Eating Well During the Holidays: Tips For Older Adults and Families

Eating Well During Holidays

The holiday season is a time for joy, celebration, and gathering  with loved ones around delicious meals. However, for older adults and their families, it can also present challenges when it comes to maintaining healthy eating habits. With an abundance of tempting treats and indulgent meals, it’s important for older adults and their families to be mindful of their nutrition during the holiday season. 

In this article, we will provide practical tips and strategies for older adults and their families to eat well and make nutritious choices during the holidays, ensuring that everyone can enjoy the festivities while also prioritizing their health and well-being.

Eating On Holiday: Challenges and Tips For Older adults and Families

Maintaining a nutritious diet is crucial throughout the year, but during the holiday season, certain factors may arise that can highlight or downplay food and nutrition-related concerns. Here are a few areas where challenges may arise.

Food restrictions

Certain health conditions, dental issues, difficulty swallowing, and medications affecting taste can all make holiday meals uncomfortable for older adults. 

What you can do:

Try to keep these suggestions in mind as well when preparing meals during holidays for older adults who may be having some swallowing, dental issues, etc.:

  • Try alternatives to fresh fruit, such as freshly squeezed fruit juices, homemade applesauce, or canned peaches and pears, when fresh and fully ripe fruits are not available.
  • Opt for fresh-squeezed vegetable juices or mashed and cooked vegetables as alternatives instead of raw vegetables.
  • If roasted or cooked meats are not suitable, you may consider ground meats, whole eggs, whole milk, soft cheeses, yogurts, and other dairy products as options.
  • As an alternative to sliced breads, you can try cooked hot cereals, rice, bread puddings, and soft cookies.

Having no appetite

As delightful as a bountiful holiday spread can be, it can feel overwhelming to those who have lost their appetite. Age-related decreases in appetite, taste, and smell, coupled with the effects of medications or medical treatments, can diminish the pleasure of eating for older adults. 

This can lead to discomfort in social situations and may even result in declined invitations to holiday gatherings. 

To support older friends or relatives, here are some things you can do;

  • Consider offering to accompany them to events, or hosting a smaller, more intimate gathering where they can comfortably socialize. 
  • Think about alternative ways to celebrate the holidays that do not solely revolve around food, such as a gift-wrapping party, attending a holiday performance, or writing cards with a small group. 

These options can boost spirits and provide opportunities for socializing without the pressure of eating.

  • Consult with the senior’s physician to determine if medication could be a potential issue.
  • Reach out to a nearby home care agency to arrange for a companion who can assist in meal preparation and make mealtime a more social and enjoyable activity.

Mobility issues that hinders ability to get food

During the holiday season, it’s not just about indulging in big feasts, but also ensuring that regular, healthy food is available. However, for older adults, driving to do grocery shopping can be challenging, especially in inclement weather. 

You could offer to help your elderly neighbor with shopping by;

  • Doing it for them or accompanying them on shopping trips. 
  • You could explore options for local stores that deliver groceries directly to homes, making it more convenient for older adults to access the food they need.
  • Seeking assistance with shopping by reaching out to a nearby church, synagogue, volunteer center, family member, or neighbor for volunteer help.

Often, elderly individuals who live alone may not want to inconvenience others, especially during the holiday season. However, you can express your care and compassion by taking the time to connect with the older adults in your life. 

Observe their living conditions, ask gentle questions to understand their difficulties, and inquire about how you can be of assistance. You may discover that simply checking in with an older person during the holidays can greatly enhance their enjoyment of the season and contribute to their overall well-being.

Eating Tips For Older adults During Holidays

Sticking to a healthy diet during the holidays can be challenging due to the tempting array of delicious food. It can be especially important for older adults to prioritize their nutrition to prevent and manage health issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and dehydration. 

To help older adults stay health-conscious while enjoying the holiday season, here are some useful tips and tricks for maintaining a balanced diet from the United Methodist Homes.

