I confess, I love eating with my hands. Fish and chips, tacos, or using Indian flatbread like roti or Naan to scoop up curry. Give me Ethiopian Injera, a soft, spongy bread to pick up spicy chicken stew and I am happy.
Many cultures don’t use silverware and seem to manage wonderful meals without a problem. But I have been thinking about a different group of people who also benefit from the simplicity of eating with their hands. They are seniors or others who have trouble managing all the complexities of a knife and fork.
Tremors are common with many diseases like Parkinson’s Disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), multiple sclerosis, or different forms of dementia, and people with these issues may find mealtimes especially troubling. They may be embarrassed at their lack of ability to self-feed, or be dependent on someone else to help feed them. Some people don’t have much of an appetite, and a large plate, heaping with too much food, can seem overwhelming before they even start to eat. For all these folks, the joys of eating with your hands can also bring with it dignity and some independence at the table.
This idea is gaining proponents at many senior sites and elder residences. The challenge is finding recipes that are high in protein, easy to chew and swallow, and provide balanced nutrition.
Here is a short list of some ideas. Other good options include looking at appetizers, many of which have the benefit of being one or two bites of something that can be held in your hand. Sharing this meal with the person you are cooking for will make eating “out of hand” seem normal, something everyone can enjoy.
To make mealtime more interesting, try offering a variety of items on small plates, so people can pick and choose what they want. If cooking all this at once seems overwhelming, try making a batch and freezing half or more. Many of these food items will hold well.
Serving some of these items with a dipping sauce, syrup, dressing, or other flavoring may also help moisten the food and not only make it more flavorful, but also easier to swallow.
Of course, if the person you are cooking for or sharing a meal with has swallowing problems, poor teeth or chewing problems, or other issues with texture or consistency, you should consult with a speech pathologist or a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), specializing in swallowing and feeding issues. The recipes below are also low sodium, since almost all of us need to cut back to less than 2,000 mg a day for healthy kidneys and hearts.
- Grilled cheese sandwich cut in strips
- Macaroni and cheese bites (recipe below)
- Spinach Bites (recipe below)
- Sushi, like California rolls, (easy to pick up at the grocery store)
- Fish sticks with oven baked fries or tater tots (served with homemade tartar sauce)
- Sliders, (small hamburgers served on a soft roll)
- Sandwiches like tuna or egg salad cut in triangles or strips
- Boiled eggs, quartered
- Meatballs (served with a dipping sauce)
- Chicken wraps
- Quesadillas cut in small wedges
- Falafel dipped in yoghurt sauce
Vegies and Fruit:
- Asparagus (cut into bite-sized pieces)
- Potato wedges, Sweet Potato Fries
- Salad items or finely cut vegie sticks served with a dressing to dip in
- Melon balls, Strawberries cut in half
- Frittata cut in strips or small slices
- French toast strips
- Pancake or waffle strips to dip in syrup
- Muffin tin egg bites
- Strawberries cut in half
- Pineapple wedges, Pear slices
- Mini Brownies, cookies or muffins
- Pound cake strips, dipped in whip cream or powdered sugar icing
- Ice cream scoops served in small cones
- Chocolate covered strawberries
Spinach Bites Recipe
2 packages frozen spinach
½ cup onion, chopped fine
2 cups Panko bread crumbs
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
Thaw spinach and squeeze out extra water.
Beat eggs, and mix all ingredients. Form into eight balls, about 1 ½” to 2” across. Bake on parchment paper or well-greased cookie sheet for about 20-25 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Serve warm. You can freeze extras for other meals.
Nutritional Information (per serving)
Calories: 237, Carbohydrates: 24 grams, Protein: 11 grams, Sodium: 378 milligrams
Mac and Cheese Bites
2 cups macaroni, uncooked
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon dry mustard
½ cup onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup milk
¼ cup cream cheese
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cups grated fontina or Manchego cheese
3-4 tablespoons Panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
Chopped fresh parsley, optional
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 6 cup muffin tins and set aside. Heat large pot of water on stove and cook macaroni until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain.
In large bowl, add cooked noodles, butter and egg and stir until butter is melted. Add all ingredients, including fresh parsley, except about ½ cup of each cheese. Save it for topping.
Spoon mixture into eight muffin cups. Top with remaining cheese.
Bake until the cups feel firm and cheese is golden, about 30 minutes. Let cool in muffin tin for 10 minutes, then run a knife along the edge of each to loosen.
Nutritional Information (per serving)
Calories: 341, Carbohydrates: 27 grams, Protein: 20 grams, Sodium: 551 milligrams
Katy Wilkens began as a dietitian at Northwest Kidney Centers around 1980, before guidelines on nutritional care for dialysis patients existed. She led the effort to establish them, which resulted in the first “Suggested Guidelines for the Nutrition Care of Renal Patients,” later adopted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for the nation. Katy retired from Northwest Kidney Centers in 2021. She was honored by the National Kidney Foundation’s Council on Renal Nutrition for excellence in education and significant contributions in renal nutrition and awarded the Medal of Excellence in kidney nutrition from the American Association of Kidney Patients. Learn more about Katy here.