Planning healthy meals can become more difficult as we get older. Changes in our bodies and lifestyles can have a huge impact on how we eat.
Good nutrition is a key part of eating healthy for older adults. Many seniors can struggle with getting enough nutrients in their diet, which can cause a number of issues down the line.
That’s why we’ve compiled some useful tips and tricks to help older adults plan healthy, enjoyable meals.
Seniors Need Less Calories & More Nutritients
Nutrition is the practice of eating a healthy, balanced diet full of nutrients. Nutrients are substances found in food, like carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. Our bodies need nutrients to function and grow.
Good nutrition is important at any age. Eating properly helps us manage our weight, prevent certain diseases, and gives us energy.
As we age, our bodies and lives change. Older adults often need different meals to get the right nutrition. Some changes that can make eating healthy more difficult could include:
- Suddenly living alone
- Mobility issues
- Changes in health
- Changes in senses
- Trouble chewing/swallowing
- Decreased appetite
While these changes are very common, the impact these changes have on a person is significant. It’s important to know how to adjust to these changes.
How to Eat Healthy
There are plenty of ways to eat healthily and achieve good nutrition, even as we age.
Great Foods for Seniors
Good nutrition for one person can be different for another, but there are foods that are good for basically everyone. Some nutrient-rich foods include:
- Fruits & vegetables, like leafy greens & apples
- Whole grains, like oatmeal & brown rice
- Fat-free/low-fat dairy products
- Soy/rice milk (with added vitamin D & calcium)
- Seafood, like crab & tuna
- Lean meats, poultry, & eggs
It’s important to avoid empty calories. Foods with empty calories have plenty of calories, but very few nutrients. For example, chips, candy, and soda would be empty-calorie foods.
Choosing foods that are low in cholesterol and fat is another part of a balanced diet. It’s especially important to avoid saturated and trans fats.
Along with eating the right foods, it’s critical to hydrate. Many older adults aren’t hydrated enough because they forget, have lost their sense of thirst, are on medications that impact their senses, or for a number of other reasons. Staying hydrated is just as important to a balanced diet as eating nutritious foods.
Strategies to Encourage Healthy Eating in Seniors
In conjunction with eating the right foods, there are other additional tips you can use to promote a nutrient-rich diet, such as:
- Lightly exercising to increase appetite
- Organizing potlucks or group dinners
- Adding color & texture to make food more interesting
- Drinking plenty of liquids to help with swallowing
- Visiting the dentist for help with chewing
- Break up meals into smaller, more frequent snacks
If there are medical concerns that make it difficult to cook or eat properly, talk to your physician about the best next step.
A Week of Meal Planning
|Breakfast:||Easy Rice Pudding|
Ingredients:2/3 cup white rice (regular, raw, enriched)2 cups water (warm)1 teaspoon butter (or margarine, optional)1/2 cup nonfat dry milk2 tablespoons sugar1/2 teaspoon vanilla1 cup water1/2 cup raisins (or other dried fruit)
Steps:Combine rice, water, and butter in large casserole (cover loosely).Cook in microwave on high for 5 minutes or until mixture comes to boil. Reduce setting to defrost (50% power), and cook additional 10 minutes.While the rice is cooking, mix together the other ingredients in a bowl.Without allowing rice to cool, remove cover and quickly stir the dry milk-raisin mixture into hot rice. Cover loosely again and continue cooking on defrost (50%) for 10 minutes. After cooking time is finished, let pudding sit, covered, for 10 minutes.Stir gently and put in individual serving dishes.Eat warm and refrigerate leftover within 2 hours, or cover and refrigerate immediately. Enjoy the refrigerated pudding within 2 days.
