Ensuring Proper Nutrition for Your Loved Ones: A Guide for Caregivers
Do Seniors Have Special Nutritional Needs?
As our loved ones age, their nutritional needs and abilities to tolerate various food textures and flavors change. Dexterity challenges might make it more difficult to eat foods that crumble. Swallowing issues due to stroke or Parkinson’s might make larger bites more challenging. Denture or jaw pain might make it tough to take smaller bites. And, let’s be honest, as we age, our taste buds change too. Foods that used to be appealing can seem bland or overly spicy. Seniors left to their own devices may start to avoid the challenges of meal preparation altogether, shorting themselves on valuable nutrition.
But fear not! There are ways to ensure that our loved ones get the nutrition they need AND enjoy their meals. While seniors may need fewer calories as they age, they specifically need more B vitamins, calcium, protein, and hydration. As we age, our ability to absorb nutrients decreases. Additionally, your senior may have varied nutritional requirements to help with medications or supplements they may be taking. So, it may be valuable to connect with a nutritionist to help guide food and nutrition choices.
Foods to Choose
When thinking through a revised meal plan for your loved one, ensure they have variety to address all their nutritional needs. In addition, it is vital to make sure that the meals we make are easy for them to consume, simple to prepare, and appealing in both taste and smell. Here are some considerations:
- Soft and easy-to-chew foods such as scrambled eggs, oatmeal, beans, or mashed potatoes.
- Bite-sized pieces – no larger than 1 inch. Consider using a food processor to reduce the size of all ingredients to bite-sized chunks.
- Steamed vegetables in a variety of colors. Remember to eat the rainbow! Soups are also an excellent way to include more veggies.
- Skinless, boneless, shredded, or flaked meats like cod, salmon, pulled pork, or hamburger.
- Soft fruits, pre-cut or blended into delicious smoothies. Add yogurt, milk, or supplements to smoothies to get some added nutrition without affecting taste.
- Natural seasonings like ginger, green onions, and garlic for added nutrition.
Foods to Avoid
Some foods may be more difficult for seniors due to age-related changes in their teeth, jaws, and overall oral health, making it harder to chew, swallow, or digest certain textures or consistencies. Foods that may be more difficult for your loved one to eat might include:
- Coarse or dry, hard or stringy foods.
- Stringy or hard-to-bite vegetables, like celery, carrots, or kale, unless they’re cut into smaller pieces.
- Dried, hard, or fibrous fruits like dried apricots, apples, or pears, unless they’re cut into smaller pieces.
- Foods that crumble easily and are hard to pick up.
- Overly salty seasonings – older adults are more easily dehydrated, and salty foods will contribute to this.
- Tough, on-the-bone, or chewy meats like ribs or squid.
Simple and Nutritious Meal Ideas
Here are some simple and nutritious meal ideas to get you started:
- Scrambled eggs or egg whites. You can add diced onions, mushrooms, or chives.
- Fruit, such as sliced apple or pineapple, orange or grapefruit sections, grapes, or melon balls. A dollop of yogurt adds freshness and zest.
- Whole grain toast. Try apple butter, naturally sweetened jam, or a drizzle of honey.
- Homemade tuna salad. Try using avocado, olive oil, or vegan mayo and adding pine nuts or chopped cashews for added texture. Add curry seasoning for extra flavor.
- Green leafy salad with your favorite vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, olives, and avocado.
- Homemade soup. Start with vegetarian or chicken stock, then add your favorite vegetables and seasonings. Potatoes add texture, and squash or fresh corn adds sweetness. A large batch can be frozen into individual portions for quick meals at a later date.
- Baked or broiled skinless chicken breast or fish fillet (tilapia, salmon, and tuna are delicious choices). Season with a squeeze of lemon and herbs such as rosemary or thyme.
- Potato, yam, or squash — baked or broiled. Baking them together with the meat in tin foil preserves the flavors and speeds up the cooking time.
- Steamed or broiled vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, beets, spinach, or kale. Choose different combinations in a variety of colors for rounded nutrition.
Medications can also affect nutrition. If a senior shows signs of nutritional problems, talk to a doctor and bring a list of medications and health conditions.