Family Health Magazine - growing older
Eating Well in the Older Years
Ideas for buying and preparing food
Most seniors know that eating nutritious food is essential to good health. Many are creative in the ways they buy and prepare meals. Throughout their lives they have learned how to adapt. Some knew food rationing during war. Others lived through hard times when money was scarce. Seniors are resourceful and proud of it.
A well-balanced diet helps maintain health, physical fitness and social activity. As we age, the recommendations in Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide become more relevant. Although energy and calorie needs may be less, our nutrient needs are not. (The website www.healthcanada.gc.ca/foodguide can provide more information.) The foods older people eat must be high in nutrients. There is not much room for empty-calorie foods like sweets and alcohol.
Knowing a good diet is important to health does not make it easy to achieve. For many of us, eating is less enjoyable when it is a chore to make nourishing food, or lonely and boring to eat it alone.
To find out more about how seniors buy and prepare food, a survey was done in Edmonton. Seniors were asked about the ways they maintain a well-balanced diet. The dietitians expected to find many older people living on ‘tea and toast.’ Instead, they found seniors eating healthy meals on a regular basis using a variety of supports. These seniors knew about resources and had creative ideas on cooking, shopping and sharing meals. Survey results gave many ideas about how seniors continue to make nourishing and interesting meals.
- Family and friends help seniors to shop and get food home.
- Transportation services such as mini-buses, special transportation services and volunteer driving services make it easier for seniors to get to stores.
- Some budget to have groceries delivered, and say it is money well spent.
- Others set aside taxi fare to get to supermarkets where they find more choices.
- Certain stores allow people to take groceries home in a shopping cart to be collected later.
- Neighbourhood drug stores selling bread, milk and produce make it easier for seniors to walk home with small purchases.
- Some stores can assign a clerk to help seniors shop if they have advanced notice.
- Hired grocery services will buy and deliver groceries to the home.
- Many seniors use prepared frozen entrees, using main course items like chicken pieces or a casserole as the basis of their meal. The frozen entrees come from the grocery store, meal delivery services, and frozen food companies that sell door-to-door.
- Seniors eat in cafeterias or restaurants when they do not feel like cooking.
- Meals-On-Wheels, food caterers and restaurants provide fresh and frozen meals for seniors.
- Home delivery can be arranged for many foods like milk, eggs, bread, fruit and vegetables.
- Home Care may be available to provide shopping and food preparation assistance.
- Several people go together to buy a large order of food (such as meat) and divide it among themselves.
- Families often prepare extra portions and freeze these for seniors to keep as a ready meal.
- Many restaurants have senior’s portions and offer discounts on meals.
- Microwave ovens and freezers help people take advantage of food services.
Eating with others
- Many seniors enjoy the companionship and group meal programs provided by community and church drop-in centres.
- Some retail outlets offer coffee to encourage people to visit with one another.
- Group meals such as potluck suppers, barbecues, pancake breakfasts and order-in Chinese food help people eat better.
Warning signs of poor nutrition
“Once you stop eating well, you lose your strength. Then you cannot get out of the house,” said one senior living in an apartment. Caregivers and families need to know the signs that suggest someone is not eating well. They may not always be obvious.
- Weight loss: In the past six months has the senior lost weight (more than 2.5 to 4.5 kg / six to 10 pounds) for no apparent reason? Are clothes too big or baggy around the waist?
- Mental confusion: Does the person seem more forgetful, showing signs of memory loss and confusion? This will affect grocery shopping, food safety and eating habits.
- Physical functioning: Can the senior get out to shop? Does arthritis or poor vision affect the ability to prepare a meal?
- Social withdrawal: Is the person isolated? Are family and friends available?
- Reduced appetite and food intake: Fatigue and apathy can result from poor nutrition, especially too little protein and iron. Emphasize eating healthy meals at regular times during the day. Getting enough to drink is also important – from all sources, women should consume up to 11 cups of fluid and men 15.
Growing older does not need to mean eating poorly. Make sure the older people you care about are not making do with tea and toast.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2015, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [GO_FHc11]