How can caregivers help make meals simpler for seniors?
1. Focus on Nutrient Density
As we grow older, a loss of appetite is entirely normal and expected. For that reason, it may be best to think more about meal prep in terms of nutrient density rather than its size. In other words, try to serve up the right amount of nutritious, wholesome calories – without overloading your parent’s plate. A few items to focus on might be protein and whole grains.
Protein-packed foods will slow muscle loss and keep your senior loved one from feeling too fragile and can come prepared to serve in the form of nuts, eggs, Greek yogurt, mashed avocado, tuna fish, or even a protein powder mixed into smoothies or juices. Meanwhile, whole grains can boost one’s heart health and digestion. Useful sources include microwavable brown rice or oatmeal. And do not forget nutritious, vitamin-packed veggies and fruits!
2. Make Food Easy to Eat
One limitation to proper nutrition for many seniors is preparing their own meals from scratch, which is time-consuming and physically challenging. That is one reason why meal prep is vital in the first place! Having things prepared can go a long way toward helping your loved one eat enough. With that in mind, assess your loved one’s individual needs, and think about all the ways you can make things easier on them.
For example, many older adults have issues with chewing and swallowing, so it’s best to focus on preparing softer foods. In some cases, this might mean packaging the food into “grab and go” portions, with little to no cooking time or effort needed. For instance, preparing easy-to-microwave sacks of veggies can help your loved ones eat soft, chewable vegetables, no dicing, slicing, or boiling needed.
3. Listen to Your Loved One
Getting your loved one on your side may just be half the battle when it comes to eating properly. With that in mind, listen to your parent’s needs, and be respectful of their food choices. For example, if your parent is losing some of their senses of taste or smell, they may like to increase their food’s spice or seasoning level. Some might go the opposite direction and prefer things with less spice in other cases. Getting those little details right can make a significant difference in getting your parent to eat better.
4. Add Activity into the Mix
In some cases, healthcare professionals might suggest a prescription appetite stimulant. This may be a critical step to get seniors to eat. For others, a little bit of exercise can help get the appetite working again. Walking around the block, running chores, or even just moving around the house can all help work up an appetite and fix some related issues, like constipation.
One thing that everyone should know is what “bite-sized” means. My brother used to work in a nursing home. One day, I visited him at work, noticing he was arguing with another caregiver. He then told me that the other carer didn’t cut the food into bite-sized pieces. Each piece was so large that those poor patients could barely hold it in their mouths.
As for other tips, I suggest you make various healthy foods they like and portion them individually. This way, they only need to warm up the food before eating it. Choosing the meals depends on their allergies, ability to chew and swallow, and likes and dislikes. Also, consider putting similar dishes in the same spot so your loved ones can easily find and enjoy their food.
Meals can be individually portioned, so they only need to be warmed up. However, remember that it depends on their ability to chew and swallow. People with choking problems might have to eat pureed foods, while others are fine with any food.
I am responsible for my mother’s care, and after diagnosing with dementia, her eating habits have changed a lot. She used to cook herself eggs, bacon, and hamburgers now and then two years ago.
I started bringing in more pre-made meals from home or the grocery store because I have cameras in a few rooms and noticed she wasn’t doing much. She’d put them in the microwave to warm them up.
As time passed, I saw she was less interested in eating food and more interested in snacking. I’ve begun to prepare cold sandwiches, fruit salad, jello, precut cheese, and meats. I had to make healthy finger foods because my mom has lost so much motivation that she only does the bare minimum of any daily activity.