Eating a healthy diet is important for those of all ages, but for seniors who may be experiencing a variety of health conditions, it’s especially vital. The difficulty surrounding senior nutrition is that as we age, our nutritional needs begin to change, and there can be several obstacles getting in the way of healthy eating.
For example, perhaps health is an issue for some seniors, and illness or disability prevents them from preparing healthy meals. Arthritis could make it difficult to lift pots and pans or open cans and jars. Or, sometimes seniors can have dental issues that make chewing too hard. A senior’s money situation could also affect the ability to eat healthy, as many seniors live on fixed incomes and turn to cheaper, processed foods that fit better into their budgets. Finally, it’s possible that seniors simply aren’t educated about healthy food choices and how to cook nutritious meals. Whatever factors are affecting your loved one’s eating habits, there are things you can do to help improve them.
Aiding in Senior Nutrition
Help your senior understand the importance of a nutritious meal, first and foremost. Small dietary changes in the beginning can help lead to a change in lifestyle that leads to healthy eating habits and smart food choices. Some of the ways you can promote senior nutrition include:
- Take your loved one shopping. If possible, head to the grocery store with your loved one and help him or her shop for food. You can monitor the foods chosen and encourage healthier choices.
- Plan for the week ahead. After shopping, help your loved one plan meals for the week ahead. If he or she needs a little help creating healthy dishes, research some recipes and prepare them together. You can also assist with putting together healthy snacks by pre-chopping veggies or suggesting options like yogurt or nuts that require very little preparation.
- Consider your loved one’s tastes. When planning meals with your loved one, don’t forget to consider some favorite dishes. The elderly will be far more likely to eat if the meal is one they enjoy.
- Create a colorful plate. Brightly-colored vegetables, like broccoli and carrots, and deeply-colored fruit like berries and melon should be offered and made easy to eat. Smoothies are a great way for your loved one to get some nutrients, and consider steaming vegetables so they are soft and easy to chew.
- Pack in the protein. Getting enough protein is vital for seniors, as protein can help slow weakness from muscle loss as we age. Protein is available in many ready-to-eat foods that require very little preparation, like tuna, peanut butter, or hard-boiled eggs.
- Choose whole grains. Whole grain foods like oatmeal, brown rice, breads and crackers are heart-healthy choices and much better than white bread or rice, saltine crackers, etc. Half the grains your loved one eats should be whole grains.
- Add some flavor. Changes in smell and taste are common as we age, making foods become tasteless or less appetizing. Instead of reaching for the salt shaker, try seasonings like vinegar, herbs and spices or even lemon juice.
- Keep hydration in mind. Dehydration is a common issue among the elderly, so make sure your loved one is drinking enough water daily. You can also consider certain nutritional supplement drinks for extra proteins, vitamins, minerals and calories. However, don’t let your loved one fill up on beverages before a meal, as that can lower appetite.
- Enjoy a meal together. Seniors tend to eat more in a social setting. Offer to have lunch with your loved one, whether in the home, assisted living community, or take them out to a local restaurant.
Your loved one will benefit from some nutritional guidance from time to time, so it’s important to pay attention to his or her eating habits and needs. Helping elderly loved ones get the foundation for a healthy lifestyle through proper senior nutrition should always be encouraged.
For more information about American Senior Communities, please visit www.ASCSeniorCare.com.