Good news! Elderly individuals are living longer than their parents due to advances in medicine and preventive habits such as smoking cessation, regular physical activity, and a healthy diet. However, many seniors struggle with activities of daily living, including buying and preparing meals for themselves.
Seniors are more likely to have debilitating illnesses such as arthritis or heart disease, which could limit their energy levels or ability to cook for themselves. Chronic diseases such as cancer or diabetes may also impact a senior’s appetite and ability and interest in meal planning.
In addition, many elders may be on a limited budget or not have transportation to get to the store on a consistent basis. Meal planning can be tricky, but not impossible in this population.
Nutrient needs differ slightly in adults over the age of 70. Calorie needs are generally lower as basal metabolic rate declines with aging. The need for certain nutrients such as fiber and protein increases with age to aid with laxation and maintaining muscle mass, respectively. 1
Fiber recommendations are roughly 30 grams daily for older adults. This should include soluble fiber from oats, beans, and fruit to aid with blood sugar regulation and cholesterol reduction. Insoluble fiber from skins of plants, bran cereal, and whole wheat products aid with laxation.
Protein requirements range from .8 to 1 gram protein per kilogram weight but some experts advise at least 1 gram per kilogram to maintain muscle mass and prevent sarcopenia (muscle loss) as people age. Good sources include low-fat dairy products like cottage cheese, yogurt and milk, beans and lentils, lean beef, fish, poultry and pork, and peanut or other nut butter. 2
Water and other fluids are also important in a senior’s diet to prevent constipation and dehydration. In general, most seniors should aim for at least 6 to 8 (8 ounce) cups of fluid daily unless otherwise directed by their doctor to increase or limit fluids due to certain medical conditions such as congestive heart failure or kidney disease. Decaffeinated beverages such as tea, coffee, or seltzer water also count as fluids.
Now to the meat of this post! Below are some quick meal, snack, and fluid ideas for seniors:
- Get grandma a water bottle. A simple rule of thumb for water is to aim for 2 (8 oz) cups with all meals with at least 4 to 8 ounces between meals. A reusable bottle or one with a straw may make things easier for seniors to use.
- Use smaller plates when serving seniors meals. A large, full plate of food may be overwhelming to someone whose appetite is decreased. Smaller servings may also aid with weight management if needed.
- Serve soft sources of protein if chewing problems exist. Soup, beans, lentils, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, or ground meats may be easier to chew.
- Keep frozen fruit on hand to add to oats, yogurt or smoothies. This provides a variety of fruit with a longer shelf life. It’s also already prepped and ready to use.
- Use a variety of frozen vegetables as well. These can be cooked in a microwave in 2 to 3 minutes, making them a quick side dish for seniors.
- Batch cook dishes like soup, chili, or pasta and freeze meals for later use. Beans and rice or quinoa make a quick meal.
- Stock the pantry with quick snacks such as whole-grain crackers, nuts and seeds, and dried fruit. Pair these with string cheese, hummus, or soft fruit such as bananas, pears, or melon.
- Consider using protein powder if appetite is poor. This can be added to oats, yogurt, smoothies, or shakes to increase protein intake. Multiple varieties are available, including plant-based if desired.
- Bernstein M. Nutritional Needs of the Older Adult. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2017 Nov;28(4):747-766
- Coelho-Junior HJ, Marzetti E, Picca A, Cesari M, Uchida MC, Calvani R. Protein Intake and Frailty: A Matter of Quantity, Quality, and Timing. Nutrients. 2020 Sep 23;12(10):2915.
By Lisa Andrews, M.Ed, RD, LD