Eating healthy and being active are vital for healthy aging. However, the eating healthy (and sometimes even just the eating part) can prove to be a challenge for older adults. When we get older, our eating habits tend to change as well as our tastes. In addition, many seniors lack the knowledge, strength, time, and energy to prepare complete nutritious meals. Instead, they opt for something quick, which usually doesn’t always end up being the healthiest.
Meal planning and prepping have become a popular method of improving diet quality while also saving time, energy, and money. And it’s often a topic associated with athletes or people trying to lose weight. But it’s also an excellent method and tool to assist seniors in making healthier choices as well as a way to eliminate the frustration that accompanies the daily question of, “what should I eat?” Meal planning for seniors doesn’t have to be exhausting or overly complicated. To get started, use these tips to plan healthy and delicious meals.
Review Your Specific Health Guidelines
Before starting any type of meal planning or prepping for seniors, you should discuss your nutritional guidelines with your healthcare professional. Together, you can set diet and nutrition goals to follow and achieve. Seniors have different dietary needs than others, often requiring more vitamins, nutrients, and protein. Also, those with health complications or conditions might have food restrictions they need to be conscious of when planning meals. For example, those at risk for heart disease or stroke should limit their salt intake and saturated fats. But, again, always discuss your goals with your healthcare provider before making big changes.
Gather and Find Inspiration
Don’t limit yourself to just a couple of meal options. There are so many resources at your disposal today that there is no reason to eat the same thing over and over. Also, don’t kill yourself trying to come up with a million different meal options. Instead, search websites and cookbooks for meal ideas, print them out, or write them down. This will add variety and excitement to your menus. Plus, try to be adventurous and explore different types of foods and culinary cuisines. Create a healthy meal plan that is unique but still fits your preferences.
Consider Preparation Time
Delicious doesn’t have to mean complicated or time-consuming. Some meals can be put together in five minutes, such as a bowl of bran flakes topped with antioxidant-rich blueberries for a quick and easy breakfast. Whereas other meals may take a little longer to get on the table, such as 20-minute chicken creole, but are still quick and manageable. Determine how much time you want to devote to cooking meals and plan accordingly. You can also meal prep by cutting up vegetables and ingredients ahead of time to eliminate that step once you get started.
Choose Foods that Can Be Used for Double-Duty
When planning your meals, select recipes that use several of the same ingredients. This not only helps with costs but can also cut down on time depending on the item. For example, if you’re using brown rice for dinner and another recipe later in the week calls for rice, make extra rice to have ready to go for that meal.
Be Prepared and Stock Up
Life can be hectic with lots of surprises. Or we can be forgetful and fail to pick up specific ingredients. This can lead to an impulse buy or a ride through the drive-thru. When these times arise, have standard, versatile items always on hand. The American Heart Association recommends always having the following items on hand:
- “Dinner builder” items: canned or dried beans, such as kidney, pinto, black, butter, and navy; canned or pouched tuna, salmon, and chicken; spaghetti sauce
- Canned vegetables: for easy side dishes and adding to soups and sauce
- Whole grains: brown rice, oats, couscous, bulgur, and quinoa; whole-grain pastas, breads, and tortillas (store extra bread and tortillas in the freezer); whole-grain flour or cornmeal for baking
- Cooking oils: non-tropical vegetable oils, such as olive, canola, and corn
- Nuts, seeds, and nut butters: for stir-fries and garnishes (and satisfying snacks)
- Broths: fat-free, low-sodium chicken, vegetable, and beef—for making soups
- Dried herbs and spices: keep a variety on hand and buy or create salt-free seasoning blends
- Proteins: Unbreaded fish fillets, skinless chicken breasts, extra-lean or lean meats; tofu
- Dairy products: low-fat and fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese
- Soft margarine: made with nonhydrogenated vegetable oil and containing no trans-fat
- Frozen vegetables and fruits: choose a wide variety (lots of colors) without salty sauces and sugary syrups
Meal Plan to Avoid Meal Frustration
Eating healthy and sticking to a regular schedule doesn’t have to be difficult. With a little bit of meal planning for seniors, you can achieve a healthy and nutritious meal repertoire that will inspire you to want to spend a little more time in the kitchen.
Keep track of the recipes you and your family like best. Pull one of these winning recipes out when you’re at a loss for what to make. Also, make a note on the recipes if you had leftovers, and keep those meals in mind if you know you’re going to be busy that week. Don’t let something as simple as eating hinder your health and well-being. Follow the tips above and put joy and nutrition back into your meals.