"Mom won't eat. She's down to 85 pounds."
"Dad refuses to cook. He's withering away to skin and bones."
The AgingCare.com community forum is filled with caregivers concerns like these. Getting seniors to eat a balanced diet can be challenging. In fact, getting seniors to eat anything at all is a problem many caregivers face.
There are many reasons why elderly people don't eat properly, including a reduction in sense of smell and taste that worsens with age, side effects from medications that affect the senses, problems with chewing or a lack of motivation to cook when dining alone.
One way to help ensure your loved one is eating is to make sure there are plenty of ready-to-eat meals and snacks on hand at all times. Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, recommends stocking up on these quick and healthy foods:
- Sodium-free cottage cheese. "Cottage cheese is an excellent source of protein and calcium," Ms. Frechman told AgingCare.com. "And because it's a soft consistency, it's easily chewed and swallowed."
- Canned fruit. "Canned fruits can be every bit as good for you as fresh ones," Ms. Frechman says. Avoid fruits in heavy syrup because they are higher in sugar and calories. Healthier choices include fruit canned in its own juice or in sugar-free syrup. "Add some canned peaches to cottage cheese and you've got a tasty, healthy meal," she says.
- Unsalted nuts. Nuts promote heart health because they lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in the blood. Walnuts, almonds, pecans and macadamia nuts are all good choices, Ms. Frechman says.
- Yogurt. It provides nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D, and it also has probiotics, the "good" bacteria of the digestive tract which provide a broad range of health benefits, Ms. Frechman says. She recommends buying a large carton, adding some canned fruit and granola to make a tasty parfait.
- Oatmeal. "Oatmeal is my go-to food," Ms. Frechman says. "It's a super-healthy whole grain; it's high in fiber, it's inexpensive, and it can be made into a meal."
- Peanut butter. "Peanut butter has more than 30 vitamins and minerals, and it has no cholesterol or trans fat," Ms. Frechman says. "Who doesn't love peanut butter and crackers, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?"
- Canned soup. It's a meal in minutes, but look for the low-sodium variety.
- Frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables yield high nutrient concentrations, a longer shelf-life than fresh vegetables, require little preparation and are available year-round. The newest convenience trend: Steam-in-the-bag, single-serving frozen vegetables.
Ms. Frechman cautions that some of these foods may cost a little more – you're paying for the packaging and the convenience– but it pays off if it means your loved is eating a well-balanced diet.