Posts Tagged cooking with dementia

Make “Puppy Chow”

puppy chow

Puppy Chow, also known as “Muddy Mix” or “Monkey Munch”, is a super easy, super delicious treat. But be warned: This recipe is NOT for the diabetics among us! I like this recipe as an activity for people with memory loss because it’s pretty simple, can be done without the stove, and it’s not a big deal if the ingredients aren’t measured exactly. The recipe, courtesy of, is as follows:

9 cups Chex cereal (any kind)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter, melted
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 -2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1. Measure cereal in large bowl and set aside.
2. Microwave chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter for 1 minute on high.
3. Stir and cook for 30 seconds longer or until smooth.
4. Add vanilla.
5. Pour mixture over cereal, stirring until coated.
6. Pour mixture into large Ziploc bag and add powdered sugar.
7. Shake until well coated.
8. Spread on waxed paper to cool.
9. Eat. Store in Ziploc bags or large sealed bowl (as if it will last that long!).

Of course, this activity can be modified for someone in almost any stage of dementia. Someone with only mild memory loss may be able to do all the steps independently. Someone the moderate stages may be able to measure all the ingredients and stir/shake as needed, but may need help remembering the order of the steps or need help operating the microwave. Someone in the late stages of the disease may be able to stir or shake after seeing a short demonstration or some hand-over-hand assistance.

Be sure to reminisce as you cook. You could ask about favorite sweet treats, what they liked to cook (or what they hated to cook!). Their children’s favorite snacks, how they learned to cook, etc.

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Pick Grapes Off the Bunch


Picking grapes off the bunch is a great way for the person with memory loss to help out in the kitchen. It allows the former cook of the family to still be involved, yet out from underfoot if you need to concentrate on what’s your doing. It allows the hungry person to enjoy a snack without tons of empty calories (and the reluctant drinker to get some fluids). It’s overlearnt and repetitive nature means that people very late in the disease can still perform it (though if you’re the cautious type you’ll likely want to make sure they didn’t miss any small stems, though I doubt they’d kill anyone if they accidentally ingested them). Be sure to wash them before they start picking, so any that are eaten while the job is being done are clean. Otherwise, just putting a bowl and a bunch of grapes in front of all but the most severely impaired person should be enough to get them started on the job!

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Make Lemonade

lemonade pitcher

Nothing says summer like a cold glass of lemonade, and making it from scratch is an activity stored in the long-term memory of many older adults, so why not try it? You might find that you like it even better than the pre-made stuff from the store.

You’ll need:

6 Lemons
1 cup sugar (or equivalent amount of other sweetener)
6 cups cold water

Start by rolling the lemons on the counter for a few seconds to get the juices flowing, then cut them in half and juice them using the juicing tool of your choice (sidenote: I had no idea how many different types of juicers there were! Look at a few of the different options, below.


juicer 2

juicer 3






Try and discover and use the type used by the person with memory loss in the past in order to maximize their success with this activity, especially for those with the later stages of the disease.
Once the lemons are juiced, add the sugar and water to taste (the above amounts are only estimates. You may use more of less depending on how much juice you get from the lemons and how sweet you want the finished product to be).

Of course, making lemonade isn’t just about drinking it, at least not from an activity standpoint! There are also lots of opportunities to reminisce about when the person with memory loss might have made it in the past; if they ever had lemonade stand and if so, what they were trying to raise money for; etc.. Even if the person is in the late stages of the disease we can stimulate their sense of touch by letting them hold a lemon, their sense of smell, and their sense of taste, of course.

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Make Whipped Cream

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

This activity is great for people with memory loss because it’s essentially one (maybe two) steps, so you can pretty much start them off, then let them finish on their own, giving them a sense of accomplishment. Even better, everyone can enjoy the delicious result!

You’ll need:
A chilled bowl
A whisk
Heavy whipping cream
Powdered sugar

The process:
Pour the chilled cream into the chilled bowl (1 cup cream equals about 2 cups of whipped cream)
Whisk until starting to thicken, but not quick “stiff”. Add about 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar for each cup of cream (adjust for taste as desired)
Keep whipping until you like the consistency.

**Note, you can use regular sugar instead. Powdered sugar just dissolves faster. I also sometimes cheat and put the sugar in immediately and I don’t notice any terrible consequences, but most recipes tell you to wait until the cream has thickened a bit.)

Of course, it would be a lot faster to do this with an electric mixer, but using a whisk has the benefit of keeping the person engaged longer.

