10 Tips for Helping a Senior Loved One Eat Healthy Meals at Home
As people age, maintaining a healthy diet can become a challenge.
Weakness, illness, and getting used to cooking for one mean more seniors turn to high-calorie prepared dinners or, worse, not eating at all.
Getting your loved one to eat a healthy, balanced diet isn’t easy, but here are 10 tips to help make the journey a little less frustrating:
Find the Cause
It’s difficult to find a solution to a loved one’s poor diet if you don’t know what’s causing the problem.
For some, it may be actually getting food into the house and put away in the refrigerator.
Some seniors may find going to the grocery store exhausting and difficult, leading them to avoid the task or go straight to the freezer section.
Seniors with arthritis find opening jars and cans painful. Either choose alternative options for canned and jarred foods (ex: frozen green beans instead of canned) or empty the foods into easier-to-open containers.
For other people, the thought of planning and preparing food can be a challenge. This may be especially true for those who formerly relied on the meal preparation skills of a partner but who are now alone.
In these situations, look for pre-made options that aren’t loaded with fat, sodium, and calories. There are tons of options on the market today, so it’s just a matter of reading labels at the grocery store!
Plan Protein First
Protein is the portion of a meal that’s most often overlooked by older adults, and a lack of protein can lead to muscle loss and weakness.
Help your loved one start all meal planning by choosing proteins first, and then filling in the rest of the meal with fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Many older adults shy away from beef and other meats because they can be difficult to chew. In these cases, choosing alternative proteins is crucial.
Some ready-to-eat or low-prep options for protein include:
- Peanut or other nut butters
Greek yogurt is a great choice that packs a good amount of protein but won’t leave your loved one feeling uncomfortably full.
Often, it’s the planning and shopping for healthy foods that’s a road block for many seniors.
This is especially true for those with mobility or health issues that make getting to the grocery store on a regular basis difficult.
If you’re unable to shop for your loved one due to distance or time constraints, consider a grocery delivery service.
In many locations, there are special services that will shop for and deliver all a person’s groceries and basic household supplies for a reasonable fee. You can even place the order yourself from anywhere in the world.
For people who live in areas that don’t have this service available, local senior resource services may be able to connect you with a person you can contract with to provide this service.
Modify Fruits & Vegetables
Hard, crunchy fruits and vegetables may be difficult for someone with dentures or other issues to bite and chew.
If getting fruits in is a problem, consider blending them into smoothies. You even can add protein powders or Greek yogurt to boost the protein and make a smoothie closer to a full meal.
Rather than fresh vegetables, consider frozen or canned vegetables.
When cooked, these forms of favorites such as green beans, broccoli, and carrots are softer and much easier for a senior to chew.
Choose Whole Grains
Slowed digestion is a common problem among older adults. Whether it’s caused by medications, changes in diet, or a decrease in the amount of water consumed, many find digestion issues a part of life.
You can help your loved one combat these problems by choosing more whole grains instead of processed white carbohydrates.
Pasta, bread, rice, and oatmeal all come in higher-fiber options and are just as convenient and easy to cook as their cousins.
The taste of some whole grains can take some getting used to, so introduce new options slowly if your loved one finds the taste strange. Whole wheat pasta, for example, can be mixed with bleached pasta, to give an extra boost of whole grains while preserving some of the familiar taste and texture.
Honor Food Preferences
Diet changes can be difficult, especially if your loved one has gotten used to a highly processed, fatty diet.
Rather than trying to go all-in on introducing healthy foods, be sure to keep your loved one’s food preferences in mind.
If your relative hates tuna, for example, buying it and putting it in the meal plan is going to meet with resistance and make your loved one more likely to turn to takeout or another less-than-favorable option.
Some seniors may find food more bland as they age and their taste buds change.
Spice up meals with garlic, pepper, or vinegars to help give food more flavor and make it more likely to be eaten.
Make Food Social
Eating is much more fun when accompanied by a good conversation.
If you’re able, take your loved one out to eat on a regular basis or visit them for a meal.
Some seniors may be turned off by the large portions at restaurants, so either choose a place that offers small plates or have the server box up part of the meal at the beginning.
Supplement with Beverages
Sometimes, eating large portions at meals can be intimidating to a senior. As a result, they lose calories and nutrients that they otherwise need to eat.
Supplementing your loved one’s diet with grab-and-go protein drinks or supplemental beverages can help them get the nutrition they need without staring down a plate full of food.
Be sure that these supplements are used to add to the food your loved one eats and not as a replacement, so try to limit their consumption to snacks. Don’t serve supplemental nutrition drinks with meals.
To make these beverages more palatable, serve them cold.
Helping your loved one navigate the grocery store, which may be larger or more chaotic than they remember, may help you make headway on getting them to eat a healthier diet.
You can walk the aisles together, choosing healthy substitutions for high-calorie foods and reading labels.
This extra little step can give your loved one the tools and confidence they need to go back into the grocery store on their own to do the shopping.
The more you move, the more your appetite is stimulated.
For seniors who may take medications that are appetite suppressants or who are sedentary, getting out a little more can make them more hungry at meals and make them more likely to eat more.
If your loved one can’t get outside for a walk or to a group exercise class, even walking around the house frequently can help stimulate the appetite.
Quality Companion Care in Central Maryland
Helping your loved one eat well can be a difficult task, especially on top of everything else you have to do in a day. At Advanced Nursing & Home Support, our experienced team of companion care professionals gives your family the support you need so your senior loved one can thrive. Call today!