|Lunch||Salmon Salad Mix|
Ingredients:1 can salmon (14.75 oz, drained)1 cup pickle relish (dill or sweet or chopped pickles)1 cup plain yogurt (nonfat)2 tablespoons mayonnaise (light)2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
Steps:Remove skin and large bones from salmon. In a medium bowl, break up salmon and mash small bones with a fork.Add relish, yogurt, mayonnaise and lemon juice.Mix together until well combined.Chill before serving. Serve on a bed of salad greens or use as a sandwich filling.Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
Ingredients:1 tablespoon canola oil3 cups mixed vegetables (frozen)2 cups brown rice (cooked)1 tablespoon soy sauce (less-sodium)1 5/8 teaspoons garlic powder1 5/8 teaspoons onion powder3/8 egg (beaten)
Steps:Heat oil in a skillet (or wok) on medium heat.Add vegetables to skillet and cook until tender, stirring occasionally.Add rice, soy sauce, garlic powder, and onion powder to vegetables and mix well. Cook until rice is fully reheated.Push rice mixture to sides of pan, making a hole in the center. Pour egg into center of skillet and scramble, continuing to stir until almost done.Mix the egg through the rice mixture. Continue to stir mixture until the egg is fully cooked.
|Breakfast:||Breakfast Banana Split|
Ingredients:1 small banana1/2 cup cereal (oat, corn, or granola)1/2 cup yogurt (low-fat vanilla or strawberry)1/2 teaspoon honey (optional, skip for children under the age of one)1/2 cup pineapple (canned, tidbits or chunks, drained)
Steps:Peel and split banana lengthwise. Place half in two separate cereal bowls.Over each banana, spoon yogurt, sprinkle cereal and drizzle honey, if desired.Top with pineapple and serve immediately.Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
Ingredients:1 pound ground turkey1/4 cup parmesan cheese2 cups chopped vegetables (tomatoes, green beans, carrots, peppers, zucchini, etc.)8 whole wheat tortillas
Steps:In a skillet, cook ground turkey until completely cooked. Drain and rinse.Add cheese and vegetables.Place 1/4 cup of turkey mixture on a tortilla. Fold over or roll.Heat and lightly brown in skillet or in the oven.
|Dinner||One Pan Spaghetti|
Ingredients:1/2 pound ground beef (lean, 15% fat)1 medium onion (chopped)3 cups water1 can tomato sauce (15 ounces)2 teaspoons oregano (dried)1 teaspoon sugar1 teaspoon garlic powder (or 2 garlic cloves)1 teaspoon rosemary1/4 teaspoon black pepper2 cups spaghetti (12 ounces, broken)1 cup parmesan cheese (4 oz, shredded)
Steps:Brown meat and onions in a large skillet over medium-high heat (300 degrees in an electric skillet). Drain fat.Stir in water, tomato sauce, and spices. Bring to a boil.Add spaghetti, cover pan, and simmer 10-15 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking.When spaghetti is tender, top with grated cheese.Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
|Breakfast:||Citrus Salad with Lemon Yogurt|
Ingredients3 oranges (peeled and chopped)2 grapefruit (pink or red, peeled and chopped)2 cups red grapes (seedless, halved)1 container yogurt (low-fat, lemon)1 teaspoon honey
Steps:Cut tops and bottoms off of oranges and grapefruits so each piece of fruit has two flat ends.Place fruit on one flat end and carefully cut off peel and pith from top to bottom.Once peel is removed, chop up fruit. The fewer cuts made, the more juice will be kept in the fruit.Halve the grapes.Toss fruit in a bowl and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, approximately 2 hours.Add honey to yogurt. Drizzle mixture over fruit just before serving.
Ingredients:3 avocados (ripe)1 teaspoon lemon juice1 tablespoon lime juice2 roma tomatoes (diced)1 1/5 cups red onion (chopped)1/2 jalapeno pepper (chopped [note: include seeds if you want extra spice/heat])1/4 cup cilantro (fresh, chopped [or 2 tsp dried cilantro])1/2 teaspoon salt1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Steps:Gently rub produce under cool running water.Cut avocados in half, remove pit, and scoop pulp into a medium bowl.Mash avocado pulp with a fork and mix in remaining ingredients.Stir to combine. Serve with raw vegetable sticks or baked tortilla chips.