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Make Snow Candy

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

I was OBSESSED with Laura Ingalls Wilder as a kid (you know, from Little House on the Prarie?). I was even her for Halloween one year, so I loved making maple-syrup taffy with my grandmother, just like Laura did in her book, Little House in the Big Woods. Here’s an easy recipe from Country Living.

1. Gather up some clean, fresh snow and pack it into a pie plate or roasting pan. Pack it down and set it down outside or in the freezer so it stays cold.

2. Pour a half cup of real maple syrup into a small saucepan, ideally a saucepan with a pouring lip. We like the darker flavor of Grade B maple syrup!

3. Bring the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat, and put a candy thermometer in.

4. When the syrup reaches 235°F (the soft-ball stage) take it off the heat and immediately drizzle it over the packed snow in the pan. Let the syrup cool for just a minute or two, then pick it up with your fingers and eat! (Watch your teeth!)

This is a fun post-dinner treat for wintertime, and so easy. It would be a fun and instantly gratifying way to teach little ones about candy-making and sugar chemistry, too, if you’re so inclined. We also think the hot syrup probably kills any icky bacteria in the snow on contact, so we’re not too worried about eating scary snow. (Just watch out for the yellow stuff. Ick.)

The taffy itself tastes just like maple syrup, of course, with a deliciously chewy texture that melts in your mouth. It’s also delightfully fleeting; eat it all while it’s cold, or the water will dissolve it back into plain maple syrup.

I’ve heard that you can do the same thing with honey, and even seen some people say they just pour the syrup or honey straight from the jar onto the snow to create a hard candy rather than a soft taffy. Either way, it’s a fun and fairly quick project for someone with memory loss. You might find that the person with memory loss did it as a child (my grandmother did), which is great way to start some reminiscing. OBviously, be careful if you do decide to boil the syrup, but those in the middle stages can certainly help gather the snow, stir the syrup, and taste the results! Those in the early stages would probably only need supervision to make sure the syrup doesn’t get too hot (it’s easy to get distracted and hard to read the tiny numbers on a candy thermometer.)

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Make a Gingerbread House

photo courtesy of

Gingerbread houses are a super fun way to celebrate the season, and their emphasis on creativity and fun, rather than perfect results, makes their construction a great activity for those with memory loss.  Even better, if you do make something you just can’t stand to look at, you get to eat it!  You can make the sides of the  gingerbread house yourself or do what I do and start with a kit.  That way, you can get right to the fun part-decorating! (you can always add extra candy or frosting colors to what’s provided).

Depending on the person’s skill level, they may or may not need help assembling the house itself, then be able to decorate it once it’s together.  For those with shakey hands or an extra-firm candy-placement style, you can always decorate the sides first and assemble the house at the end.  For those in the more moderate stages of the disease, too many choices can be overwhelming, so you may want to limit the number of candy to make things easier.  You may find that it’s best to work as a pair, with either the person with memory loss pointing where they want things to go, then you laying down the frosting “glue” for them.  Or, conversely, it might be easier if you put the frosting down first then have them add the decoration on top. 

Of course, those in the early stages of the disease should be able to decorate a house fairly independently, so get a big group together and make a gingerbread village!   Those in the severe stages of the disease may not be able to decorate much, but can certainly enjoy smelling the gingerbread, feeling the texture (and taste!) of the candies, and watching the process of assembly.

Of course, no matter what the person’s cognitive level, be sure to reminisce about Christmases past.  Maybe place some holiday music (if it’s not too distracting) and pour yourself a mug of hot cocoa. It doesn’t get much more Christmas-y than that!





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Bake Cookies

Photo and Recipe courtesy of

Well, the holidays are upon us (I consider any time after Thanksgiving the Christmas/Chanukah/generic holiday season) and nothing says Happy Holidays like baking cookies.  If you’re looking for a simple recipe for someone in the early stages to complete semi-independently or for you and a more cognitively impaired individual to do together, look no further than these easy, no-bake buckeyes!


  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped


  1. With an electric mixer, beat the peanut butter and butter at medium speed until creamy. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt (the mixture will be crumbly).
  2. Roll tablespoonfuls of the dough into balls and place on a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a double boiler or a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring often, until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  4. Resting each ball on the tines of a fork, lower it into the chocolate until it’s two-thirds covered. Refrigerate on the baking sheet until the chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes.
  5. Storage suggestion: Keep the buckeyes refrigerated, between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container, for up to 3 weeks.


