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18 quick, easy and healthy meals for seniors

Kate Ward
Sept. 21, 2018

If you're concerned you or the senior in your life isn't getting enough nutrition, there may be a number of reasons. Perhaps grocery shopping or cooking is too difficult, or meals just aren't as fun to eat alone. Regardless, eating healthy meals is of course incredibly important for the elderly.

Tammera Karr, a board certified holistic nutritionist in Roseburg, Oregon, 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, Minnesota, came up with 18 easy, tasty and healthy meal ideas for seniors. (See below.)

Before you get cooking, make sure you keep your senior's doctor in the loop, and be sure to check with the medical team about food restrictions  and recommendations before planning menus.

Meal prep tips that will make cooking easier

While there is no one tip that will work for everyone, there are a few ideas you can incorporate into your week that will help make cooking easier on you and your senior.

  1. Make a plan and write it down. Sit down on a Sunday and plan out your senior’s meals for the entire week. This will help you avoid making several trips to the grocery store during a busy work week. Write down the menu for the week and put it in a place where your senior can easily access it. Knowing ahead of time what is planned will make it less overwhelming for seniors whether they are the ones cooking or not.

  2. Make meal prep a group project. Enlist your senior’s help in prepping for the week’s meals. Not only will you get assistance (and company), but your senior will feel more invested in what they are eating and will enjoy having a weekly project to look forward to.

  3. Prep versatile ingredients for the week. Meal prep is supposed to make your life easier, not more difficult. Instead of trying to prep each meal individually, start by prepping certain foods that make more than one appearance in your senior’s meal plan for the week. For instance, cook enough quinoa for the week or wash and chop vegetables and put them in tightly-sealed containers in the refrigerator. This will ensure that no one is starting from zero when they begin cooking the meal.

Healthy and easy meals for seniors

Breakfast

The daily serving recommendations for seniors, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, specifies that seniors need 65 grams of protein a day. Karr says that “good sources of protein are important with every meal, but especially with breakfast,” as seniors are just beginning their day. While a frequent component of a balanced breakfast, nuts and seeds can be difficult for some seniors to digest, so Karr suggests looking to avocados as a substitute.

  • 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. If you can find one, choose a brand that contains chia seed which Karr says is more stable than flaxseed and contains essential fatty acids and proteins. 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.

Lunch

The USDA recommends that seniors get 2-2 1/2 cups of fresh vegetables daily (such as kale, spinach and carrots), and Karr says that lunch is the ideal meal for loading up on those colorful vegetables. Feel free to add leafy greens to any of these meals for additional midday nutrients. Karr advises that lunch should be the most substantial meal of your senior’s day and suggests steaming or sautéing all vegetables for easy chewing.

  • Quinoa salad. Saute 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 sautéing 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 two minutes. 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 two eggs. Put 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet. Pour in the egg mixture, and 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.

Dinner

“Research is supporting lower calorie plans with intermittent fasting and high fat for seniors,” says Karr, as this approach helps support brain function and reduce inflammation.

Most dinner menus will call for sauteing vegetables or a protein in a healthy fat such as olive oil, and Karr advises to stay away from canola oil which is linked to decreased cognitive function. In addition to extra virgin olive oil, she suggests integrating avocado oil into your cooking.

  • Baked or grilled Alaskan salmon. Top each steak with tomatoes, sweet onion, dried or fresh basil, chopped garlic and one tablespoon 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. Saute garlic and basil on a medium heat for five minutes. Add lamb and brown. Add potatoes; cover for 10 minutes Toss ingredients; add a dash of ground pepper. Cook for an additional five minutes.

  • Shrimp and pasta. Heat a pat of butter and one tablespoon 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. Saute 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.

What to eat in between meals

Karr recommends incorporating nutritional snacks in between meals such as high-fiber rye crisps with Swiss cheese or guacamole on top. And, while seniors do need to stay well-hydrated, they are better off taking small sips during the day in order to avoid frequent sprints to the bathroom. Karr says that a glass of water kept by their favorite chair is the answer. To avoid stomach upset, the water should be room temperature or warm. Add in some lemon, lime or a few berries for extra flavor and they can take small sips all day to stay sufficiently hydrated.

