Food and Care in Older Age in Papua New Guinea

It is important to highlight that the region from which a Papua New Guinean comes from in PNG plays a large role in determining which foods are preferred and acceptable.

Food in Older Age

It is common for older people from PNG to be offered certain special foods such as soups, made from fresh home-grown foods (or fresh vegetables), as this can help them eat when appetite is poor, provide fluid for hydration and require minimal chewing. Popular foods include taro, cooking bananas (plantains), aibika (with or without meat), cassava, fish soup (coastal/island region only) (not with coconut cream). Those from the Highlands regions are likely to prefer plain, boiled food served dry such as green vegetables, sweet potato (kaukau), corn, taro, pumpkin, fruits such as banana, passion fruit, paw paw and mango, raw cucumber and most meats (eg chicken, pork, lamb). Highlanders do not customarily take foods with added richness or sweetness such as coconut cream, nor do they commonly eat sago, fish or large amounts of milk. Older Highlanders are careful to avoid certain ‘runny’ green vegetables that are associated with diarrhea. Foods to eat with tea or coffee include plain bread or scones.

It may also be the perception that to stray from the traditional foods upon which one was raised can in fact be damaging to health. It is believed that older people prefer to have these kinds of ‘comfort’ foods as often as possible and miss them if they are not available. Having them available may help prevent homesickness.

It is important for older people to have something to attract them to eat the food that is in front of them and they often do not like non-traditional foods. For example, if meat stew is served with taro or kaukau, then it is more likely that the meat stew will be eaten. Soups for older people (especially those from coastal/island regions) are very common and can be used to pour over other foods to help soften these.

Food Preparation Methods for an Older Person

  1. Plain boiled sweet potato (kaukau), potato, taro, tapioca, pumpkin – all cooked until soft. Sometimes they may wish to drink the juice from the pot as a soup
  2. Plain boiled green vegetables
  3. Plain boiled corn – a knife would be needed to shave the corn kernals onto a plate – older people cannot bite into corn from the husk with their teeth – or if the corn is cooked with the husks intact, after cooking, you can smash it with a meal cleaver to soften it, then they can eat it off the husk
  4. Plain boiled chicken, beef, pork or lamb or sautéed (very well done)
  5. Plain rice mixed with canned fish or canned meat
  6. Plain bread or scones with tea or coffee (usu. no milk) and sweetened with sugar
  7. Sweet potato (kaukau), potato, taro, tapioca & pumpkin cooked as is (or cut into portions) with skin intact in an oven until soft. The skin can then be peeled off by hand and served. Sometimes the pumpkin may be left with the skin on and a spoon used to shell flesh out
  8. Plain cucumber and tomato with some salt, most fruits (avoid guava, as this may cause stomach upsets).
  9. Avoid providing too many dairy products, as people of Melanesian ethnicity may be (mildly) intolerant

Usage of Aged Care Services

It is not common for older PNG people living in Australia to access aged care services such as HACC. Traditionally, family members are relied upon to provide care to the aged.

Non-Residential Food Service for Aged Care

If providing a food service to a PNG Australian outside of an aged care facility, it is important to consider their cultural food preferences. Lunch and/or dinner are important meals at which to include culturally appropriate foods such as fresh vegetables. Fruit is also an important inclusion.

Residential Food Service for Aged Care

Traditional foods for breakfast and dinner are important for PNG people living in residential care. Lunch may be a lighter meal. It is very important to include adequate amounts of green, leafy vegetables in the diet to support well-being.

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