There are many issues that can make it difficult for seniors to get the proper nutrition.
Numerous older adults take medications that make it difficult to taste, which can lead to a general apathy about eating. Changing taste buds can make it difficult to find food they still enjoy. Some seniors have special dietary needs. And many simply don’t like to cook.
Add to that the difficulties of trying to grocery shop during the COVID-19 crisis, and you have a recipe for disaster.
For many seniors, what was once a cumbersome or annoying task may now seem downright impossible.
How to help? As a caregiver or loved one of an older adult, you can make meal time easier by shopping for supplies, finding fun recipes, helping with prep, or even making up some ready-to-eat meals.
Here are a few things to consider when cooking for seniors:
- Many seniors have dietary restrictions that may prevent common ingredients like butter, high-fat meats, and salt
- Chewing and swallowing become more difficult as we age, so avoid tough meats and harder fruits and vegetables
- Use whole grains whenever possible: They are higher in protein and fiber, and lower in carbs, which makes them a good choice for seniors who are pre-diabetic or have diabetes
- Older adults often struggle to maintain their sense of independence: Give them a choice in what they’re going to eat!
- Remember that sometimes it’s ok to splurge! Everything doesn’t have to be healthy all the time. Make favorite childhood dishes or foods that evoke memories on occasion, even if they’re not so good for you.
What foods are healthy for older adults?
Choosing the right foods for older adults can be tricky. Many food items that are considered “healthy” for younger people are no longer appropriate for seniors.
According to the World Health Organization, many of the diseases that seniors suffer from are the result of a poor diet. For example, a diet high in sugars can lead to pre-diabetes or diabetes, while too much salt can lead to high blood pressure.
As a caregiver, you want to provide your loved one with diverse and pleasing meals, while also keeping health in mind. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always a good start, and they provide more micro-nutrients than their canned counterparts. In addition, meat and eggs are an important part of an older adult’s diet, because they are one of the primary sources of both protein and vitamin B12.
For those that no longer have teeth or have difficulty chewing, juices and smoothies made of fruits and vegetables are an excellent choice. Just remember: Make them at home! Store bought products are often loaded with added sugars, which can exacerbate many health problems.
When planning meals for an older adult, nutrition should be at the forefront of your mind. A freshly made fruit or vegetable drink is a great way to start any meal, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner should all include a source of protein.
In addition, snacks are an important part of any older adult’s diet. Try to avoid highly processed foods, as they have very few vitamins and minerals and are often loaded with unhealthy additives. Shoot for foods like bananas or oatmeal that are loaded with nutrients and easy-to-eat.
Tip: While milk may seem like an easy way to include calcium and protein in snacks and meals, studies show that the acidity can actually contribute to the development of osteoporosis. Yogurt is a better choice – especially if it’s made with soy or coconut milk rather than cow’s milk.
Foods to avoid
While meat and eggs are essential sources of vitamins and protein, they should be used with the utmost care. Food poisoning from the consumption of undercooked meats and eggs is a common issue, but it can prove deadly for older adults.
Refined sugars should be avoided, as they can lead to the development of inflammation throughout the body, as well as numerous diseases and health conditions. In addition, seniors should also avoid excessive use of caffeine and alcohol.
Oddly, though it seems healthy, grapefruit can also cause a number of health problems. If your older adult is on prescription medications, check for any interactions with the food, as it can cause them to be ineffective. If at all unsure, avoid it and opt for another fruit instead!
You may find these resources helpful when it comes to meal planning or finding recipes! Happy cooking!
Sample Menus: Healthy Eating for Older Adults (National Institute on Aging)
Cooking and Nutrition for Older Adults (American Society on Aging)
18 Quick, easy, and healthy meals for seniors (Care.com)
Single-Serving Make-Ahead Meals for Seniors (Ayuda Care)