10 Tips for Helping a Senior Loved One Eat Healthy Meals at Home
While we commonly think of growing children when we talk about how important nutrition is, eating a vitamin-rich diet is important at every age. That’s especially true for elderly people, who have unique dietary needs, taste preferences, and barriers preventing them from getting the nutrients they need.
At Advanced Nursing + Home Support, our goal is to provide elderly individuals and family members the support they need to live comfortably and healthfully, and nutrition plays a huge role in allowing our clients to thrive. Here, we’ll share healthy eating tips for seniors, ideas for cooking healthy meals for older adults, and advice for what to do when a senior is not eating.
Tips for Making Healthy Meals for Older Adults
As we age, our nutrition needs change. Seniors have slower metabolism rates than younger adults, which means they require fewer calories per day to maintain a healthy weight. Additionally, it’s common for seniors to move around less—and therefore burn fewer calories—than they did when they were younger, particularly if they have restricted mobility.
But just because elderly people don’t require as much energy as they once did doesn’t mean they can ditch a well-balanced diet. Be sure to follow the American Heart Association’s nutrition guidelines as well as these tips when making healthy meals for older adults:
1. Plan Meals Around Protein: 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—try peanut or other nut butters, tuna, cheese, or Greek yogurt. You can even blend up protein powder and Greek yogurt along with fruit for a satisfying smoothie that packs a hearty punch of protein.
2. Get Creative with Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are fiber-rich and loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, making them vital for seniors. However, hard, crunchy fruits and vegetables may be difficult for someone with dentures or other issues to bite and chew. Smoothies are a great way to sneak in several servings of fruits and even vegetables (spinach and grated zucchini are almost undetectable in smoothies). Consider frozen or canned vegetables over fresh varieties. When cooked, frozen green beans, broccoli, and carrots are softer and easier for a senior to chew.
3. Choose Whole Grains: Older adults often have issues with constipation, perhaps due to medications, changes in diet, or poor hydration. You can help your loved one combat these problems by choosing more whole grains, which contain digestion-regulating fiber, 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. If your loved one isn’t a fan of the taste of whole grains, introduce them slowly: try mixing whole wheat pasta with bleached pasta to give an extra boost of whole grains while preserving some of the familiar taste and texture.
4. Drink Fluids Often: Aging reduces our sense of thirst, so older adults don’t feel thirsty as often as younger people. For this reason, dehydration is common among the elderly. Healthy meals for older adults should always include a beverage on the side—preferably water, non-fat milk, or unsweetened tea or coffee. Avoid sugary drinks such as juices, sodas, or sweet tea.
What to Do if a Senior is Not Eating
It’s common for seniors to lose their appetites and not feel like eating. This happens for many reasons, including decreased energy needs, reduced sense of taste or smell, restricted ability to chew, medication-related side effects, loneliness, and depression. A combination of things may be to blame for a senior not eating: for example, if an elderly man is grieving the loss of his spouse, he may not have the mobility or energy needed to grocery shop and cook for himself.
If a senior is not eating enough, serious problems can ensue, such as lowered immunity (and increased risk of illness), impaired digestion and cognitive function, and muscle and bone loss due to insufficient calories and nutrients. Here are a few ways to help when a senior is not eating.
1. Encourage Healthy Premade Options: For many seniors, the thought of planning and preparing food can be a challenge; it may be tempting to just not eat rather than go through that herculean effort. This is especially true for those who formerly relied on the meal preparation skills of a partner but who are now alone. Look for pre-made options that aren’t loaded with fat, sodium, and calories.
2. Socialize Over Food: Turning mealtime into a fun event may remind someone why food is enjoyable—especially when shared. 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.
3. Spice it Up: Some seniors may find food more bland as they age and their taste buds change. As a result, food Spice up meals with garlic, pepper, or vinegars to help give food more flavor and make it more likely to be eaten.
4. Compromise with Comfort Foods: If you’re having trouble getting your loved one to eat healthy foods, it may be that you’re introducing them too quickly or forcing the wrong foods. Diet changes can be difficult, especially if your loved one has gotten used to a highly processed, fatty diet. Be sure to keep your loved one’s food preferences in mind. If your relative is craving a chocolate milkshake, rather than simply refusing her, try making a smoothie with Greek yogurt, chocolate protein powder, and a frozen banana instead. If that doesn’t work, experiment with making subtle healthy swaps in other meals.
Recipes for Elderly People with Chewing Problems
Elderly people with dentures or tooth pain often find it difficult to chew tough or hard foods, such as crunchy vegetables and meat. Ideal recipes for elderly people with chewing problems feature soft, blended, mashed, or moistened foods. Here is a sample day of eating for an elderly person with chewing problems:
- Breakfast: Fruit smoothie with Greek yogurt, peanut butter, milk, and frozen fruit
- Lunch: Hearty chicken and rice soup with shredded chicken, brown rice, soft carrots and celery, and low-sodium chicken broth
- Snack: Baked cinnamon apples
- Dinner: Pot roast (shredded), mashed sweet potatoes, sauteed spinach
- Dessert: Vanilla yogurt with strawberry preserves
As you can see from this sample menu, it’s still possible to get a variety of proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains regardless of an individual’s chewing ability. To soften foods, try chopping, blending, or mashing foods to a texture your loved one can easily chew. Gravy, broth, and dressings can be poured on top of main and side dishes to moisten food further.
Healthy Living Starts with Advanced Nursing + Home Support
At Advanced Nursing + Home Support, we’re committed to making individuals feel well-cared for and empowered in their everyday routines. From grocery shopping to prepping healthy meals for older adults and more, we’re available to step in and help with whatever your loved one needs the most.
If you have a loved one who needs skilled nursing care, companion care, or personal care in Maryland or the D.C. area, take the first step towards peace of mind and contact Advanced Nursing + Home Support today. We provide unparalleled service from experienced, compassionate skilled nursing care providers. Contact us online or by phone at 240-414-4147 to request more information.