“I have been cooking since I was eight years old,” says Idalia Collazo.
The home cook never attended any culinary schools, but she spent years preparing meals for loved ones with various health problems. The experience heightened Collazo’s awareness of the special dietary needs of seniors when she works as a caregiver.
For 16 years, Collazo has run her own catering company while taking care of her mother who has dementia and diabetes and her 26-year-old daughter who has autism. When her friend Marisol Maribel asked if she would stand in for a caregiver job, she thought to herself, “Why not?”
“Cooking is my passion and I like helping others,” says Collazo. Maribel, who is the staffing coordinator for Right at Home Uptown New York City, knew Collazo would be perfect for a client who needed to improve his nutrition.
Collazo started working as a homemaker and companion caregiver in May 2016, helping a client with his dietary needs.
Adding a Healthy Twist to a Favorite Food
“My first client was a 77-year-old gentleman who lives alone,” says Collazo. “He took care of his mother and was always working. When his mother passed away, he became disabled. I don’t think he had ever cooked, but it could also be a long-time habit that he only ate fast food.”
The client was on the heavier side and needed medication to ease the pain in his knees at the time. Collazo observed his food preference, but decided to deliver a healthier version.
“He likes burgers so I made him burgers — veggie burgers,” Collazo chuckles. “I don’t put salt in his food. I use natural seasonings such as pure garlic instead of garlic powder to add flavors.”
Nine months later, the client had lost 18 pounds. “His family is very happy,” says Collazo. Now he calls her on weekday mornings and tells her what he wants to eat that day. She then shops for groceries and prepares his meals accordingly.
Weekend Meal Prep Makes for Healthier Eating
Collazo met her second client in October last year. “It was supposed to be a temporary case,” she says. “I only needed to pick up the client from her doctor appointment and take her home. But she had a broken ankle, so I decided to fix her something for dinner.”
After the client fully recovered, she asked Collazo to continue preparing her meals. “‘Could you try making this for me?’ she would ask while showing me a menu (recipe), and I might add a few twists to improve the flavor,” says Collazo.
Her knack in cooking apparently has won the client over. They now meet once a week for four or five hours, and during that time Collazo prepares a week’s worth of meals for her. The meals stay good in the fridge for a week, but Collazo is cautious about food safety. She makes sure that all meals are packaged right, and more perishable items, such as meat, stay frozen in the freezer.
When it’s time to eat, “They (the clients) just need to microwave; no stove is necessary,” says Collazo.
Although fresh groceries provide value for the price and meal kits are convenient, they still require the use of a stove and some level of preparation. As mobility becomes an issue, eating well and maintaining good nutrition can be a struggle for an aging loved one. An alternative to stocking up on prepackaged frozen meals could be working with a homemaking caregiver who has knowledge and experience in geriatric nutrition —nothing as extravagant as hiring a personal chef, but your loved one will have someone who can tailor meals to their liking and needs.