If you have an aging parent who is living alone or who is perhaps caring for another aging loved one, you may worry that their diet is not nutritionally sound, and with good reason.

There are many causes of poor nutritional intake:

  •  recipes are difficult to scale down for only 1 or 2 people
  • decreased vision may make reading recipes frustrating
  •  it’s neither fun nor rewarding to cook for just one
  •  many men never learned how to cook in the first place
  • there is no one to socialize with during meals
  • there may be decreased energy or shakiness
  • there could be decreased appetite

from depression

certain medications

decrease in the sense of taste

dementia causing a lack of knowing WHEN there is hunger or thirst

  • shopping may have become difficult
  • a lack of transportation may cause food supplies to dwindle
  • there may a lack of money to purchase food items
  • cavities or other dental problems may cause difficulty when eating

Because of one or more of these situations, senior adults may choose items that are pre-made or are quick and easy to prepare. Many of these items are not good choices for maintaining good health.

Poor nutrition can cause a weakened immune system, loss of weight, loss of muscle and bone health (contributing to fall risks) and can lead to depression…..which leads to poor nutrition and ends up being a viscious circle.

What can we do to help? There are several ways in which we can be of assistance.

  • First of all, check their kitchen to see what is missing, what is expired, and what types of foods are being consumed that should be replaced with more nutritious choices
  •  Ask if the senior adult if having any trouble with their teeth
  • Offer to take them with you when doing your own grocery shopping – realize that this will not be your usual “grab some food and go” shopping excursion so be prepared to spend extra time
  • While shopping, show them that there are many items that are now available for individual preparation (see below for list)
  • Make grocery runs for them (to help with this, keep a list of what is in the pantry and refrigerator and have your loved one cross it off when used)
  • Help or hire someone to help bring the groceries into the house and put them away (this can be very tiring for a senior adult) (My mother’s apartment has heavy doors and parking is not close to her building, so she has great difficulty in getting her groceries up to her home.)
  •  Bring pre-cooked small portions of casseroles, soups and even smoothies (extra spices may need to be added due to their decreased sense of taste – olive oil, vinegar, garlic, tumeric and other spice mixes such as Mrs Dash can be utilized, (but don’t add extra salt)
  • Check for community services such as Meals On Wheels which delivers meals to elders for a relatively small cost
  • Check to see if the local senior center offers daily meals Organize a group of seniors who might be able to take turns cooking and who will dine together
  • Make sure there is enough money to purchase an appropriate amount of food

(I was at the grocery store 3 weeks ago in front of a senior adult who had 2 cans of soup, a loaf of bread and a carton of fresh strawberries. I had just finished paying for my items and overheard the lady asking the clerk if she had enough money to purchase the strawberries. She didn’t. I wanted to buy the berries for her but she wouldn’t let me. I felt terrible when I left and I’m determined to find a way to remedy this situation if it should happen again.)

Here are some items that are now available to be prepared individually:

Costco has individually wrapped pieces of frozen salmon, tilapia, and chicken breasts. They also have resealable bags of pre-formed meatballs and pre-made soups in resealable containers. Be sure to check the amount of sodium in the meatballs and soups if the physician has recommended a low sodium diet.

Pillsbury makes frozen biscuits and rolls that can be cooked in single servings while the rest remain frozen in a resealable bag.

There are now resealable packages of frozen vegetables and fruits such as blueberries, peaches and strawberries that can be quickly and easily utilized. The frozen fruits are great for smoothies…no need to add ice.

Yogurt is a good and inexpensive option for those seniors who enjoy it. Check labels for the best nutritional value.

Nuts, such as almonds and pecans can be frozen and removed a few at a time. They are very nutritionally sound.

Small, individually wrapped packages of cheddar cheese are a good source of protein.

Many stores sell small packages of pre-cut apples which are excellent for senior adults who can eat them.

SOME frozen dinners are nutritionally sound but don’t assume that because the label says something like A HEALTHIER CHOICE, that it actually is. Check the ingredients on the back of the box.

With a little bit of pre-planning and creativity, eating alone can continue to be a nutritious experience.


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