When cooking is no longer an option

Be alert for signs that your senior might not be as handy — or safe — in the kitchen as he once was. Some clues the senior needs help with meal prep and cooking 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).

If your senior can no longer cook and doesn’t have someone who can cook for her, these companies and organizations help provide meals:

  • 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.

  • Silver Cuisine: Focused solely on delivering fresh meals to seniors, Silver Cuisine can accommodate many different dietary restrictions and will even deliver nutritious snack options.

  • Magic Kitchen: Another online meal delivery service, Magic Kitchen allows you to choose from several dietary types, including senior diets.

  • Mom’s Meals: Mom’s Meals has been delivering to people nationwide for over seventeen years and focuses on meals for specific dietary needs, including those of seniors.

  • Munchery: Munchery delivers fresh and healthy meals that are already cooked. All you need to do is heat them up when you’re ready. Available primarily in the Western part of the U.S., they are expanding to new areas all the time.

Read next: Ways to design a safe, stylish home for aging in place

Comments
James in Phoenix, AZ
Feb. 21, 2018

Good to read!

User
June 18, 2016

I'm 75; cooking for myself. I make microwave chicken often. A tiny baking dish. 1100 or 1200 watt microwave. Put a skinless boneless frozen chicken breast [or any part of chicken of choice] in baking dish; nuke for 5 minutes. Now cut into bite-size pieces and drain. Add-- of choice-- salsa. OR veggies like a diced fresh pear tomato & diced onion & shredded carrot & spinach leaves or other veggies of preference. Spices of choice. Olive oil and vinegar [red or white wine vinegar; or apple cider vinegar]. Wrap the dish with plastic film to seal. Nuke again for 7 minutes. Chicken & veggies make a full meal in under 20 minutes complete. Chicken is steamed and soft and moist. Sausage Entree: 7 or 8 ounces of Fully Cooked sausage. First choice is beef sausage; then Andouille Sausage. Cut sausage in short lengths or 'coins' or in half lengthwise and then crosswise to short length. It goes very quickly with a sharp knife. put sausage chunks in small bowl with one inch of water; cover; nuke in the 1100 - 1200 Watt microwave for 5 minutes. Drain. Add to sauteed salad or fresh cold salad. OR serve on rice with salsa and call it Tex-Mex Style. Standard salad is spinach leaves; sliced black olives [drained, from a can]; diced fresh tomatoes [pear/Roma tomatoes are usually the cheapest and are the most solid inside]; shredded carrot is optional. This salad can be served from a supply bowl in the fridge as is or sauteed in olive oil. Add meat of choice as an option. Salsa is an easy & quick dressing for salad with meat or make dressing from Italian mixed spices and olive oil and vinegar of choice. If you use Seasoned Vinegar of any kind do not add more spices or salt. For myself I do not add any salt. There is enough salt in the meat and other foods. Salsa has a lot of salt in it. Pasta: put enough olive oil in the cooking water to make a film [mostly] across the surface. Add table salt for the iodine content. Put Italian Mixed Spices in the water to flavor the noodles. For the sauce: we eat too much sugar in everything. A not-very-sweet sauce can be made by using Ragu Traditional sauce and adding a can of Hunts Tomato Sauce. [I have no connection to these companies or other interest.] Hunts Tomato Sauce has a unique flavor. Ragu Traditional is the least sweet commercial sauce my wife could find. The result will be a very good not-sweet spaghetti/pasta sauce that takes as quickly as you can open the can/jar to make. I use Uncle Ben's rice that comes pre-cooked in a pouch. Microwave according to instructions. I just hit the \

User
March 20, 2016

At the top you say anti-oxidant such as spinach, WRONG if someone is on a blood thinner. Spinach and kale are high in vitamin K which you should not consume if you are on blood thinners.

I would open my own kitchen to provide nutritious meals to seniors if I could! Since I can't this website has been very helpful! Thank you

User
June 12, 2015

Thank you for these senior meal suggestions. Very helpful. Ann Eifert

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