Ingredients:1 pound ground beef1 onion (diced)2 stalks celery (diced)2 carrots (diced)4 cloves garlic (minced)1 teaspoon cumin (ground)1 teaspoon oregano1 teaspoon coriander1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder1 can diced tomatoes2 cans tomato sauce2 cups water1 can black beans (drained)1 can kidney beans1 cup sweet potato (raw, grated)1/2 cup green pepper (chopped)1 small zucchini (or summer squash, chopped)Salt and pepper (to taste)
Steps:Brown the ground beef, onion, celery, carrots, and garlic in a large saucepan. Drain and rinse to reduce the fat content.Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the salt and pepper. Mix well and add water if the chili is too thick. Cook for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are cooked and the flavor has blended. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
Ingredients:Water or milk 1/2 sliced banana1 cup of spinach1/2 cup of blueberriesIce Steps:Gently rub produce under cool running water.Add ingredients to blender.Blend until smooth and serve.
|Lunch||Crunchy Chicken Nuggets|
Ingredients:1 pound chicken breasts (boneless, skinless, cut into 1-inch cubes)1/2 cup barbeque sauce3 cups cereal (flakes)
Steps:Preheat oven to 375 degrees.Mix chicken and barbeque sauce in a large bowl.Pour cereal flakes into a large plastic bag and crush into small pieces.Place chicken pieces in the bag, reseal, and toss to coat.Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange coated chicken pieces on the baking sheet.Bake until crispy and golden brown and chicken is no longer pink inside, about 20 to 25 minutes.Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
|Dinner||Watermelon Feta Salad|
Ingredients:5 cups watermelon (cut into 1 inch pieces)2 cups Feta cheese (cut into 1/4 inch pieces)1 tablespoon chives (fresh, thinly sliced)2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar2 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin)2 tablespoons honey2 tablespoons mint (fresh, cut into thin ribbons)
Steps:Place the watermelon, feta cheese, chives and mint in a medium bowl.In a separate bowl, mix olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, and honey. Whisk ingredients together until the honey is dissolved. Season with salt and black pepper.Combine dressing with watermelon mixture. Toss until everything is evenly coated with dressing.
Ingredients:1 cup rolled oats (uncooked, old fashioned)1 cup yogurt (low-fat)1 cup milk (nonfat or 1%)1 cup berries (fresh or frozen)1 cup apple (chopped [about 1/3 medium apple, 3” diameter])
Steps:In a medium bowl, mix oats, yogurt and milk.Add the fruit now or add just before eating.Cover and refrigerate oatmeal mixture for 6-12 hours. For grab-and-go breakfasts, place scoops of mixture in small dishes or spoon into small containers with lids.Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
|Lunch||Apple Spinach Salad|
Ingredients:4 cups spinach leaves2 tablespoons canola oil2 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar1 tablespoon sugar1/4 teaspoon salt1/4 cup red onion (chopped)1 medium apple (tart, cut into bite-sized chunks)1/4 cup raisins (or dried cranberries)
Steps:Wash spinach thoroughly. Pat dry or spin in a salad spinner.Tear spinach into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl. Set asideIn a small bowl mix oil, vinegar, sugar, and salt.Add the apple, onion, and dried fruit to the oil mixture and toss to coat apples. Let stand ten minutes.Combine ingredients together in the large bowl of spinach and serve.Refrigerate leftovers.
Ingredients:1 pound ground turkey (lean)1/2 cup rolled oats (dry)1 large egg1 tablespoon onion (dehydrated [or 1 small onion, minced])1/4 cup ketchup2 stalks celery (chopped)2 cloves garlic (minced)1/2 bell pepper (green, seeded and diced)
Steps:Preheat oven to 350°F.Combine all ingredients and mix well.Bake in loaf pan for 25 minutes (to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F).Cut into five slices and serve.
|Breakfast:||Applesauce French Toast|
Ingredients:2 eggs1/2 cup milk (nonfat or 1%)2 teaspoons sugar (white)1/2 teaspoon vanilla1/4 cup applesauce (unsweetened)6 slices whole wheat bread
Steps:In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk, cinnamon, sugar, vanilla and applesauce. Mix well.Soak bread one slice at a time until mixture is slightly absorbed.Lightly spray or oil a skillet or griddle. Cook over medium heat until golden brown on both sides.Serve hot.Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
|Lunch||Banana Oatmeal Cookies|
Ingredients:2 banana (very ripe)1 cup oats (quick or old-fashioned)1/2 teaspoon cinnamon1/2 teaspoon vanilla1/2 cup raisins
Steps:Preheat oven to 350 degrees.In a medium bowl, mash bananas with a fork until mostly smooth.Add oats, cinnamon, vanilla and raisins. Mix well.Drop spoonfuls of dough onto lightly sprayed or oiled baking sheet. Flatten with the back of a spoon or bottom of a drinking glass.Bake 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.
