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Recipes, Safety
By Robert Firpo-Cappiello

Cooking Tips and Simple Recipes for Alzheimer's Patients

How people with dementia can still enjoy time in the kitchen.

Bulgur salad with tomatoes

People with a diagnosis of dementia or cognitive impairment can still indulge their passion for cooking, says Suzanne Fitzsimmons, MS, a nurse practitioner and former instructor in therapeutic geriatric care at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. From her years leading therapeutic cooking programs for older adults, Fitzsimmons has compiled these tips for caregivers and friends and families to help avoid potential hazards in the kitchen.

Oven MITT by Lastspark from the Noun Project
  1. Choose easy recipes. Look for recipes with few ingredients and simple steps. Foods that don't require cooking or can be "assembled" are ideal. For lunch, think of green salads, fruit salad, personal-size pizzas, or vegetable soup. For dessert, consider applesauce, ice cream sundaes, cookies, or pies.
  2. Modify and improvise. Alter recipes to suit the abilities of participants. For instance, if an apple pie recipe is too complex for somebody with dementia, try an apple crisp or applesauce. Or make a banana smoothie instead of banana bread, custard instead of quiche, or mashed potatoes instead of scalloped potatoes. People will still reap the benefits of being active and engaged even with a simplified recipe.
  3. Divide tasks appropriately. Gauge the abilities of participants and assign duties accordingly. For instance, someone with mild cognitive impairment might be able to choose recipes, prepare shopping lists, set timers, and measure, peel, and cut ingredients. Others might be able to follow two-step recipes, mix, pour, wash dishes, and set and clear tables. If that's too much for some, ask them to stir, shake, or mix ingredients, or to dry dishes.
  4. Build in safety. People with dementia should do prep work and cooking in a supervised environment. This reduces the risk of someone forgetting to turn off a burner or the oven, which can burn the food, the pan, or the participant. Use blunt utensils. Wipe up spilled liquids and foods right away. Be aware of allergies or swallowing difficulties (a common symptom in advanced Alzheimer's), and be careful with flour and other powders around people who have respiratory ailments.


Three Simple and Safe Recipes

After a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, cookbook author Paula Wolfert can still cook—with some help from her friends. She mostly prepares simple, easy-to-assemble dishes like these from Linda Monastra, a recipe developer and graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City.

Fruit Salad

Serves 4

This easy-to-assemble salad includes precut fruit as well as citrus juices, spices, and basil to elevate the flavors. 

  • 8 oz. packaged precut watermelon
  • 8 oz. packaged precut cantaloupe
  • 8 oz. packaged precut pineapple
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 2 tbsp. bottled orange juice
  • 1 tbsp. bottled lime juice
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup basil, roughly torn by hand
  • 2 tsp. chia seeds

Place fruit in large bowl. Add orange and lime juices and stir to coat. Add salt, pepper, cinnamon, and basil, and mix. Spoon fruit salad into individual bowls, and top each serving with ½ tsp. chia seeds. (Add chia seeds just before serving, or they’ll absorb the extra liquid and gel.)

Bulgur Salad with Herbs and Chickpeas

Serves 4

Bulgur, a whole grain made from cracked wheat, can be softened with water boiled in an electric tea kettle, so it doesn’t require any cooking on a stove. If you don’t have an electric tea kettle, use one on the stove, but set a timer as a reminder to turn it off. The tomatoes can be sliced using a serrated butter knife that is not too sharp, or a caregiver can slice them in advance.

  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 1½ cups boiling water
  • ¼ cup bottled lemon juice
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. ground coriander
  • ½ cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly torn by hand
  • ¼ cup spearmint leaves, roughly torn by hand
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Place bulgur in a large heatproof bowl. Carefully pour boiling water over bulgur, and cover bowl with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Allow the bulgur to steam in bowl for at least 30 minutes.

Just before the bulgur is done steaming, put lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon, garlic powder, and coriander in a jar with a lid. Tightly close lid and shake jar to combine ingredients. 

Remove cover on the bowl and pour dressing over the bulgur. Stir to mix dressing with the bulgur. Add parsley, spearmint, cherry tomatoes, and chickpeas. Stir to combine all ingredients. You can eat the bulgur salad immediately or chill at least 1 hour (or overnight) to allow the flavors to meld better. 

Mini Pizzas

This is a fun way to involve people with different tastes and abilities in making a meal together. Each person can choose his or her own crust and toppings. Pizzas can be quickly cooked in a toaster oven, or in a broiler, with the help of a caregiver.

Crust options:

  • 7-in. whole wheat pita or flatbread
  • Whole wheat English muffins, separated into halves
  • Small baguette, sliced in half horizontally and cut into 4-in. lengths
  • 8-in. packaged prebaked mini-pizza crusts

Suggested toppings:

  • Jarred tomato or pesto sauce
  • Grated mozzarella cheese
  • Sliced mushrooms
  • Sliced black olives. drained
  • Red bell peppers, sliced into strips
  • Broccoli florets, broken into small pieces
  • Packaged julienned sundried tomatoes

Suggested garnishes:

  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Dried oregano
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Garlic powder

Place crust on foil-covered toaster oven tray or baking sheet. Spread 2 to 3 tbsp. of sauce evenly over crust. Top with enough mozzarella cheese to evenly cover sauce, about ¼ cup. Add any desired toppings on top of cheese.

Place tray in toaster oven or broiler. Turn to high, and set timer for 4 minutes. Bake until cheese begins to bubble and slightly toast. Remove pizza from oven and top with desired garnishes. Allow pizza to cool slightly before eating.