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Sunday dinner is more than a meal
Pledge urges families to eat with senior relatives to improve health
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Augie and Leslie DeAugustinis join Helen DeAugustinis and friends at the dinner table Thursday afternoon at Lanier Village Estates. Home Instead Senior Care’s new program encourages families to eat with their older loved ones at least once a week to foster mental, physical and emotional health. New research shows families wish they ate dinner together more often.

For information about the Sunday dinner pledge, visit sundaydinnerpledge.com

Sunday dinner is a long-standing part of many families’ weekend plans. Members gather around a table to talk about their weeks, reminisce and enjoy time with loved ones.

However, many senior citizens don’t have the luxury of a Sunday dinner because of distance from family, scheduling or health issues. Home Instead Senior Care wants to change that.

The in-home care service launched the “Sunday Dinner Pledge” in May, encouraging families and friends to have regularly scheduled dinners with an elderly family member or loved one.

“New studies show sitting down with a loved one for a meal helps improve their life physically, mentally and emotionally,” said David Rigg, owner of the Gainesville Home Instead Senior Care Office. “It stimulates them to get up and move more. It helps their mind perhaps by playing games or just talking, and it helps prevent depression.”

Although families are busy with work, extracurricular activities, homework and school, a Home Instead Senior Care survey showed more than 50 percent of people feel they do not share enough meals with older loved ones, losing an important family connection. The Sunday Dinner Pledge program encourages families to make time for these meals and provides resources to make it easier.

“On the website (www.sundaydinnerpledge.com), there are easy-to-cook recipes from Home Instead dietitians, meal planning tips and more so people don’t have to do a lot of planning,” Rigg said.

The site also includes fun activities to do before and after meals, ways to involve seniors in meal planning and cooking if they are less active, and tips and recipes from Food Network chef Melissa D’Arabian.

“People can go on the site and take the pledge and get easy, delicious recipes,” Rigg said. “Additionally, for each person (who) takes the pledge, Home Instead will donate $1 to Meals on Wheels, up to $20,000.”

Rigg is thrilled to see people begin to spend more time with their loved ones, but he mentioned caregivers and clients in the Gainesville area have been spending meals together for a while.

“It’s something we’ve always encouraged,” Rigg said. “A lot of our families are very involved, and if they can’t be around, our caregivers are there to help prepare meals and will sit down for dinner with them.”

He emphasized the bond between clients and caregivers grows very strong through time together. Some seniors have caregivers with them for as few as four hours. Others have live-in caregivers. Rigg has always encouraged the caregivers and clients’ families to join their seniors for meals.

“It’s so beneficial to them that it’s something we’ve been doing for a long time,” Rigg said. “Our caregivers become a part of the family to a lot of people.”

Kathey Quimby, a caregiver with Home Instead Senior Care, noted she has been spending meal time with her clients for a while and has a special relationship with each of them.

“My clients, I always feel like they are the best and treat them that way,” Quimby said. “I try to do what I would do for my mother. The lady that I am with now, we have breakfast, and we will go and get our fingernails and toenails done together, and little things like that.”

She feels the Sunday Dinner Pledge is especially important because it brings the family back to the senior loved one, helping form stronger relationships and assisting the senior. She has seen improvements in her clients after they visit with family.

“I personally think that family is everything,” Quimby said. “When I mention her daughter’s name, her eyes just brighten. When she sees her daughter walk in the room, and the meals that they have, they are everything for them.”

For especially busy families, Quimby has some advice that may help them plan more dinners together and strengthen the family bond with their loved ones.

“Write it down on your calendar and make room for that just like you would a business meeting,” Quimby said. “Even if loved ones can’t recognize you instantly, if they make it a point to sit and talk and have that dinner with them, something in their mind is going to register.”

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