A Guide to Holiday Planning – 10 Helpful Topics to Consider

We have gathered tips from Autumn Glen Resident Engagement Director, Jennifer Gelinas and Autumn Glen Culinary Director, Chris Flagg for how to create the best environment for your holiday celebrations.

When it comes to holiday celebrations the most important parts are the people that you are celebrating with, and also maybe the food, but mostly the people.

As our families start to grow and expand we often make accommodations to make sure everyone can enjoy the celebration. When it comes to babies and young kids – we may be more mindful of what we leave within reach on lower shelves for little hands to easily access. What we don’t always consider is how to make accommodations for the older adults in our family.

We have gathered tips from Autumn Glen Resident Engagement Director, Jennifer Gelinas and Autumn Glen Culinary Director, Chris Flagg for how to create the best environment for your holiday celebrations.

We’ve broken down the key ingredients to a successful celebration!

1. Timing

When planning your celebration, be considerate of what time of day will work best for older adults. Things to consider are – stamina and cognition. Is mom an early riser who usually takes an afternoon nap? Maybe start the celebration a little early so she is able to enjoy her time before becoming tired. Remember, the holidays come once a year and for good reason- they often require a lot of work and a lot of energy. It’s not everyday we have family celebrations so be mindful that these events, although exciting, will cause fatigue for older adults. What time you start the celebration might determine how long mom/dad will be able to enjoy the event. Starting in the early afternoon might lend to a few hours of fun but starting in the evening may shorten the time you are able to celebrate.

2. Creating a Comfortable Space

Be mindful of any assistive devices that may be used such as walkers or wheelchairs. Look at the space through the eyes of someone who may be visually impaired, are there any tripping hazards or areas that are cause for concern? If someone is hearing impaired, is there a best spot for them to sit where they won’t become over stimulated or frustrated by the noise and not being able to hear who is speaking to them. Consider designating a chair for mom or dad where they are far enough away from noise that they can carry a conversation but are not so far away that they are isolated from the party.

3. Think Safety

As New Englanders we know that weather in December is unpredictable and this may effect the travel of older adults in your family. Are they able to safely drive to the location, or would it be better to pick them up? Will alcohol be served at the event and if so, do you feel comfortable with them driving home after? It gets dark very early so no matter when you start the party, chances are it will be dark by the time people are leaving – does your mom/dad struggle with nighttime driving? Be prepared with plans on how to make sure everyone is able to get to and from the party safely.

4. Always a Hostess, Never a Guest

Will this be the first year that the older generation in your family will not be hosting the holiday? Consider inviting them to come a little early to help prepare and set up for the party. The may be more comfortable knowing they contributed to the celebration.

5. But What Will I Wear

Did anyone else read that in the Grinch voice? Similar to how The Grinch felt going down to Whoville to celebrate with The Whos, there may be some anxiety leading up to large gatherings for older adults. They might be unsure of what to wear or what to bring and if what they have decided is appropriate. Check in before the event and ask if they need to visit the hairdresser or go shopping for a new outfit. Understand what about the situation might be overwhelming to them and support them with how best to handle it.

6. The Guest List

Inviting guest who have a history with mom or dad will ensure they have someone to talk with if you happen to find yourself running around the party trying to host, keep mom company, get the food out and welcome all the guests into your home. Being a host/ hostess can pull your attention in many different directions so be sure you have someone at the party who can keep an eye on mom/dad, talk with them and give you a heads up if they notice that they are becoming tired or a little agitated.

7. What to Have on the Menu

When crafting your beautifully delicious holiday meal you may want to consider things like – food allergies, medications, dietary restrictions and food texture. It is often helpful to have alternative options on hand for anyone with specific dietary needs. Also be thinking about the overall meal, is it too heavy on carbs or does it contain too many salty or sweet items. Be sure you have a variety of choices that allow guests to indulge of the classic tastes of traditional foods as well as some healthier alternatives.

