Nourishment is essential to life. We turn to food for our basic dietary needs like protein, vitamins, minerals and more. But it’s also a source of pleasure and comfort. That can change during our older years when taste buds change, dental health is more challenging, arthritis can make food prep painful, and medications and mood disorders can steal our appetite. And well, we’re often alone and just don’t feel like cooking.
Sound like a loved one you know? All these elements can make food planning for an older loved one feel impossible. But with a little creativity, it can be done and done simply, says Leslie Bonci, owner of Active Eating Advice nutrition consulting company and former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“I’m doing this right now for my own mother who will be 90 in February,” Bonci says. “When my father was alive there was a meal on the table every night. For herself? She doesn’t care if there’s dinner. She’s had depression that left her without an appetite. We don't really want her cooking on the stove because she may forget to turn it off. So, there’s a lot! But we’ve found ways to work through it, and she’s eating well.”
Here’s what Bonci recommends.
Stock up on cereal
Older adults still need the basic essential vitamins and minerals, but they can be harder to get when tastes and eating habits change. It’s tempting to turn to supplements, but food is always better — and supplements can make things worse, Bonci says.
“Zinc is a great example. It’s essential for supporting a healthy immune system and it plays a role in maintaining our sense of taste and smell — so it’s important here. It’s primarily found in animal foods that many older adults just aren’t eating a lot of. But too much zinc, like [what you get] through supplements can interfere with the absorption of other essential nutrients like iron,” she says.