Healthy senior nutrition doesn’t have to be bland. Bump up the flavor and nutrition when cooking for seniors. We’ve put together 9 tips on how to make nutritious and great tasting meals for the elderly.
What’s on the menu for mom and dad? Whatever it is, make it low-fat, high-fiber, and heart-healthy, and make sure it tastes great. Feeling daunted yet?
One of the ongoing challenges for caregivers is contending with the changing reality of seniors’ nutritional needs. The elderly need a different balance of nutrients to ensure strong physical and mental health. There are also medications to consider: some foods, vitamins, and herbal supplements can interfere or interact with the drugs seniors take. On top of all that, there’s the fact of changing digestion and taste buds: older adults may have trouble processing some foods, and the senses of smell and taste get weaker with age, making mealtime less satisfying for many seniors.
All of this can add up to major frustration for caregivers and family members trying to provide older loved ones with enough nourishment. It may feel next to impossible to get your senior parent to eat right when they complain food is too bland, or not salty or sweet enough—especially when we all know too much salt or sugar is not the healthiest solution. Fortunately, healthy senior meals don’t have to be devoid of flavor or excitement. Check out our tips for some nutritious alternatives that will kick the flavor up a notch and have your whole family cleaning their plates.
1. Amp up the Flavor Without Adding Salt
Fresh herbs, spices, onions, garlic, ginger, and cooking with wine or acidic flavors like citrus or vinegar can all add an intense kick of flavor without relying on the less healthy standby of adding salt. (The Splendid Table; HelpGuide.org)
2. Incorporate Soft, Moist Foods like Soups, Stews, and Braises
The physiological changes that seniors experience as they age can lead to difficulty chewing and swallowing—reduced saliva, for one, as well as the possibility of dental changes like dentures or lost teeth. Moist foods that don’t require as much chewing—as well as sauces that enhance flavor—can be a lifesaver. As a bonus, many stews and soups can be made in a slow cooker, which frees up time and provides leftovers. Lastly, soups are good for hydration. (The Splendid Table; Visiting Nurse Service of New York)
3. Take a Cooking Class
Generally speaking, a cooking class at a local community center or culinary school can help increase your repertoire and ability to cook appealing meals. Beyond that, there are also cooking classes designed specifically for caregivers of seniors, teaching the essential skills of cooking healthy, tasty meals that meet elderly nutritional needs. Check local cooking schools, community education programs, or ask the Area Agency on Aging for local resources.
4. Substitute Potato for Cream in Creamy Dishes
Cream is high in fat and calories, but it sure makes cream soups taste good. Fortunately, you can get that same thick, rich feel by adding peeled, diced potato to your soup during cooking. Once it’s pureed, you’ll have a soup with all of the creamy texture but almost none of the fat. (Providence Journal)
5. Have Your Loved One Choose the Recipes
This tip comes courtesy of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York: “Buy a simple recipe cookbook or food magazine with lots of pictures and allow your loved one to choose recipes that are appealing to him or her.” You can always adapt the recipes to align more closely with appropriate senior nutrition.
6. Include Comfort Foods in the Meal Rotation
One of the problems caregivers may encounter is a lack of appetite or interest in eating. Fortunately, nutrition research is yielding some insights into how to address this issue. According to a 2012 study in Sweden, “habits and preferences that are formed during childhood and youth are difficult to change in adult life,” meaning seniors often gravitate towards foods they grew up with. Assuming there is not a medical reason for your loved one’s lack of appetite (such as illness or medication side effects), one option is to rely on comfort foods that they used to eat when they were younger, or repeat recipes they particularly like. This may be a good option if your loved one is averse to unfamiliar foods or spices. Just remember to make healthful substitutions as needed to ensure proper nutrition. (Visiting Nurse Service of New York)
7. Replace Unhealthy Fats with Good Fats
Just because mom’s on a heart-healthy diet doesn’t mean she can’t eat any fats at all. The key is to avoid trans fats and saturated fats, and replace them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that help raise “good” cholesterol and protect against heart disease. Some sources of good fats include olive oil, avocados, salmon, flaxseed, canola oil, nuts, soy milk, and tofu. (HelpGuide.org)
8. Supplement Meals with Healthy Snacks and Mmoothies
Smoothies are one of the best ways to “sneak in” extra fruits and vegetables, especially if you have trouble getting your loved one to eat their daily allotment. Smoothies are tasty, sweet, and easy to drink, making them ideal for seniors who have problems with oral health. They are also a fantastic way to increase hydration and protein intake, especially if you add protein powder.
9. Add Naturally Sweet Foods Instead of Sugar
If your loved one has a sweet tooth, try this tip from HelpGuide.org: “Older adults tend to retain the ability to distinguish sweet tastes the longest, leading some to overindulge in sugary foods and snacks. Instead of adding sugar, try increasing sweetness to meals by using naturally sweet food such as fruit, peppers, or yams.”
If you have more caregiver cooking tips to share with our readers, let us know in the comments!