Menu Planning for Older Adults at Home
Do you have an aging relative or friend who can’t cook for themself anymore? Are you a caretaker preparing meals for a senior citizen? It can be hard to consistently cook meals for someone besides yourself (particularly older adults who may be set in their ways about certain things). But here are a few key points you can keep in mind while menu planning for older adults and helping them cook their meals.
Always follow the medical advice of the healthcare providers working with the senior citizen in question regarding specific dietary needs.
Older adults have unique nutrition needs
As people age, their dietary requirements change – in terms of what they can digest physically, what foods seniors may need to avoid or reduce intake of if they develop certain illnesses, and what vitamins and nutrients they may need a boost of to counteract the effects of aging on mind and body. And age isn’t the only factor in determining what a healthy diet looks like for someone: sex, weight, and level of physical activity also play a role.
Here are some recommendations on menu planning for older adults from the National Institute of Aging:
- Prepare various foods from each food group to help keep this person healthy. Limit the amount of added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium in the foods you prepare or buy.
- Protein is essential for increasing energy and maintaining muscle. Good protein sources are seafood, dairy, fortified soy products, beans, peas, and lentils.
- B12 is essential for red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, and proper nerve function, but the ability to absorb it can decrease with age or with the use of certain medications. Vitamin B-fortified foods, or even Vitamin B supplements, if approved by a healthcare provider, help older adults maintain the vital functions that this vitamin enables.
Get started with menu planning
Beyond what seniors should eat, there is the question of what they like to eat! Don’t make a menu plan without consulting the senior in question. Ask them what they like to eat and what their favorite foods are. They will definitely have thoughts! If you involve seniors in their meal planning and feel they have an opinion on the menu, they are more inclined to eat the meals you lovingly prepare.
When menu planning for older adults, you want to be sure to include the following:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Lean protein
- Low-fat dairy
- Healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and fish
Avoid foods with a lot of saturated or trans fats, sodium, or sugar.
Some other things to remember when meal planning:
1. Keep it simple.
You don’t need to make elaborate and fancy meals – the person you’re cooking for might not even like them! As long as you’re incorporating a variety of food groups, colors, and textures, you don’t need to go overboard with the dishes you’re preparing.
2. Batch cook.
The easiest thing to do is make multiple meal servings and freeze or refrigerate portions for later in the week. Glass containers work best because they don’t stain or retain odors. They can handle freezing, dishwashing, and reheating. But be sure your senior can open the containers by themself without any problem. You may need special food containers if the older adult has arthritis or another condition.
3. Use leftovers creatively.
We all get sick of eating the same thing repeatedly, so try to use leftovers creatively. Or better yet, center a week of meals around a particular food in different dishes. Maybe it’s a chicken salad sandwich one night, chicken soup a few nights later, or a salad with grilled chicken at the end of the week. A quick, yummy homemade dressing or a special seasoning blend can completely remake a previously dull meal.
4. Split the task.
It’s a lot of work cooking for yourself, let alone someone else. Maybe your senior wants to be involved in the meal prep, chopping vegetables, mixing sauces, or just wants to keep you company while you cook. Perhaps someone you know is running to the store and will pick up that ingredient you forgot. Or maybe one of your kids is willing to help you prepare meals for Grandma or Grandpa. The more, the merrier!