A man and woman hold a menu together as he helps her read food items.

What’s on the Menu? Dining Out With Macular Degeneration

Eating out is difficult when you’re legally blind. My mother loved to go to a restaurant, café, or club (where there was often a band playing), but it was always challenging for her (not that she let that hold her back!).

She couldn’t read the menu, she couldn’t quite make out who was at the table, and she couldn’t really see the food on her plate. Her sight was greatly diminished, but her love of life certainly wasn’t. Over the years, we tried many ways to help her get out and enjoy her meals and entertainment and friends. These days, there are more strategies available to help our family members than we had back then.

Many restaurant menus are now online

Now we can look at an online menu the night before and perhaps print it out in a large font. If this doesn’t work, we can read it out to our family member and help them choose at home without any pressure or rush. So many times in the past, my family sat at a restaurant while I read the whole menu to my mother, sometimes from up on the wall. She found it difficult to remember all the items I read (as would anyone) and usually just picked an old favorite, not wanting us to have to read the menu again (not that we would have minded).

Even back then, if a restaurant didn’t have an online menu, I would phone them the day before and ask about certain meals my mother liked. I wouldn’t expect them to read me the whole menu, but I might ask if they had a roast of the day, or grilled fish and vegetables, or any other particular dish that I knew my mother enjoyed. If the answer was "yes," then we would be set. Mom would know just what to order on the day.

Arriving early and considering seat position

Another thing I used to do was arrive early. That way we would have time to examine the daily specials and explain them to Mom. It would only be a small choice if she wanted to change to one of the specials.

Arriving early also allows you to choose your seat and which way you are facing. Even though the view out the window of the café or restaurant might have been pleasant, my mother couldn’t really see the view. It was much more useful for her to sit facing the way people would approach the table. That way, she had more time to try to make out their faces and recognize who they were. Even if it just gave her a chance to make out their body shape, that was a help to her.

Identifying ourselves upon approach

Over the years, she asked as many people as she could to identify themselves as they approached by saying, "Hello, this is Jane." Even my sister and I did this because it just made things so much easier for her. It also gave her the opportunity to see the waitperson or server approaching. If someone came up behind her and said hello or tapped her on the shoulder, she had no way of making out who they were.

Changing how we ate so Mom was comfortable

Mom couldn’t always see the food on her plate. Things like fish, cauliflower, rice, and mashed potato were almost invisible to her on white plates. I would say to her quietly that the fish was at 9 o’clock and the rice was at 3 o’clock, for example. This seemed to help.

I once suggested that she could eat her peas with a spoon because I saw she was struggling. I soon learned there was to be no deviation from using the correct cutlery. My mother had the determination to eventually get every one of the slippery little suckers on her fork!

When we realised it was taking Mom a long time to finish her meal because she was struggling with it, we slowed down as well. This way, she was never left as the only one still eating.

Spending quality time together despite low vision

When we went out as a family, we always enjoyed ourselves, and I know my mother had a good time (and didn’t go hungry!).

Hopefully some of these tips will resonate with another family trying to have quality time together.

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