Becoming a caregiver to a parent involves a lot of changes and challenges in your life. One of those can be preparing meals. We know you’ve been preparing meals for years, however preparing meals for older adults can be challenging. Their medications can mean that certain foods must be avoided and medications may affect their appetite. Even failing eye sight can affect one’s appetite. Teeth and gum issues may also affect an older adult’s interest in food. And although it may be tempting to grab those prepared freezer meals, a home cooked meal is often far more nutritious.
Whenever you are preparing meals for older adults, those meals should be rich in fiber. It should be flavorful, since the ability to taste and smell may decrease with age. Rather than load up on salt to improve flavor try different spices. If you do not consider yourself a culinary expert there are a variety of spice blends available in the grocery stores that you can experiment with. Just make sure you check their ingredient list for salt and sugar content. Both sugar and salt should be kept low in meals for older adults.
One thing that is different when preparing meals for older adults is the national dietary guideline for older adults is different than for younger persons. Tufts University created My Plate for Older Adults, which was designed to guide people 70 and older. They also have a website devoted to helping you understanding My Plate.
Even though My Plate recommends it, I don’t think the science supports low-fat dairy products anymore. This is because many low-fat products tend to replace fat with added salt and sugar (for flavor) so it may be wiser to choose the whole fat products instead. Also, recent studies have been dispelling the belief that low-fat is good for you and high-fat is bad. This has been especially true when it comes to low-fat dairy products. There seems to be a lot of science promoting the benefit of high-fat products versus low-fat options for these items. Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., L.D., a licensed, registered dietitian who is a wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, told Healthline these full-fat dairy products also tend to fill you up more quickly.
Remember that it is recommended meals for older adults be rich in fiber. Will your parent will only accept white rice or white bread? Perhaps a serving or two of grains could be replaced with another serving or two of high-fiber leafy greens. One cup of cooked spinach has 4 grams of fiber. One cup of cooked collard greens has 5 grams of fiber. In all cases, it is highly recommended that you discuss dietary needs with your parent’s doctor. You may even want to print this article out as a basis for facilitating the discussion.
In closing, don’t be distressed if you are not sure what a serving size is. A lot of people are confused. In fact our perception of serving sizes has been growing way beyond what is healthy. Much of what Americans eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner is several times larger than the government’s definition of a portion, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer group. Both portion control and serving size have been addressed by many people. We felt that Simin Levinson at ASU tackled this subject the best. Read our article on Using Your Hand to Determine Portion Sizes.