Eat This, Not That – Holiday Edition by Culinary Director Chris

  • Instead of mashed potatoes try mashed cauliflower
  • Instead of canned yams try sweet potatoes
  • Instead of marshmallow in yams try Vermont syrup
  • Instead of dark meat try white meat
  • Instead of mayo/cheese try avocado
  • Instead of cheese & crackers try veggies/fruit with low fat dip
  • Instead of prime rib try leaner cuts of beef
  • Instead of Caesar salad try mixed greens with dried cranberries and nuts
  • Instead of cranberry sauce try homemade cranberry sauce.
8. When to Serve the Food

In addition to timing of the event, you need to think about timing of the food. If you know the event will be mostly appetizers and drinks, sometime between lunch and dinner works best. If you know you will be serving a full meal, whether it is lunch or dinner, start on the earlier side of the mealtime. This will ensure everyone is settled and comfortable before you start eating. Be sure to have light snacks or appetizers available, even if you are hosting a sit down meal, in case anyone starts to feel hungry before being served.

9. Foods to avoid –  foods/drinks you should do your best to avoid serving this holiday season
  • Fried foods – fried foods are unhealthy and high in saturated and trans fats which could increase the risk of heart disease and/or stroke. Try to use oven baked appetizers to start your holiday celebration.
  • Processed meats – avoid serving processed deli meats or high sodium meats like salami, pepperoni or ham. These are all typically found on a charcuterie board which are usually found at most holiday celebrations
  • Sweets – what’s a holiday party without a sweet treat to end the night, not much of a party at all! Remember to enjoy sweets in moderation and try not to go over board this season.
  • Refined carbs – it is easy to fill up on refined carbs (bread, pasta, rice) try using wholegrain options to lean a little bit on the healthier side.
  • Foods with added salts – limit the amount of chips, pretzels and crackers your snacking on as higher sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure.
  • Alcohol – older adults must be very careful when consuming alcohol for many reasons. Alcohol contains a lot of sugar which is dangerous for someone who is diabetic. Depending on how much is consumed, alcohol may lead to poor balance and a higher fall risk which becomes a safety concern. It is important to know your limit and be keeping an eye if mom/dad decide to partake in a little ‘holiday cheer’ this season.
10. Slow down and smell the flowers

It can often feel like the holidays fly by and before we know it we’re knee deep in mid-January snow. If there is one thing we can learn from older generations, it’s to take time, slow down and enjoy the holiday moments. Mom/Dad might move at a slower pace and that’s ok, there is no need to rush. Being patient and understanding when finding the best solutions to issues that arise will ensure your loved one will not feel like a burdon or an extra worry during an already stressful time of year. This will go a long way in making them feel like a valued part of the celebration.

Our guide covers a lot of topics and may seem overwhelming to follow when hosting your upcoming holiday celebrations. The most important thing to remember is to enjoy time with family and make sure everyone is happy, safe, cared for and well fed! We hope these tips will help you feel more prepared when it comes to hosting gatherings throughout the holiday seasons.

If you start to realize mom or dad may benefit from the supportive lifestyle of a senior living community, click here to find a Northbridge location near you. Both Jennifer and Chris work as directors at our community, Autumn Glen, and are happy to connect with any further questions about all things food and engagement!

Thank you to Jennifer Gelinas and Chris Flagg for sharing their expert knowledge with us.

Be sure to check out our other Holiday blogs:
Tips for Navigating Holiday Traditions
10 Tips for Caregivers – Dementia & The Holidays
Cheerful Tips for Remembering and Reminiscing around the Holidays
Check out our Ask the Expert Article by Kelly McCarthy, VP of Resident Engagement and Memory Care Services – Dementia & The Holidays – A Guide to Success

We’re here to answer any of your questions. Please contact us if we can provide further information or if you would like to schedule a personalized tour. Download our complimentary Family Decision Toolkit.




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