The AgingCare Caregiver Forum is filled with concerns like these:
- “My mom won’t eat, and I don’t know what to do. She’s down to 85 pounds.”
- “Dad refuses to cook for himself. He’s withering away to skin and bones.”
Getting seniors to eat a balanced diet can be a major source of frustration for family caregivers. In fact, getting an aging loved one to eat anything at all is a relatively common problem.
There are many reasons why seniors’ eating habits change with age, including weakened senses of smell and taste, adverse side effects of medications, difficulty chewing or swallowing, a lack of energy for grocery shopping and cooking, and even a reluctance to dine alone.
One way to help ensure your loved one is eating is to keep plenty of nutritious, ready-to-eat meals and snacks on hand. Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, recommends stocking up on the following healthy and convenient foods.
Convenient, Nutritious Foods for Seniors
- Sodium-free cottage cheese: “Cottage cheese is an excellent source of protein and calcium,” Frechman notes, “and its soft consistency makes it easy to chew and swallow.”
- Canned fruit: “Canned fruits can be every bit as good for you as fresh ones,” Frechman says. If a senior is diabetic or must limit their sugar and caloric intake to manage their weight, avoid purchasing fruits in heavy syrup. Healthier choices include fruit canned in its own juice or in sugar-free syrup. Simply add some canned peaches to a bowl of cottage cheese and you’ve got a tasty, healthy meal.
- Unsalted nuts: Nuts promote heart health by lowering low-density (“bad”) cholesterol levels in the blood. Frechman recommends walnuts, almonds, pecans and macadamia nuts.
- Yogurt: There are countless varieties of yogurt available at supermarkets and most are excellent sources of nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D. Yogurt also contains probiotics—beneficial bacteria that colonize the digestive tract and provide a broad range of health benefits. Frechman recommends layering yogurt, canned fruit and granola to make a decadent yet healthy parfait. Just be mindful of the sugar content in flavored yogurts.
- Oatmeal: “My go-to food is oatmeal,” Frechman admits. “It’s a super healthy whole grain that’s high in fiber and inexpensive.” Oats are a convenient ingredient that can be easily jazzed up for a quick and filling meal.
- Peanut butter: “Peanut butter contains more than 30 vitamins and minerals and no cholesterol or trans fat,” Frechman points out. “Who doesn’t love peanut butter and crackers or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” For a new twist on an old favorite, try mixing a spoonful of peanut butter into a bowl of prepared oatmeal and topping it with slices of ripe banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
- Canned soup: Of course, homemade soup is ideal, but canned soups and stews are an affordable option that’s ready to eat in minutes. Just be sure to opt for low-sodium types and keep an eye on the amount of added sugar in each serving.
- Frozen vegetables: While most people strive to buy fresh produce, frozen vegetables are just as high in nutrients, have a longer shelf-life, require little preparation and are available year-round. The newest convenience trends in the freezer section of your grocery store include steam-in-the-bag and single-serving frozen vegetables and side dishes.
Frechman warns family caregivers that some of these foods may be a little pricey. You’re paying extra for the packaging and added convenience. However, increasing your grocery budget slightly may be worthwhile if it means your loved is eating a well-balanced diet and you can stock up on the items they enjoy without worrying about spoilage and food waste.