Filling the fridge for your cocooners: The power of lists

In the new normal, we can help keep our loved one’s fridge well stocked and cupboards full and with a bit of clever planning and an age-old solution: making lists.

Over the last few months, many of us have developed routines for caring for our elderly parents, friends and relatives from afar. With the ease of restrictions, some of them have burst out of their cocoon to do their own weekly shop. But for many, donning a mask and trying to keep a distance of two metres from friends and neighbours in the supermarket aisles is still a stressful option.

So how do we move into the next phase of the new normal, making sure our loved one’s fridge is well stocked and their cupboards full?

As in many areas of life, the solution lies in making a list. A list can save time, money, and your sanity. The internet is jammed with food shopping list templates and you can download an array of apps for your phone. Sometimes the old ways are the best, and many elderly people prefer to stick to pen and paper. No matter which method you use, the trick is to personalise it and make it work for both of you.

You might want to make a few lists at the start. One of their favourite foods. One with their meal plan. One to leave with them so they can tick things as they run low. And ultimately the one you bring with you to the shop. Whether that’s a scrunched-up piece of paper in your pocket or an app on your phone is up to you.

Make a meal plan

Meal planning fell out of fashion for a while but many of the older generation still have their routine and know what they are going to eat as their main meal every day of the week. Check in with them to make sure they are getting the right balance of protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates to suit their activity level. If you are creating a new meal plan together, the HSE has a suggested food plan for guidance and the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI) website has some useful tips.

Check what’s there

If you can be there personally, check what’s already in the fridge, freezer and cupboards. Things past their “use by” date should be thrown out. The “best before” date is about quality – the food is still safe to eat (as long as it’s not too long ago!) but it may not taste as good as it did originally. This usually applies to things like frozen, canned or dried foods.

If your loved ones are bad with lists but handy with a smartphone (it happens!) they can send a photo of what’s in the fridge to save you a trip.

The basic list: Hints

  • Bread, butter, sugar, milk was the mantra in my childhood home, and for many, things haven’t changed that much (except the bread may now be gluten-free.)
  • Tea, coffee and biscuits.
  • Breakfast. Variety may be the spice of life, but most of us are fairly consistent with our breakfast. Is there enough cereal? And while it’s far from chia seeds I was reared, they are a staple for my 86-year-old mother now, added to her daily porridge for extra fibre. Many also add things like prunes, wheat bran or linseed to “keep them regular”.
  • Vegetables and fruit. The food pyramid guidelines recommend 5- 7 servings a day. In an ideal world they would be fresh, but frozen vegetables are a practical and nutritious addition to your shopping list.
  • Are there enough potatoes? Rice and pasta? Stock up on the carbohydrate of choice.
  • The protein fix: whatever meat, fish or eggs you have included in your meal plan.
  • Check that there are a few options for tea (as in, the evening meal) or lunch (if the main meal is eaten later.) Things like canned fish are always handy to have and pack a punch with healthy fats. Soup is also a staple for many.
  • The extras: salt, pepper, sauce, mustard, oil, marmalade, jam.
  • Non-food things – like kitchen towel, soap, deodorant, shampoo, shaving cream, toilet roll, tissues. And for many of the older generation, news still comes in a form you can hold in your hand, especially when it’s a local paper.

The shopping list

An important thing to remember is that our parents and beloved elderly have spent decades figuring out what they like to eat. We all know the Barrys or Lyons tea debate lives on – make sure you get the right one. But many also have favourite brands for things like bread, sliced ham and even milk. It’s worth writing these names down, especially if grandchildren or other relatives are also helping.

Once you have your meal planned and have checked what’s already there, then you can make your list for the weekly shop, secure in the knowledge that everyone will be happy at the end of the day. Go forth and shop with confidence.

Be there for an older loved one, from anywhere.