1. You can just melt the chocolate in the microwave, just do it in smaller batches and watch closely to make sure it doesn’t burn

2. You can put the buckeyes in the fridge (for about 2 hours) or outside (time varies depending on the temperature) if you don’t have room in your freezer to “set” them before dipping

3. You can skewer the balls on a toothpick and use that to dip them in the melted chocolate. Or heck, use your fingers.  As long as you wash them first, I won’t tell anyone.


This recipe is nice for people with memory loss because although it’s simple, doing each step takes a bit of time, so it’s not over before it even begins.  It’s also nice that the main steps (rolling the dough into a ball and dipping the balls in chocolate) are naturally separated, so they can focus on doing on thing at a time.  Those in the middle stages should be able to successfully do each step after a few demonstration, and although the size of the balls or the chocolate coating may not be consistent, it doesn’t matter. Unlike baked cookies that need to be similar in size to ensure everything is done cooking at the same time, these cookies are perfectly delicious at any size.  Even those in the late stages can enjoy sitting and smelling the cookies (believe me, the peanut butter smell will fill up your house even though you don’t bake them) and listening to you describe the steps.  Besides, someone has to be the official taste tester!


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Use a Nut Cracker

Confession time.  This weekend was the first time in my life I have ever used a nut cracker. I feel like I’ve been deprived my whole life.  It’s was amazingly fun.  So much so that even when I was tired of eating nuts, I kept cracking them and feeding them to my amused, then annoyed, then angry relatives.  So, with that disclosure in place, here comes the rest of this post.

Cracking nuts may be a long-term memory for those with memory loss, which is perfect.  Or, it might be a new skill/hobby, but it’s ease makes it a snap to do, even with no previous experience.  Either way, you can’t lose.  It’s repetitive, which is great for those who get lost with multi-step tasks.  It’s delicious (just make sure the person with memory loss is stable able to tell shells from nuts).  It’s useful (if you make cookies with nuts, why not let the person with memory loss help by shelling them by hand rather than buying them pre-shelled?).  In short, cracking nuts/using a nut cracker is a pretty ideal activity for those with memory loss.  It’s even seasonal, so that’s a bonus.

Using a traditional cracker may be hard for those with arthritis/a weak grip, but there are lots of different version you could try.  Just type “nut cracker” into google and you’ll be amazed and all the different ways to get the meat out of the hull!



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Bake Bread

So, in reality, you could really bake or make anything.  Cooking in general is a great activity because it is easily modifiable/broken into smaller steps as needed based on the person with dementia’s remaining skills and abilities.  Those in the early stage might just need a recipe and a few check-ins to make sure everything going smoothly (the stove is preheated, the timer is set, they don’t skip any ingredients, etc) while those in the moderate stages might need tasks broken down into individual steps with everything necessary to complete the job in front of them (example: measure 1/2 cup flour, with the measuring cup and flour in plain sight), while those in the late stages may only be able to do simple tasks with help (such as stirring, taste testing, etc).  Be sure to be flexible and jump in to prevent frustration, but step back to let the person complete what they can independently.  Remember, this is an activity blog, so the point is the process, not necessarily the outcome or the speed in which you’re done.

That being said, this is why I think break, out of all the cooking/baking options in the world, is a particularly nice option to try if you’re new to the world of cooking with dementia.

1. It’s pretty cheap to make, so if you mess it up, it’s not a huge financial loss.

2. It’s not a main course, so if you mess it up, you the whole dinner plan isn’t out of whack.

3. It’s not dessert, so you won’t be super disappointed if it turns out wrong (or is that just me who gets sad when I burn the brownies?).

4. Making bread may be a long-term memory, and therefore more familiar than other tasks.

5. It smells awesome when cooking, and smell is a great memory trigger for reminiscing.

6. Kneading break is very soothing and can get out some aggression.


Now, I won’t bore you with a recipe for bread.  I’m sure you can find one that sounds good to you.  But I will say that buying a pre-formed loaf or tube of biscuits doesn’t count!


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Peel Apples



These “old fashioned” peeler and corers are a fun and easy way to prep a large quantity of apples in a hurry.  Whether you’re looking to make a pie, a crumble, or a big batch of applesauce, this contraption somehow make it but easy and fun!  Even better, once an apple is place in it, even those in the late stages of the disease can move the handle to peel and core the apple perfectly every time.  So get peeling (and cooking and eating!)

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