By Marge Knoth, Author, Activity Professional
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Author, Activity Professional
Valley Press Books
Stir Up Some Savory Snacks
by Marge Knoth

In one way or another, many of our residents’ fondest memories involve food.  Think of
family reunions, picnics, weddings, graduations and birthdays.  With many women
being homemakers, food preparation played a major role in their lives.  They peeled,
chopped, churned, baked and fried.  They butchered, canned, pickled, froze, and dried
their food.  Their memories harbor a vast accumulation of food-related data.  As activity
professionals, we can draw that information out and have the basis for lively food-
related discussions.

There are unlimited activities having to do with food.  Some involve food directly such as
food preparation and cooking. Others might include reminiscing about it, talking about
it, playing games about it, and more.  Today we’re going to review some food-related
ideas that have provided many satisfying activity sessions. One way to get your
residents quickly involved is to take them on a sentimental journey–a journey back to
their childhood, to their mother’s kitchen where the sweet aroma of hot biscuits and
luscious sugar cookies permeated the air.

Remembering Mama’s kitchen

This one can be either a group or a bedside activity. Encourage residents to mentally
revisit the kitchen of their childhood. How big was your kitchen?  Was it warm or cold?  
What did it smell like?  Did mom bake bread there?  Discuss the table.  Was there a
covering on it?  Was it oilcloth?  Was it red and white checked, or perhaps a cloth
tablecloth?   Was it embroidered?  What set in the center of your table?  Was it a spoon
holder?  flower arrangement?  fresh fruit?  Where did your father sit?  your mother?  
you?  What kind of a stove did you have?  Was it an iron cookstove?  a gas stove?
electric?  Was there a wood box in the kitchen?  What kind of cabinets did you have?  
wall cabinets?  a kitchen cupboard?  Maybe there was a  Hoosier cupboard with a
granite top, a flour sifter in the side, and a roll top.  Was there an icebox?  a
refrigerator?  How were the windows covered? blinds? curtains?  What fabric were they
made of? cotton?  What did the kitchen floor look like? linoleum? wood? tile?   What
kind of dishes did you use?  porcelain? china? granite?  How did you wash them?  Did
you have running water?  Did you have a pump on the side of the sink? Did you have a
dishpan?  Did you have to heat water on the stove to do dishes?  Was there a cookie
jar?  Where was it?  Did you have to ask for a cookie?  Did you ever steal one when no
one was looking?  Did you ever take a bath in the kitchen in front of the warm stove?  
Did family and friends come for dinner there? Thanksgiving? other holidays?  Do you
have good memories of that old kitchen?  Tell me more about it.

Non-cooking activities

1) Let your residents peer over grocery ads and discuss the items offered.  Compare
today’s prices with old-time prices. If you happen to have it, you can find some old-time
prices in my book Newsletters Simplified!*  Challenge them to plan a meal around the
grocery ads.

2) Keep a stack of cookbooks handy.  On a slow day, or when you have a no-show
entertainer, break them out and let residents go through them and discuss dishes they
used to make.

3) Share your recipe box with them.  Let them discuss each recipe.  Give them each a
recipe card and, if able, have them write out a favorite recipe of theirs.  Help them where

4) Put together a small cookbook with their recipes.  Sell to staff and friends.

5) Let residents select food pictures from magazines that look good to them, and then
tear them out.  Challenge them to put together a meal from the pictures.

6) Similarly, have a “paper potluck.”  For one activity session,  have residents tear out
food pictures from magazines in many categories:  meats, vegetables, fruits, breads,
desserts .  For a second small group activity, have residents cut around the pictures
more neatly.  For a third activity, have a few residents lay each category of food pictures
on a separate serving tray.  One for meats, one for vegetables, etc.  Then give each
resident a paper plate and begin to pass the trays around.  Let them fill their plates with
the pictures of food.  Tell them they can take as much as they want.  When finished,
have your dietician talk to the residents about their choices and nutrition in general.

7) Have some residents clip coupons from magazines. Other alert residents (maybe
bed residents) can sort them and check for the expiration date.

8)  Reminisce a bit by discussing big funeral dinners of the past. Since showings and
funerals used to be held in the home, much food was carried in. Ask if they ever
contributed to a funeral dinner, and if so, what foods did they take?  Ask if they were ever
the recipient of such dinners.  You can also reminisce about church potluck dinners.

9) After a menu is planned, take able residents shopping in a large supermarket for
necessary ingredients. Check out the many kinds of produce.  See if they can name
unusual fruits and vegetables.  View the convenience foods and other new products.  
Look at the fat-free, low- sodium, and sugar free products. Talk about the “green” cloth
bags available in place of plastic or paper.  Go through the self-check- out, and show
residents how to do business without a sales clerk.  When they return discuss how
shopping has changed over the years. Discuss debit card use. Talk about the food
nutrition labels on the back of items.

10) During the Great Depression and other hard times, residents learned to get by
meagerly. Discuss how they prepared meals on a shoestring budget.  Ask what their
stand-by meals were-- beans? cornbread?  biscuits and gravy?  Ask if they ever used
chicory or Postum  when they could not get coffee. Discuss sugar rationing.  Ask if they
ever had to use ration stamps to purchase certain foods. Ask if they remember buying
food in feed sacks made of colorful fabric.

11) Have a discussion on preserving food.  Ask if they remember their mother storing
eggs for long periods of time in Waterglass, sand, or another solution. For those who
lived on farms, ask about butchering day and how they preserved the meat.  Do they
remember frying it and then putting it in a crock amid layers of fat?  Ask if they
remember their grandparents talking about cutting ice with saws from the river and
bringing it to their personal ice house that was lined with sawdust. Ask about canning
and drying food.  Discuss jelly- and wine-making.

Resident cooking projects

1)  Buttering bread can be a favorite project for Alzheimer’s and low-functioning
residents. Buy inexpensive white bread from the bread thrift store.  When finished,
residents can eat what they want,  then quietly discard the rest.

2)  Making stuffing or dressing is a good activity.  Low-functioning residents can tear the
bread and higher-functioning residents can chop celery and onion.  Others can add an
egg and water or broth.  Others can use rubber gloves and mix it up.  

3) Make ice cream.  If you have it on hand,  there’s an easy four-ingredient recipe for ice
cream in my book Activity Planning at Your Fingertips.

4)   Noodle-making can be a fun activity.

5)  Have a biscuit-making or a pie-crust making contest.

Food Related Games

1) Have residents name as many as they can of each of the following categories:
breakfast foods, picnic foods, main dishes, fruits, nuts, desserts, potatoes, vegetables,
chocolate foods, and pies.

2) Give residents a list of ingredients and have them guess what the finished dish will
be.  Example:  milk sugar, butter, salt, cocoa, vanilla.  Answer:  fudge.

3) Try some old proverbs regarding food.
a)  When the photographers wants you to smile, he tells you to say...cheese.
b)  The teacher says to use your...noodle.
c)  County fairs are as American pie.
d)  To support one’s family is to bring home the...bacon.
e)  Fog is as thick as...pea soup.
f)  Santa’s belly shook like a bowl full of...jelly.
g)  If folks are crowed in an elevator they are packed in like...sardines.

4)  Share some cooking tips from an old cookbook.
  • a) What do you do when soup gets too salty?  Add a sliced potato to absorb the
    salt , and cook longer.
  • b) How do you keep cookies from burning?  Turn the pan over and bake them on
    the bottom of it.        
  • c) How do you keep pie crust from shrinking?  Refrigerate it one hour before
    baking it.
  • d) How do you keep icing soft?  Add a pinch of baking soda to the egg whites
    before beating them.
  • e) How do you thaw meat quickly?  Sprinkle salt on it.
  • f) How do you prevent white flour from sticking on your chocolate cake?  Dust
    your cake pan with cocoa.        
  • g) How do you cook a pumpkin pie in half the time?  Heat the filling on top of the
    stove before pouring it into the crust.

Quick foods to cook

1) Peanut butter fudge: 1 c. peanut butter, 1 c. honey, 2 c. dry milk crystals.  Slice and eat.

2) Mini pizzas: Flatten refrigerated biscuits to about saucer size, and top with pizza
sauce, cheese, and any other topping.  Bake 10 minutes or till done.

3) Make cinnamon rolls from thawed frozen bread dough:  Roll out, spread with melted
butter, sprinkle a mixture of cinnamon and sugar over it, roll up jelly-roll style, and slice
into rolls. Bake 350 degrees,  20-30 minutes.

4) Donuts: You might want to do this outside because of fire codes, with staff help,
keeping residents at a distance because hot grease is involved.  Using Grand
refrigerated biscuits, punch a hole in the center of each.  (You can use a salt shaker top
for this.) Using an electric fryer, fry three donuts at a time.  Cook about two minutes on
each side.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  When cool enough to handle, roll in
cinnamon and sugar, or for glazed donuts, dip in a thin mixture of powder sugar and

5) Other fun things to cook are french toast, salsa, granola, muffins, pretzels (using
thawed frozen bread dough), finger Jello, bar cookies, instant pudding, and pineapple-
upside-down cake.

There you have numerous food-related activities, maybe enough to last a whole year.
On cooking days when you don’t feel like cooking, why not try some food-related
games?  We all know that even when residents refuse other activities, food-related
ones often draw them out. Why not take advantage of it and plan lots of them?  When
you see the smile on their faces, you’ll be glad you did.

God bless you all, Marge.

* Newsletters Simplified! ($22.99) and Activity Planning at Your Fingertips ($33.99) plus
shipping can be purchased through Valley Press, P.O. Box 14134, Bradenton, Florida
34280.  Call or fax (941) 708-9700

Marge Knoth attended Purdue
University and took her activity
director training at Indiana
University and her social
service at Ball State.  She is
the author of ten books for
activity professionals. Her
books have been used as
teaching guides in colleges,
trade schools, and in activity
director courses throughout the
U.S. and Canada. They have
won both national and state
awards from the National
Federation of Press Women
and Women’s Press Club of

Marge has written a monthly
column, "A Letter from Marge"
for Current Activities in Long
Term Care.  She has been
published in Family Circle,
Lady’s Circle, Women’s Circle,
Indianapolis Woman, Christian
Science Monitor, Event,
various Christian and craft
publications, and other
magazines and newspapers.
She wrote a weekly newspaper
column called “Do You
Remember?”, and wrote and
recorded a long-running series
of nostalgic radio
commercials.  Also, she is a
motivational speaker having
traveled the United States and
Canada speaking at many state
and province activity