Ingredients:1 pound yucca (fresh, cut into 3-inch sections and peeled; or 1 pound peeled frozen yucca [cassava])Nonstick cooking spray
Steps:In a kettle, combine the yucca with enough cold water to cover it by 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil, and slowly simmer the yucca for 20 to 30 minutes, or until it is tender.Preheat oven to 350°F.Transfer the yucca with a slotted spoon to a cutting board, let it cool, and cut it lengthwise into ¾-inch-wide wedges, discarding the thin woody core.Spray a cookie sheet lightly with the cooking spray. Spread yucca wedges in a single layer on the cookie sheet, and spray the wedges with cooking spray. Cover with foil and bake for 8 minutes. Uncover and return to oven to bake for an additional 7 minutes.
|Breakfast:||Tortilla Cups with Eggs|
Ingredients:4 tortillas (6-inch, flour)4 eggs1/4 cup mushrooms (chopped)1/4 cup bell pepper (chopped)1 teaspoon black pepper
Steps:Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.Wash hands with soap and water.Gently rub produce under cool running water.Cut each tortilla in half and then in half again. This will result in four equal pieces per tortilla.Spray six muffin tin cups with non-stick cooking spray. Overlap two to three pieces of tortilla in each muffin tin to cover completely and create a cup. Press into muffin tin. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.Bake tortilla cups for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.Mix eggs, mushrooms, bell peppers and black pepper in a medium mixing bowl.Pour egg mixture equally into tortilla cups.Cook for 20-25 minutes until eggs are cooked through, or when internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F.
Ingredients:1 cup tomato sauce1 cup chicken breasts (grilled, boneless, skinless, diced [about 2 small breasts])1 cup broccoli (rinsed, chopped, and cooked)2 tablespoons parmesan cheese (grated)1 tablespoon basil (fresh, rinsed, dried, and chopped [or 1 teaspoon dried])4 pitas (whole-wheat, 6 1/2-inch)
Steps:Preheat oven or toaster oven to 450°F.For each pizza, spread ¼ cup tomato sauce on a pita and top with ¼ cup chicken, ¼ cup broccoli, ½ tablespoon parmesan cheese, and ¼ tablespoon chopped basil.Place pitas on a nonstick baking sheet and bake for about 5–8 minutes until golden brown and chicken is heated through. Serve immediately.
Ingredients:2 pounds fish fillets (try cod, tilapia, snapper or others)1 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon pepper2 cups cabbage (shredded; or lettuce)2 cups vegetables (chopped; try tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, corn, green onions, celery, avocado)1/2 cup ranch dressing (low-fat)1/2 cup salsa
Steps:Season fish with salt and pepper. Cook by your favorite method until it appears opaque and flakes apart easily (see Notes).Mix cabbage or lettuce with other vegetables of your choice. Add chunks of fish. Drizzle with ranch dressing and salsa.Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
Choosing a variety of foods from each food group can help make meal times more interesting and enjoyable. A diverse diet also helps prevent diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
You can get more protein into your diet by adding seafood, dairy, or fortified soy products to your meals. You can also add beans, peas, and lentils to your food.
Enjoy chopped fruits and vegetables as a snack during the day. Foods fortified with vitamin B12, like some cereals, can also help promote a healthy diet.
And one final, incredibly important tip is to use herbs and citrus to reduce sodium intake and keep meals tasting great.
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Eating healthy can be a challenge for some seniors. We’re here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our senior living communities, services, amenities, and so much more! Enjoy life again.