A Friendsgiving to Remember

Thanksgiving is a time that families get together to eat a traditional meal of turkey and all the trimmings, share memories and make new ones.  But Thanksgiving doesn’t always work out like it used to, especially for elderly people living in long term care communities.  When you reach a certain age, family members may be gone or unable to join you for dinner because they live too far away, have to work or don’t have the money to spend for a trip. Whatever the reason, holidays can be a lonely time for residents in long term care.

For that reason, we suggest taking a page from the 20-somethings who invented Friendsgiving because they couldn’t get home for the holidays because of work, distance, or a dislike of Aunt Freda’s questions about why they aren’t married yet. While traditional Thanksgiving is about spending time with your family while gobbling down as much food as possible, Friendsgiving is about spending the day with friends while sharing a meal to which everyone contributed. Because friends tend to come from different family backgrounds and cultures, a Friendsgiving table can look distinctly more diverse than a traditional Thanksgiving table, with pumpkin pie finding its place alongside fried rice and kimchi.

To make Friendsgiving happen in your community where kitchen staff prepare the meals, you can ask for recipes from your residents that made their Thanksgiving special for their family. Because people in a community come from different backgrounds and ethnicities, you will get a diverse and interesting menu from which to choose. Once you have enough recipes, you can have people vote on what they would like to see on the menu. Residents whose recipes are selected can help cook the meals, giving them a sense of purpose and pride.  You can make this happen at every holiday, not just Thanksgiving. As you incorporate residents’ family holiday traditions into the daily life of your community, let everyone in the community know who contributed them. Use tent cards or signs to tell people that the delicious Cuban pork, yucca, black beans and rice served on Christmas Eve in celebration of Noche Buena came from Cecilia, or that the terrific egg cream milkshake came from Norm.

Some other things you can do to give meaning to the holiday for residents and the community at large are as follows:

  1. Decorating

Ask residents what they would like to see as holiday decorations and your activities staff can involve them in creating personal embellishments for their individual rooms and in sharing ideas to decorate the communal areas.

  1. Music

Hearing holiday favorites can help people get into the spirit of the holidays. Add some of the holiday classics to your mealtime musical selections or ask your holiday entertainers to incorporate them into their sets. You can mix in some diversity in the music, as well, with Feliz Navidad or Dradle Dradle. You get the idea. Get your residents involved and ask them what tunes they’d like to hear at their holiday celebration.

  1. Beverages

Memories of past holidays should include favorite beverages. You may learn about some wonderful refreshments from the different cultures of your residents. Serve these festive and seasonal beverages in your snack areas or while residents are waiting to be served a meal. The bonus is that will ensure hydration for seniors during the busy holiday season.

  1. It is important to allow residents the opportunity to reminisce about their family holiday celebrations. Sharing memories enriches their experience and allows you and your residents to get to know each other. Consider setting up a time for residents to share their holiday stories while enjoying traditional seasonal drinks and snacks.

Try to include all residents in planning and activities and be watchful for signs of depression.

Different foods and snacking between meals may also affect some residents’ appetites. Continue to keep a close eye on any residents at risk for poor appetite during the holidays and offer alternatives and encouragement if needed. Special holiday foods are a healthy and fun way to supplement the existing diets of your residents and to make the holidays more interesting and enjoyable.

To give you some ideas for the upcoming holidays, we would like to offer you our Christmas Holiday Menu Package for free. This package includes a holiday menu that you can use as a start to your community’s festivities as well as suggestions for holiday activities and decorations. Then you can add to it with your own ethnic dishes. And, we encourage you to get a jump start on 2019 holiday planning with the ultimate holiday and special occasions menu package for 14 day’s worth of celebrations. Best of all, it’s less than $40!

About Diane Hall

Diane Hall has always had a heart for older adults. It’s why senior nutrition became her life-long vocation and unquenchable passion. And it is why she is now regarded as a visionary and leader in this rapidly evolving field. An expert consultant and nationally recognized speaker, Diane is a powerful advocate for the new dining standards that have resulted from the shift in the culture of long term care. For her it’s not just a trend. It’s her life.
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