Eating healthy is a basic foundation of aging well, but as we grow older it can become more of a challenge. You may notice your own parents struggling to prepare and eat healthy foods.
After a lifetime, it’s understandable to become tired of mealtime planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning up. But these activities can also become more physically difficult to accomplish.
Unfortunately, your parent may begin to substitute unhealthy snacks throughout the day or even skip a meal altogether. If this is happening in your family, you’ll want to help them get back on track.
Benefits of healthy eating when growing older
Maintaining a nutritious diet directly affects our ability for healthy aging and living longer. Beyond providing our bodies with the daily energy they need, here are a few additional benefits of eating well:
- Improves immune system
- Builds strong bones and muscles
- Helps to maintain a healthy weight
- Reduces risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers
- Improves moods, memories and mental clarity
- May decrease risk of Alzheimer’s
- Slows symptoms of dementia
- Provides additional benefits of social interaction when meals are shared
Steps to improve daily diets
The following tips can help encourage your loved one to eat well:
- Avoid processed food and choose instead natural and fresh ingredients. Take advantage of produce that is in season. Try different recipes and experiment with new flavors.
- Keep it interesting by switching up your fruits and vegetables. Instead of bananas and apples, try berries and melons. Substitute broccoli or squash for green beans and peas.
- Get enough calcium for good bone health and to prevent fractures and osteoporosis. Try milk, yogurt, cheese or non-dairy options that provide calcium.
- Enjoy foods with healthy fats, such as omega-3s that also help protect your body against disease and provide support for your brain health.
- Eat healthy proteins. Choose fish, beans, eggs and nuts and avoid protein found in processed meats such as hot dogs and bacon. Get the benefits without increasing your risk of heart disease.
- Add fiber to give your digestion a boost as systems begin to slow down as we age. Fiber can also lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
- Be aware of changing tastes and senses, which often diminish as we grow older. This can lead to adding more sugar and salt than needed or healthy.
Suggestions if eating is no longer enjoyable for your loved one
Your parent may not be eating well because mealtime is no longer enjoyable. Try to discover why and consider steps that can be taken. Here are a few reasons you may find:
- Lack of appetite.
It’s difficult for anyone to eat well if they have no appetite. Talk to the doctor if there might be a physical cause, including the type or dose of certain medications.
Search for meals they once enjoyed. What were their favorite foods from childhood? Try flavor enhancers that might help improve taste, including olive oil, ginger or other herbs and spices.
- If chewing is a problem
If chewing has become more difficult, an appointment with the dentist might be appropriate. Differentiate between trouble chewing and swallowing. For the latter, discuss with their doctor.
Steaming vegetables make them easier to eat. Also try naturally soft foods such as rice or yogurt. Fruit smoothies are a great substitute but be aware of the added sugar.
- Dining alone
Many happy memories have been made around the dinner table, but if your loved one lives alone, mealtime can make them feel even more so.
Look for opportunities to share meals. Encourage them to invite a friend or other family member over for lunch or dinner. Search for adult day programs that provide healthy meals and the company to go with them.
Could assisted living be the right answer?
If your loved one is struggling to eat healthy, you may want to step back and look at the bigger picture. It’s not uncommon for an older adult who is no longer able to cook or shop for meals to also find other activities of daily living a challenge, such as struggling with:
- Safely bathing or showering
- Getting dressed
- Oral hygiene
- Light housekeeping
- Attending social events
- Participating in activities
- Mobility and balance
- Becoming lonely or more isolated
Benefits of assisted living
If you begin to notice that your loved one could use a little more help, you may want to consider assisting living and a few of their advantages:
- Private residences
- Support to maintain independence
- Assistance with the tasks of daily living
- Monthly planned activities
- Social events
- Scheduled transportation
You’ll also be reassured that your loved one will have access to delicious and nutritious meals. Communities provide menu choices from chef-inspired options and of course can accommodate special dietary needs.
With the knowledge and expertise to prepare meals that not only meet the nutritious requirements and palates of an older adult, your loved one can relax and know that it’s all taken care of – even the cleaning up.
Life at a Northbridge community
We understand both the importance and the challenge of eating well but we also know that growing older doesn’t necessarily lessen the desire for quality food and dining. That’s why we created one of our Signature Programs, Eat Fresh, Eat Local.
All of our communities collaborate with local growers and producers of the vegetables, fruits, herbs and seafood that we serve. When our residents sit down to a meal that focuses on freshness and local tastes, it’s not hard to enhance their appetites.
We invite you and your family member to join us for lunch or dinner and see for yourself the difference fresh ingredients and creative preparation can make. Our chefs are well-established in the New England culinary industry and are waiting to serve you.
If your loved one could use a helping hand but still wants to live an independent life, we hope you’ll consider one of our assisted living communities.
We’re here to answer any of your questions about our senior living communities. If your loved one is living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, we also invite you to download our complimentary guide, Just the Facts: Your Guide to Memory Care. Please contact us at 781-272-2424 if we can provide further information or if you would like to schedule a personalized tour.