Many caregivers worry whether their parents are eating enough and getting a balanced diet. These are valid concerns, given that appetite decreases for older adults as they become less physically active. The diminishment of taste and smell also dampens the desire to eat. Food just doesn't taste as good.
When Is it Time to Worry?
The daily recommendations for seniors, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are: 1-1/2 to 2 servings of fresh fruit; 2 to 2-1/2 cups of fresh vegetables (e.g. anti-oxidant rich dark leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, as well as oranges and yellows, such as carrots and squash); 1,200 mg. calcium (e.g., low-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese. Non-dairy sources include tofu, broccoli and almonds); 6 to 7 ounces of grains (choose whole grains over processed white flour for more nutrients and a higher fiber count); and approximately 65 grams of protein.
If you're concerned you or the senior in your life isn't getting enough nutrition, there may be a number of reasons, including the simple facts that grocery shopping might not be as easy to do, cooking may be more difficult, or meals just aren't as fun to eat alone.
We consulted with Tammera Karr, a board certified holistic nutritionist in Roseburg, OR, and Kristi Von Ruden, a registered and licensed dietitian who plans meals for nursing home residents and geriatric outpatients at Northfield Hospital & Clinics in Northfield, MN. They have come up with 20 meal ideas for seniors. But before you get cooking, Mary Stehle, LICSW and senior care advisor for Care.com warns that you should keep your senior's doctor in the loop, and be sure to check with the medical team about food restrictions before planning menus.
- Warm oatmeal and berries. Place frozen or fresh berries in a crockpot at a low heat setting. Add a pat of butter and one serving of old-fashioned oats and water. Cover and cook on low, for several hours (or overnight). This will give it the consistency of bread pudding. (The easier option is adding berries to warm oatmeal.)
- A hard-boiled egg. Accompany with a side of fresh fruit and a slice of whole-wheat toast.
- Whole grain pancakes or waffles. For extra fiber, choose a brand that contains flax. Then top with fresh berries. For protein, also eat a handful of walnuts or almonds.
- Yogurt parfait. Mix together yogurt, nuts and fruit. It's a good combo of healthy fat, Vitamin C and carbohydrates.
- Power toast. For healthy fat and some protein, spread peanut butter or almond butter on whole-wheat toast; enjoy fresh fruit on the side.
- Poached egg. Place egg on top of whole-wheat toast and steamed asparagus. Top with a small amount of butter.
- Quinoa salad. Saut? pre-chopped stir-fry vegetables (onion, red pepper, mushrooms). Combine with pine nuts or pecans and cooked quinoa. Toss with Italian salad dressing. Eat fresh, warm or cold; keeps well refrigerated. The USDA recommends steaming or saut?ing vegetables in olive oil instead of boiling, which drains the nutrients.
- Eggs and red potatoes. Melt a pat of butter in a skillet; chop up potatoes and add to skillet, over a medium heat. Cover skillet for 2 min. Then, pour scrambled eggs over potatoes, add pepper and toss until eggs are hot. Rather than season with salt, which can lead to water retention and high blood pressure, use fresh herbs and spices.
- Cottage fries. Slice parboiled red potatoes. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a skillet and cook the potatoes at a medium heat. Top with leftover vegetables and grated sharp cheddar cheese. Cover, let steam and serve.
- Southwest omelet. Beat 2 eggs. Put 1 Tbs. olive oil in a skillet. Pour in the egg mixture; add pepper jack cheese chunks and natural salsa or chili sauce. When eggs are firm, fold and serve with sliced avocado. Tip: Chili and spices help boost diminished taste buds.
- Salmon wrap. Place canned Alaskan boneless skinless salmon on a whole grain wrap. Add chopped avocado, tomatoes, greens and plain yogurt. Wrap tightly, cut in half and serve.
- Baked or grilled Alaskan salmon. Top each steak with tomatoes, sweet onion, dried or fresh basil, chopped garlic and 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil. Wrap each piece of fish tightly in aluminum foil and place in the oven on a low heat (300 degrees). If the fish is thawed, cook for about 15 minutes. Dinner is ready when the fish is flaky, but still moist.
- Lamb and potatoes. (If you can keep some parboiled red potatoes on hand, you can prepare fast and easy meals.) Form ground lamb into small meatballs. Tear fresh basil into slivers, or use a pinch of dried basil. Slice pre-cooked red potatoes into small pieces. Slice a clove of garlic. Warm extra virgin olive oil in a skillet. Saut? garlic and basil on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add lamb; brown. Add potatoes; cover for 10 min. Toss ingredients; add a dash of ground pepper. Cook for an additional 5 min.
- Shrimp and pasta. Heat a pat of butter and 1 Tbs. olive oil in a saucepan. Add chopped fresh herbs, garlic and a handful of shrimp. Toss and cook until shrimp is done. Place on a bed of pasta and top with chopped fresh tomatoes.
- Liver and fennel. Place liver slices in a skillet with extra virgin olive oil. Top with chopped fennel, ted onion and cabbage. Cover and steam until liver is tender. Serve.
- Beans and rice. Heat up a can of black, pinto or white beans. Serve with brown rice, oats or barley. You can warm the meal in a crockpot and serve later.
- Shrimp and fresh greens. Saut? fresh vegetables in a saucepan (again, you can buy pre-cut veggies), with olive oil. Add cocktail shrimp, which can be bought peeled, cooked and chilled. Serve with a berry vinaigrette salad dressing and lime slices.
- Southwest chicken salad. Cook boneless, skinless chicken breast on a medium heat in a skillet with extra virgin olive oil. Add salsa. Shred chicken and reserve in refrigerator to use for wraps, salad or soup.
When Cooking Is No Longer an Option
Mary Stehle, LICSW, senior care advisor at Care.com advises caretakers to carefully observe their elderly loved ones, and be alert for signs that the senior might not be as handy -- or safe -- in the kitchen as he once was.
Some clues the senior needs help with meal prep are: spoiled food in the refrigerator, an empty refrigerator, diminished energy or strength lifting dishes in and out of the cupboard, a burner is left on, cutting skills are shaky, pans are burned (signs they were left on the stove too long).
Some organizations that may be able to provide help are:
- Meals on Wheels Association of America: Prepares and delivers more than one million meals to seniors each day.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): This is the government food assistance plan once referred to as Food Stamps. Seniors who have trouble affording fresh fruits and vegetables and other food can apply.
- Schwan's: a national grocery store, delivers frozen meals-breakfast, lunch and dinner-door to door every two weeks.
- Netgrocer: An online grocery store, delivers perishable and frozen foods, along with other groceries, within three to seven business days. Also look at Peapod.com, depending where you live.