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Challenge: Meal Planning

Planning Meals for Elderly is a challenge, without a doubt. Some days you will feel defeated at each meal.

Reduced appetite, dulled taste buds, teeth problems, and inactivity strike a contrast with a need for good nutrition.

Take heart! Solutions exist to enable you to win most mealtime challenges.

 

Planning meals for elderly loved ones, the starting point.

 

planning meals for elderlyWhen planning meals for my Dad, I consider the following points:

  • Dietary needs. Dad doesn’t have a special diet. However, if your senior’s doctor requires low salt, low fat, or a sugar-restricted diet due to health concerns, plan accordingly. If your doctor has not specified, check with him first. My Dad’s doctor encourages a healthy diet that is rich in protein and reasonably balanced. He encourages fiber-rich vegetables, too. However, Dad’s vegetable choices remain few.
  • Physical concerns. False teeth, restricted swallow ability, and physical use of hands affect food choices. Extreme shakiness and loss of coordination make eating soups difficult. We avoid corn on the cob and chewy meats due to false teeth issues. Sandwiches and finger foods often present the easiest to manage.
  • Taste and texture preferences. Preferences might change day to day or even meal to meal. I found it helpful to offer choices at most meals. While I expect family members to join in with the family dinners, Dad gets to choose from at least a couple of offerings. Partly due to concern that he feels like eating, this offers him a chance to have what he might enjoy most. Also, it allows him some control over a small part of his life. It’s definitely an emotional boost for him. Moreover, I feel like I am doing what I can to facilitate his health and happiness.

 

Try some new tastes and textures, too!

My “meat and potatoes” Dad actually wanted to try some of my vegetarian foods from time to time. Some he set aside as not quite food worthy. Others, though, he decided were pretty good.

  • Keep in mind that vegetarian meat substitutes are often a softer texture than most meats. This makes them easier to chew and swallow. However, they may require more flavors to tempt your elderly loved one’s palette.
  • Also, watch for reactions to completely new foods. Often, elderly digestive systems become accustomed to their regular input. New foods might taste good. However, they may disagree with the stomach. Note which foods are less tolerated. You don’t have to exclude them, but might want to offer in smaller amounts. However, if you see a true allergic reaction or intolerance, it’s best to avoid serving that food.

 

Planning meals for elderly loved ones, preparation

 

You have chosen the actual foods to include in the meal, now to prepare it.

 

As you begin preparation, consider portion size. Most elderly are less active and therefore will eat less at each meal. We found that when we offered too much at a time, Dad felt a little overwhelmed. Over time, I’ve learned to put the right amount on his plate. Also, I always ask if he’d like more when he is done. Often he doesn’t. However, on the occasions when he does, it is his choice. He doesn’t feel forced.

 

Most consider fried foods too unhealthy to offer.

 

We limit them. However, the occasional fried food does appear on the table. Balance. We aim for a balance that is heavy in healthy choices with the occasional slightly less so.

We limit them. However, the occasional fried food does appear on the table. Balance. We aim for a balance that is heavy in healthy choices with the occasional slightly less so.

With that in mind, we now use our Power Air Fryer.

The Power Air Fryer gives a crisp texture that Dad expects from fried foods, but reduces the fats dramatically. We use it for his battered fish, fries, and many other foods. Honestly, now that we have the fryer, I cannot imagine being without it.

 

Keeping Dad’s cholesterol and salt intake reasonable is much easier with the air fryer, too. He enjoys fried foods, as so many his age do. This little fryer has made meals much easier.

It helps to know how your loved one prefers each food prepared. Dad says I make omelets like my Mom did and that’s how he likes them. (It helps that she taught me as a child!)

 

But his tastes do change over time.

 

He used to enjoy traditional grilled cheese. Now, he usually prefers it much drier. Sometimes we make it without any butter at all. He used to be a meat and potatoes guy. Now, he often prefers to skip the potatoes.

The important part of planning meals for elderly loved ones is to prepare foods that they will enjoy, can easily eat, and will enhance their health. Often, that means catering a bit to your loved one.

meal planning for elderly

Another benefit of this surprised me.

