6 Ways to Improve an Aging Parent’s Diet

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Growing up, your parents probably had a few tricks up their sleeve to get you to eat your vegetables and limit the amount of junk food you consumed.

But now, perhaps the tables have turned. Maybe you’ve noticed Mom is skipping meals and looking thinner these days. Or maybe Dad now lives off of fast food and take out because he doesn’t want to cook. Now it’s your turn to learn a few tricks to help your parents get their eating habits back on track.

In a family caregiver support presentation focused on senior nutrition and mealtime, Dr. Amy D’Aprix, Executive Director of the DAI Foundation on Caregiving, suggested the following six ways to help aging parents improve their diet, especially if they live alone or could use assistance with meal preparation tasks.

  1. Encourage variety in food choices. Variety is the spice of life. Trying new foods or new ways to prepare old favorites can make mealtimes more exciting, especially after decades of eating the same foods cooked in the same ways. Choosing from wider food groups also helps make it easier to meet nutritional needs. Everyone’s eating choices have room for improvement, even those with very selective tastes and preferences. Check out the Nutrition for Seniors workbook for a list of foods to keep on hand for a healthier diet.
  2. Suggest gradual improvements. Focus on one thing to change. Say the issue is that food tastes too bland. Try some natural flavor enhancers that are also healthy such as olive oil, vinegars, garlic, onion or spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger or turmeric. Spices are especially helpful flavor boosters for people who need to cut back on salt. The goal is to move in the right direction toward better nutrition; you don’t have to achieve diet perfection.
  3. Assemble healthy snacks at home. Create small bags of nuts, seeds, low-fat cheeses, fresh veggies or fruit that your senior loved one can grab quickly and easily. It beats buying less healthy and more expensive pre-packaged and processed snacks.
  4. Help with some “batch cooking.” Offer to help cook a large amount of spaghetti sauce, for example, that you can divide into smaller portions and freeze for use at another time. That will help make meal preparation quicker and easier next time your loved one wants to cook.
  5. Take advantage of planned leftovers. For example, you could prepare a roast, serve half and freeze the rest. Combine with veggies for a quick soup or other dish later on.
  6. Mix up meals (breakfast for dinner). Many people love breakfast any time of the day, but just don’t think about it after morning hours. Try vegetable soup and a tuna sandwich on pumpernickel bread for breakfast or an omelet, bran muffin and fresh fruit for dinner. As long as you’re eating a healthy variety of foods, it doesn’t matter what time of the day you eat the food.

For more senior nutrition tips and information, visit CaregiverStress.com to explore free resources available through the Craving Companionship program and Cooking Under Pressure program.