  1. Plan ahead and make conscious choices about which holiday treats you want to indulge in the most, while also planning healthy meals and snacks around them. Take note of the salt and sugar content of your choices and adjust the rest of your diet accordingly.
  2. Use smaller plates during holiday meals or snacks to help control portion sizes and prevent overindulging on larger servings or unnecessary options.
  3. Prioritize nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, and consume them fully before indulging in less healthy holiday refreshments. This can help curb cravings and limit excessive consumption of fatty, sugary, and salty foods.
  4. Be mindful of salt intake, especially for older adults who may have reduced sensitivity to tastes. Opt for herbs and spices instead of excess sodium, and read labels on packaged foods to monitor sodium levels.
  5. Pay attention to your hydration. As you enjoy the holiday season, make sure to prioritize staying hydrated as a key part of your nutrition plan. While it may not sound glamorous, consuming adequate amounts of water and hydrating liquids can positively impact your overall satisfaction.
  6. Moderate your sweet indulgences. During the holidays, there is an abundance of sugary treats available, and if you have a sweet tooth, it’s easy to overindulge. The good news is that you can enjoy sweets without going overboard by planning ahead.
  7. Allocate space in your diet for a few of your favorite festive treats. You can cut back on appetizers, breads, or cocktails to make room for a special dessert. Alternatively, consider swapping out high-sugar options with naturally sweet alternatives such as fresh fruit or low-calorie treats like angel food cake to satisfy your sugar cravings without excessive intake.
  8. Be mindful of alcohol consumption. Limit your intake of alcoholic beverages and ensure that you are also eating properly and drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  9. Find non-food ways to manage stress. The holiday season can also bring stress, and for many, turning to food, particularly processed or high-fat, high-sugar, or high-salt options, becomes a coping mechanism. To break this habit, encourage yourself or the older adults in your life to find alternative stress-relief activities that do not involve food.

Enjoying Holiday Meals: Tips For Caregivers 

Here are some suggestions from Harvard Health for accommodating your aging parent during holiday meals:

  • Consider the dining schedule: If your parent’s regular mealtime doesn’t match with the planned holiday meal, provide them with a nutritious snack to curb hunger or try to arrange the holiday meal at a time that works for them. Take into account other festivities and allow enough time for your parents to eat without feeling rushed.
  • Serve easy-to-eat food: Holiday meals often have rich or hard-to-eat foods that may be difficult for your parents to manage. Discuss food options with them beforehand and avoid foods they should avoid, such as nuts. Serve safer choices in small portions and consider pre-cutting hard-to-eat foods. Alternatively, offer simple dishes like rice or pureed stews that require less supervision and mess. If you’re not hosting, check if it’s okay to bring a meal suitable for your parents.
  • Remember medications: If your parents take medications with meals, make sure to stick to their regular dosing schedule during the holiday meal. Review their medication list beforehand and set reminders on your phone to help you stay on track.
  • Share caregiving responsibilities: Talk to other guests who can assist with caregiving during the meal. This way, you can take breaks to eat and socialize while someone else takes over. Coordinate with a sibling or another willing guest to share caregiving duties.
  • Plan for bathroom breaks: Like young children, older adults may need to use the restroom during a meal. Encourage your parents to use the bathroom before the meal, but be prepared to assist them during the meal if needed. Discuss with other guests who will assist your parents in case they need to excuse themselves.
  • Keep fluids handy: Ensure that your parents stay hydrated before, during, and after the meal. Have extra water and a straw available if needed, and consider adding extra sauce to moisten the food, making it easier to swallow.
  • Monitor alcohol intake: Check with your parent’s doctor if it’s safe for them to consume alcohol, and if so, in what quantities. Be mindful of their alcohol intake, as it can interfere with their medications and increase the risk of falls. Consider offering non-alcoholic alternatives if needed, and be responsible with your own alcohol consumption while caregiving.
  • Plan for your parent’s exit: Gatherings can be overwhelming for older adults, and your parents may want to leave before the meal ends. Discuss and decide on a realistic exit time with your parents in advance, and inform other guests accordingly so they can plan accordingly.