 

These meal choices bring out memories, mostly happy ones. Memories of the Friday Fish Fry at Stockton Hotel.

Memories of family barbecues at Mom and Dad’s home.

Sharing these memories brings incredible joy to Dad, to me,  and all of our family.

A simple meal often surprises us with a long-forgotten event. These meals and memories might offer more health benefits than the food itself.

 

Planning meals for elderly loved ones, presentation

 

Most of our senior loved ones prefer a simple mealtime. However, some preparation enables a smoother mealtime.

Find helpful information on meal management, including types of dishes and utensils, at Managing Meals for Elderly Loved Ones

 

FAQ

Is meal planning for elderly parents truly needed?

Yes, planning ahead helps you ensure that your loved one has good nutrition and enjoys the choices you make together.

What if I don’t have time for meal prep?

Taking care of an elderly parent is time-consuming, and many of us also work, either from home or away. But it is possible to plan meals ahead and even cook them as much as a week or more ahead of time. Consider planning meals that work together. Choose ingredients that can be repurposed. When you make extras of certain foods, such as including a baked potato, you can use the extra portion for home fries or mashed potatoes another night.

Also, keep some easy-to-prepare meals for those days, which will happen when everything seems to take extra time. Perhaps your Mom is having a difficult day. We’ve all had them. Plan ahead. Keep quick and easy meal ideas close at hand for those days.

My loved one barely eats what we prepare. How do I ensure healthy meals?

Some days, your loved one won’t be hungry. Those might be the days when good nutrition is needed the most. I found that sometimes my Dad just wanted a burger. I’d add a little egg into the burger and cook it as a meatloaf. Dad loved it and I knew he was getting extra nutrients. Similarly, adding a few extra vegetables to a soup might help.

Do all meals need to be healthy and delicious meals every day?

This is one where I found it helpful to cheat a little, and my Dad appreciated my efforts. I knew he preferred some foods that were just not as healthy. So for some meals, I’d include those with a good dose of healthier foods served with them. Occasionally, when he was really not hungry, I’d ask if he’d like dessert for dinner. Dad never turned down ice cream with a dab of peanut butter!

Of course, you should discuss this with the doctor. Dad’s doctor understood that keeping enough proteins and calories into him was just as important as monitoring his full diet.

Extra tip: I served a green smoothie every afternoon. Dad didn’t love them, but he didn’t hate them either. And he knew that I was serving a favorite food for dinner, so he complied.

What if I am caring for both elderly parents together and they want different foods?

Challenges exist, as any parent of more than a single child knows. And it will depend on your parents’ personalities, as well as their overall health. You might find that they will agree to take turns enjoying their favorite meals. Or perhaps you can make every meal a compromise: one of Dad’s favorite foods and one of Mom’s.

Another option is to cook two different meals. Yes, this may seem challenging, especially if you are already stretched. But using the idea of preparing meals ahead of time, you can probably plan to create their meals a week ahead and have them almost ready to serve.

Dad hates fresh fruits, but the doctor says he should have them. How do I feed my loved ones when they refuse?

Fresh fruits are incredibly beneficial for their nutrient value and fiber content. They also help increase fluids, which counters dehydration. Consuming fresh berries is a good idea for most people. But if your Dad refuses, you do have some options. Consider adding them to a favorite dessert food. Berry Crisp or even berry pie can be made quite healthy, and most people love it. It is possible to undercook it slightly to keep the freshness.

You will find many healthy recipes that incorporate fruit on the VeganGlobetrotter.com site. One of these, Frozen Fruit Sorbet, is a classic for those who enjoy cold desserts. While you are on the site, check out some other recipes, including breakfast favorites like Strawberry Chocolate Brownie Overnight Oats.

Another option is to make a shake for him to drink. Sometimes the problem is more of a stomach or seed issue. By making a smoothie of them, it allows the fruit to pass by the teeth issues and also helps the stomach digest more easily.

 

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