Good nutrition is important at any age. But for caregivers and adult children, making sure the seniors in their lives eat the foods they need presents special challenges.
There are physical reasons why seniors don’t always eat as they should. Most people don’t realize that taste buds, like other body parts, change as we get older. As a result, foods that once tasted good may no longer be as appealing, and some old favorites may actually taste bad. Older adults’ salivary glands may not be as active due to prescription medications or oral hygiene. This combined with a slower metabolism may make it difficult to chew or digest certain foods. Sadly, there are some seniors who feel so depressed that they simply don’t want to eat.
A caregiver or adult child should consider these factors when creating meals for senior adults. Keep in mind that sometimes just changing the preparation of a particular food—for example, pureed vs. steamed vegetables—or the addition of a tasty sauce on a piece of chicken or fish can make it more appealing.
Just as nutritious foods should be integrated in a balanced diet, so should the mealtime rituals developed over the senior’s lifetime. Whether it’s saying a prayer before eating, enjoying a pre-dinner glass of wine, or watching the morning news while eating breakfast, we all take comfort in the familiar.
Here are some specific tips for good nutrition:
- With the senior, jointly plan a week’s worth of healthy, good-tasting meals. When it comes to food choices, The Food Pyramid is the standard. There’s even a version designed for individuals 70 years of age and older: http://nutrition.tufts.edu/1197972031385/Nutrition-Page-nl2w_1198058402614.html.
- Breakfast can be as simple as a whole-grain cereal, such as bran flakes, served with dried or fresh fruit and low-fat milk.
- An easy lunch option is the all-time favorite, PB&J. To maximize fiber and create a balanced meal, use whole-grain bread and serve with carrot sticks and a piece of fruit.
- Design dinner around chicken, fresh fish or a portion of lean beef. Add vegetables in the form of a salad or vegetable-based soup.
- Don’t forget to add two daily snacks to the mix. Good choices include fruit, cheese or a handful of nuts.
- Buy an entire week’s groceries at once, so it’s easier to prepare meals on short notice.
- Consider making a casserole or a pot of soup or stew that can be eaten over a period of a few days or frozen for a quick, nutritious meal later.
- Add a social component to meal times by encouraging friends or relatives to join in the eating or cooking. Start a potluck supper club, or investigate group dining options at local senior centers. Keep in mind that Meals on Wheels delivers hot meals with a smile to those seniors who live alone.
By realizing how the aging process affects the entire nutritional spectrum from taste to socialization, caregivers and adult children can help make mealtime both healthy and enjoyable.