People’s nutritional needs change as they get older. Their tastes also change, and it can be difficult for some people to taste or smell their food. Meals for elderly should take an individual’s specific needs under consideration without sacrificing flavor. It might seem like a tall order, but it’s possible to provide ample nutrition to seniors without serving them food that tastes like cardboard. Whether you need meal ideas for breakfast, lunch or dinner, here are a few to get you started
Nutritional Needs of Senior Citizens
The nutritional needs of older adults are slightly different from the needs of middle-aged or younger people. As the body changes with age, there’s an increased need for certain nutrients. Other changes, such as developing or worsening health problems, can mean that an older person needs to be extra cautious about what and how much food they eat.
This video, from the National Institute on Aging, highlights the dietary changes the can help manage or control chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension. In the video, you meet Gloria, who describes the changes she made to her diet and the benefits she got from doing so:
Tufts University adapted MyPlate for Older Adults from the USDA’s nutritional guidelines. There are a few ways that MyPlate for Older Adults differs from the standard guidelines.
For one thing, it has a special section dedicated to fluids. Seniors often don’t get enough water or other liquids, leading to dehydration.
MyPlate for Older Adults also includes dairy as a small section on the plate itself. Under the standard MyPlate guidelines, dairy is a separate category.
Along with requiring different amounts of food, older adults often have specific nutritional needs. For example, seniors are more likely to have a deficiency of vitamin B12, which they need for the creation of red blood cells. To make sure a senior is getting enough of that vitamin, the USDA recommends eating foods fortified with it.
Calcium and vitamin D are two more nutrients essential for bone health in the aging. Although the dairy section makes up a small portion of the plate, it’s recommended that seniors consume at least three cups of low or non-fat milk or other dairy products daily.
Specific Food Concerns
When preparing meals for the elderly, you don’t only want to focus on the nutritional aspect. Seniors often have some other very specific concerns that alter the types of food they can eat and the kinds of foods they wish to eat.
For instance, changes in taste and smell can make it difficult for older adults to enjoy their food. Some will compensate for a loss of taste by adding more salt to their meals. But more salt increases the risk for high blood pressure.
Instead of adding salt, try adding fresh or dried herbs or spices to meals for the elderly. Choosing foods that are colorful, such as vegetables and fruit, can also help improve a person’s enjoyment of the meal.
Seniors also occasionally have trouble chewing or swallowing their food. If an older person is missing teeth or has dentures, he or she might avoid certain foods or severely restrict the diet. While there are plenty of soft food recipes available, if dental issues are interfering with a person’s diet, it’s often best to correct the problem with the teeth.
Meals for Senior Citizens
Despite any stereotypes, recipes and meals for the elderly don’t have to be bland or boring. Try preparing a few delicious and nutrient rich meals throughout the day. The recipes below are designed to help seniors meet daily dietary guidelines.
One of the simplest and most versatile breakfasts you can make is oatmeal. A typical (30 gram) service of oats contains 117 calories, 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. Oatmeal is also very easy to prepare.
The easiest way to make a bowl of oatmeal is to use the overnight method. It involves leaving the oats to soak overnight in the liquid of your choice, such as low-fat milk, yogurt or almond milk. The oats absorb the liquid and become soft and edible, no cooking required.
To make overnight oats, combine one part rolled oats with two parts liquid. Mix in a bowl or jar and store in the refrigerator. The next morning, take out the oats and stir in your favorite add-ins.
You can add a chopped banana, which is a good source of potassium. Potassium helps keep high blood pressure in check.
Other add-ins can include chopped fresh or frozen berries, a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar, or sliced apples. If you prefer a more savory oatmeal, you can add in a half cup of steamed vegetables, a tablespoon of peanut butter, or a sliced avocado.
Eggs are also an ideal breakfast food for older people. Although eggs had a bad reputation for years, thanks to their cholesterol levels, they’re an excellent source of nutrition. Along with being relatively low in calories but high in proteins, eggs are also high in lutein, which reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
You can also do a lot with eggs. Crack a few into a bowl, whisk them up, pour into a skillet and added a handful of steamed vegetables for a nutrient dense, quick breakfast.
Another option is to turn eggs into a frittata, which you can enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Chop up about 2 cups of your favorite vegetables, then heat about one tablespoon of oil in a skillet. Add the vegetables and cook until they are soft.
While the vegetables cook, beat four eggs in a bowl, add pepper, dried herbs and other spices to taste. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, then cook for a few minutes. Place the entire skillet into a preheated, 350-degree oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until the eggs are set.
Lunch Idea: Soup
You can’t beat soup when it comes to classic lunch ideas. As long as they are not too hot, soups also tend to be ideal soft food recipes for the elderly. It’s also rather easy to add plenty of veggies to soups, to help seniors meet their daily recommendations.
Pureed veggie soups are simple enough to make, no real recipe required. Chop up some vegetables of your choice. The exact amount doesn’t matter. You can use a bag or two of frozen vegetables to speed up the process.
Pour a tablespoon or two of oil into a saucepan, add the vegetables and cook until they are softened. Next, pour enough water or vegetable broth over the vegetables to cover by about two inches.
Add spices and herbs to taste, such as black pepper, a bay leaf, and dried Italian herbs. Bring the mixture to boil, then lower the heat and simmer the soup for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very, very soft.
Puree the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender. It will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. You can also store it for longer in the freezer.
Let the soup cool just a bit before serving.
You can use a simple formula to prepare quick dinner time meals for senior citizens. Choose one lean protein, one cup of vegetables and one portion of whole grains.
Ideal sources of protein include chicken, salmon or lean beef. If you have a particularly adventurous eater, you can also offer non-meat protein sources such as tofu or beans.
For grains, choose a whole grain option, such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta or quinoa. When it comes to vegetables, try to choose a variety. Eating a range of vegetables instead of just one or two helps seniors get the full balance of vitamins and minerals they need.
Think of flavor when preparing vegetables and grains for dinner. Instead of cooking rice or quinoa in plain water, try making it in vegetable or chicken broth to enhance its taste.
Steaming or boiling vegetables might be the quickest way to prepare them, but it often results in a bland side dish. If you are going to steam veggies, add a bit of butter at the end to perk up their taste. A dash of lemon juice will also improve the flavor.
Roasting vegetables is often the way to go for the best flavor and texture. If you have a loved one who avoids eating vegetables, try serving him or her roasted broccoli, carrots or even Brussels sprouts. The deeper flavor of roasted vegetables might change his or her mind.
Remember also to provide plenty of liquids during meals. Water doesn’t only help reduce dehydration. It can also help improve digestion.
Soft food recipes and senior-centric meals shouldn’t be boring. You can provide plenty of nutrition while serving delicious food.
Do you cook for a senior regularly? How do you help him or her get all the nutrients needed? Share your story in the comments.