  • Gluten-Free Stuffing. (Yes, It’s Possible!) – You know it. You love it. It doesn’t seem like the holidays without it. Your senior loved one may have a family recipe for stuffing that’s been handed down from generation to generation. However, a diagnosis of celiac disease doesn’t mean the tradition can’t continue. There are ready-made gluten-free breads and even bread cubes that will help you keep some family traditions alive and well. Many grocery stores have gluten-free aisles, making it easier to find these products. And if you don’t have a family recipe for stuffing you can tweak, check out a few recipes for gluten-free stuffing here and here.
  • Holiday Baked Goods: Find Your Flour – When making holiday baked goods, opt for gluten-free flours. Look to rice flour, almond meal, millet, amaranth, and teff flour to whip up some cookies and cakes that seniors on a gluten-free diet can enjoy.
  • Mix It Up! – When baking with gluten-free flours, mix them! Some flours are denser than others and can yield different textures. By mixing different types of gluten-free flour, you can more closely replicate tried n’ true favorites minus the digestive discomfort. You can make your own or purchase ready-made gluten-free flour mixes from brands such as Gluten-Free Girl or King Arthur Gluten-Free Flour.

Holiday Dishes for Seniors with Diabetes

Over 11.8 million U.S. seniors have diabetes. And while diabetes impacts a person’s ability produce insulin, leading to higher levels of blood glucose, sugar isn’t the only thing seniors with diabetes should worry about. According to the American Diabetes Association, it’s important to be mindful of the amount of carbohydrates and the type of carbohydrates you consume.


  • Practice Portion Control – It’s not what you eat. It’s how much you eat. Diabetic seniors should be mindful of the calories, carbohydrates, and sugars in each meal. To make this easier and to help monitor your senior loved one’s intake, a good rule of thumb is to divide the plate into quarters, with 25% devoted to proteins such as turkey, 25% consisting of grains and starchy foods (mashed potatoes, candied yams — or plain sweet potatoes, which are actually much lower on the glycemic index), and 50% non-starchy vegetables (think green beans — not green bean casserole, spinach, a green salad).
  • Opt for Sugar-Free Desserts – It’s hard enough steering clear of delicious desserts when you’re dieting during the holidays. But when you have a health condition that makes it dangerous to consume excess sugar, seniors with diabetes may feel truly left out. However, there are plenty of equally tasty dessert options following the big meal. Check out our own recipe for sugar-free crockpot applesauce for a naturally sweet treat, along with a few more decadent desserts that make use of sugar substitutes, such as a sugarless pumpkin pie, or a sugar-free mince pie, made with fruits and warm holiday spice — all of which are diabetic-friendly.

Holiday Meals for Seniors on a Low-Sodium / Low-Cholesterol Diet

Seniors with high blood pressure may need to stick to a diet low in salt, while others who are dealing with heart disease may also want to monitor their cholesterol levels. The two conditions often go hand in hand, and seniors enjoying a Thanksgiving meal may want to be mindful of what’s on their plate. Here are a few tips for making sure older loved ones with heart disease and high blood pressure can partake of the holiday feast while staying on-track to managing their condition.

  • Say “Hello” to Skinless Turkey (and Poultry) – When piling your plate with turkey (or any lean poultry), remove the skin — which contains a lot of added fat. Turkey and poultry in itself are much better than red meat when it comes to living — and eating — with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, so enjoy it! (You may also want to pass on the gravy, too.)
  • Go For the Greens – Leafy green vegetables are great for helping reduce cholesterol, so be sure to offer some to older guests in need of healthy, low-sodium side dishes. Avoid creamed spinach, but opt for fresh spinach, mixed greens, kale, or try out our recipe for sauteed chard with garlic and lemon. (Tip: When sauteeing, use just a little olive oil to keep the dish low in saturated fat.)
  • Tweak Family Favorite Recipes – Sure, everyone loves the green bean casserole, piled high with crispy fried onions. However, it might not be the best choice for family members watching their sodium and cholesterol intake. That can be remedied with a few simple tweaks, though.
    • Look for the low-sodium variety of cream of mushroom soup for the base. Use skim milk (or plain almond milk) when preparing it.
    • Throw in fresh green beans and mushrooms instead of their canned counterparts for added nutritional value and fewer preservatives.
    • As for the crispy onions — they’re high in salt. Instead, swap them out for carmelized onions on top of the dish; they’re just as full of flavor, minus the crunch. However, if you’re in need of a little texture, slivered almonds scattered on top of the onions are heart-friendly and a welcome addition.

The holidays are a time for bringing the family together and sharing times that everyone should enjoy. And a lot of that starts with food. We hope you found some of these tips useful and that you and your family have a very happy — and healthy — holiday season!