By taking these steps, you can help ensure that your aging parent is comfortable and cared for during holiday meals, while also enjoying the festivities yourself.

Balancing Treats and Nutritious Choices

The holiday season is typically a time of happiness and festivities, with meals being a significant part of the celebrations. However, as a caregiver for an elderly parent, the joy of the holidays can be dampened by added stress and responsibilities.

So here are some ways to modify holiday recipes from UC Davis Health, to relieve you from the stress of thinking how to make your holiday meals healthy for the grandpas and grannies:

  • Opt for unsweetened flavored beverages and drink water for hydration.
  • Choose white meat without skin, as it is lower in fat compared to dark meat.
  • Limit the use of gravies and cream sauces to just enough for taste.
  • Cook stuffing in a separate dish from the meat to reduce fat content and minimize the risk of food poisoning from undercooked meat juices.
  • Consider serving baked potatoes, yams, and steamed vegetables without rich casseroles or cream sauce. Experiment with spices for added flavor.
  • Substitute evaporated skim milk or plain low-fat yogurt for cream and sour cream.
  • Reduce sugar in baked treats by using pureed fruit for natural sweetness.
  • For dessert, limit yourself to 1 or 2 items and choose smaller portions.
  • Avoid eggnog and limit alcoholic drinks, as they tend to be high in calories. One serving of alcohol is equivalent to 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of light beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

Healthy Holiday Recipes

Here are some healthy meal ideas that both your older loved ones and the rest of the family can enjoy.

Appetizers (Recipes From Food Network)


  • Artichoke Spinach Dip, Slimmed
  • Holy Moly Guacamole

Vegetarian Bites

  • Chile-Garlic Edamame
  • Tomato Bruschetta

Fish & Seafood Bites

  • Crab Dumplings, Slimmed
  • Salmon Sushi Bites

Meat & Poultry Bites

  • Mini Pork Cheeseburgers
  • Spiced Chicken and Grape Skewers

Main Dish (Recipes from Eating Well )

Diabetic Christmas Main Dish

  • Pork Tenderloin with Apple-Thyme Sweet Potatoes
  • Simple Roast Chicken
  • Apple Cider Chicken
  • Quinoa & Chia Oatmeal Mix
  • Irish Pork Roast with Roasted Root Vegetables

Vegan Thanksgiving Main Dish

  • Overnight Oatmeal
  • Mini Brie & Apple Quiches
  • Moroccan Chickpea-Stuffed Acorn Squash
  • Vegan Cauliflower Steaks with Mushroom Gravy
  • Vegan Butternut Squash Soup

Dessert (Recipes from Eating Well)

Low-calorie Desserts

  • Fresh Apple Squares
  • Cranberry Crumble Bars
  • Mini New York Cheesecakes
  • Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Spiced Pumpkin Cookies

Healthy Pie Recipes

  • Light and Luscious Pumpkin Pie
  • Lemon Curd Pie
  • Frozen Pumpkin Mousse Pie
  • Maple Wild Blueberry Pie
  • Air-Fryer Berry Hand Pies


It’s important for older adults and their families to keep in mind the importance of maintaining healthy eating habits even during holidays and special gatherings. By being mindful of portion sizes, incorporating nutrient-rich foods, and staying hydrated, older adults can continue to prioritize their nutrition during the holidays. 

Additionally, involving the whole family in meal planning and preparation can create opportunities for bonding and promote a shared commitment to healthy eating. Remember, with a little planning and moderation, older adults and their families can enjoy the holiday season while also taking care of their health. 

You may also visit our Cooking For Seniors: A Guide To Healthy Techniques article to get some amazing cooking tips you can use even on non-special occasions.