As a nurse and a daughter, I strive to give my mom the right kind of nutrition she needs. But recently I noticed my mom wasn’t finishing her meals. In fact, there were times when the caregiver or I would put a meal in front of her and she wouldn’t even touch it. She would make silly excuses, leave the table, and putter off, busying herself with some irrelevant task. When I’d ask her about it, she’d say she just wasn’t hungry, and that food just didn’t appeal to her anymore. Elderly Nutrition can be quite a challenge. Just figuring out why they are not eating right, and then trying to adjust to their changing needs can be quite a challenge.
Is feeding your senior difficult? Are they saying they’re “not hungry”, “can’t taste the food”, “don’t have an appetite”, “are tired of the same food”?
As we get older, we tend to have a bit more difficulty eating due to a number of factors:
- Taste buds are often not as sensitive as we age and we can even lose the sense of taste altogether.
- Seniors are not as active physically so they are not getting the benefit from the appetite stimulation that movement and exercise affords us.
- Depression, loneliness, and sadness can wreak havoc on appetite.
- Illness or disease or some medications can suppress appetite
Seniors typically need to eat smaller amounts of food and more often. Protein and high quality fats are important for brain function, hormones, energy production, and blood sugar regulation.
Here are some ideas for quick and easy to cook meals and/or snacks. All of these small meal/snack ideas can be served at any time, breakfast or lunch or dinner.
1) Nut butter on crackers (unsweetened almond butter, unsweetened peanut butter, cashew butter).
2) Sliced apples dipped in various nut butters. Peel the apples for easier chewing if apple skin is a problem.
3) Another way to serve nut butter and fruit is to put a small amount of nut butter in a bowl and mix in some small pieces of banana. Can be eaten with a spoon or spread on warm soft bread or crackers. (berries or apples work well for this too)
4) Avocado slices (¼ to ½ avocado) spread on crackers or warm lightly toasted soft bread. Sprinkle some salt or a seasoning called “Spike” on the avocado.
5) Cottage cheese with fruit pieces mixed in (try pineapple, cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or bananas).
6) Cottage cheese sprinkled with either the seasoning “Spike” or “Lawry’s Season Salt”.
7) Scrambled eggs with small chunks of cream cheese melted into the warm eggs. Cheddar or jack cheese is good too but cream cheese is delicious and decadent.
8) Cheese slices with crackers and sliced apples. If they have difficulty chewing, make sure you give saltines or crackers that are easily dissolved in the mouth. If there is difficulty chewing the sliced apples, then cut an apple in half, take out the core, and with a spoon shave and scoop out the inside of the apple, avoiding giving them the skin.
9) A few slices or pieces of meat: turkey, chicken, sliced steak or roast beef, leftover bacon or sausage. It is a really good idea to always have a little leftover meat available to add to a meal or snack. After 3 days, I like to throw out the meat and make a fresh batch (or give to the dog or cat if they can tolerate people food).
10) Another thing you can do with leftover meat (chicken, turkey, beef) small chunks or slices of meat (either cold or warmed up) spruce it up by dipping in mayonnaise mixed with salt and pepper or any other seasoning they like.
11) For a quick vegetarian meal, take a can of beans (pinto, black, kidney, or cannellini beans) drained and rinsed and a can of tomato pieces and heat this up together in a small pan. If tolerated, cook in some finely chopped onion. Add some salt or mild seasoning if necessary. Before serving, sprinkle with a few small chunks of avocado on top. Optional, add a dollop of sour cream.
12) Make an open face melted cheese sandwich: add thin slices of fresh tomato and/or avocado to the bread before adding the cheese and place in a very hot oven until the cheese is bubbly and melting. A delicious seasoning for this is a little garlic powder and salt (optional).
13) Cooked pasta with butter and sprinkle with grated or shaved parmesan cheese. Add pieces of sausage if you have some prepared.
14) This idea takes a bit more preparation but is a very healthy snack. Cook a whole bunch of different chopped vegetables in chicken broth. Onions, garlic, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, squash, carrots, celery to name a few. Cook as many different ones together as you can, making sure to cook them just until they are done, do not overcook. Season the soup with salt and pepper and a little turmeric or other spices. Then, place a serving of this soup in a blender and blend until it is a smooth puree. Serve either alone or you can mix in a few bites of leftover meat such as sausage or ham or chicken or beef. This is easy to digest, delicious, and extremely nutritious. One thing I would note, please only blend the soup just before you serve it, it is not as tasty and nutritious if it is pureed and then reheated.
The key to keeping up with elderly nutrition is to be a detective: ask a lot of questions about food preferences and family history. Find out how your senior is feeling; mentally and physically. If they are not sure, ask specific questions about pain and discomfort, temperature, changes in the surroundings, new people in the home…sometimes they have a difficult time expressing what’s wrong and you need to do some digging to find out.
For more information on Elderly Nutrition, here are some helpful resources: