Healthy cooking for seniors plays an important role in promoting a healthy senior lifestyle. Nutrition is one of the most controllable factors in anyone’s health care. As we age we can continue to live full active lives but we do have to make some changes to what we eat and how it is prepared.
The golden years should be a time of adventure and fun. The whole idea of senior living has changed drastically over the last two generations or so. The idea of retiring and sitting on the porch and watching life go by is simply not on the menu anymore.
The Senior Lifestyle
For many seniors living a full life, going to the gym, playing golf, and taking care of themselves is a priority. Thanks to new cosmetic treatments like Botox it is getting harder and harder to identify who is a senior and who is not. Today’s seniors are savvier than generations before and understand the value of healthy cooking for seniors, herbal medicine options, and taking the steps so that they can age in place in their home.
For most seniors staying healthy is a priority. Making lifestyle changes like learning about healthy cooking for seniors can help to ensure that you can tick off all the things that you have on your bucket list.
Changing Nutritional Needs
As we age our nutritional needs change. Metabolism naturally slows as we age which means we need fewer calories with each meal. Getting enough of the right nutrition is vital for seniors. Nutrient-dense foods should be a part of every meal.
The body becomes less efficient at processing calories as we age, and can become less efficient at absorbing nutrients from the food you eat. It is important that your body gets enough of the vitamins and minerals that it needs to keep you living the lifestyle that you have planned.
Body Changes As We Age Means a New Diet
Healthy cooking for seniors starts with understanding the body changes that occur which require mealtime adjustments. For example, aging is associated with producing less stomach acid, and about 20% of the senior population suffer from atrophic gastritis. Atrophic gastritis is a syndrome where inflammation has damaged acid-producing cells so severely that acid cannot be produced in the amounts needed to properly digest food.
Low stomach acid can block the absorption of critical nutrients like calcium, magnesium, B12, and iron. All of these nutrients are critical to good health. Another important change is the loss of muscle mass as we age.
There is even a name for the muscle loss that seniors experience, it is called sarcopenia. Eating a diet rich in protein can help in avoiding muscle loss.
The Real Problem
Healthy cooking for seniors is more than changing recipes around, although that is a good start. The real problem is that while you should be taking in fewer calories, you have to be able to up the nutrition content of your food.
You have to eat less food yet get more nutrition from your food. It can be done, you just need to know what healthy cooking for seniors looks like, and be willing to break some old food habits and adopt some new ones.
Let’s Get Started
If you are a senior committed to independent living, it may sound strange but consider a kitchen remodel to help you stick to your new healthy eating habits. Studies have indicated that something as simple, albeit, annoying as a leaky faucet can keep you out of the kitchen.
When you are not happy with your kitchen you are far more prone to go grab something out. While eating out is a nice treat, it should never be your primary source for meals. Restaurants, even the health-conscious ones are not necessarily serving the best diet for seniors.
Studies indicate that one-third of people that have had a kitchen remodel adopted healthier eating habits after the remodel. It could work for you too.
The first thing you want to do (after you remodel if you had one) is fill the fridge and the pantry with healthy senior options that are nutrient-dense foods. Here is a list of some items you will need:
- Plenty of protein options to build muscle mass. Lean meats, chicken, turkey, fish, beans, peas
- Whole grain cereals and bread to add fiber to your diet. Steel-cut oats, real grain or whole-grain sandwich bread and plenty of grain cereal choices.
- Dairy products including yogurts (for gut health) milk, and cheeses for calcium. Buy products fortified with Vitamin D. You can go fat-free or low fat to help keep calorie counts down. Many seniors have problems with lactose so opt for lactose-free options like soy yogurt and soy milk.
- Dark green leafy vegetables to get your fill of iron. Oranges and other citrus fruits are also a great source of vitamins and minerals. Berries are a wonderful nutrient source and are loaded with antioxidants.
- Water, flavored water, juices, and protein shakes are a great option for beverages.
It is important that you keep your calorie count at around 1800 calories a day, more importantly, make sure those calories are high nutrient-dense foods. Healthy cooking for seniors is largely built around meeting the nutritional challenges that seniors face because of their body changes. Making simple changes can help, like trading out white sandwich bread for whole-grain bread.
To be successful in any diet changes there are two things that have to happen. The first is the food that you cook has to taste good. If you are gagging down your meals, you likely will not stick to the plan for long. The second is you can make the changes in small increments. You do not have to make all the changes that you need to in one day.
What a Nutritious Senior Meal Looks Like
A good rule of thumb to remember is the more colorful your plate is the healthier the meal is. Bright colored foods are typically nutrient-dense foods. A healthy plate includes a serving of protein, a serving of grains, a serving of fruit and a serving of vegetables. The fruits and veggies should take up half the plate while the protein and grains take up the other half of the plate.
One of the key mistakes that we all make is misunderstanding exactly what a serving size is and not reading nutrition labels. Serving sizes are almost always a lot smaller than what most people believe a serving size should be. Nutrition information is always based on a per-serving intake, so it is important to get familiar with what a serving size really is.
Understanding serving sizes is an important part of healthy cooking for seniors. Portion distortion is a big problem not just for seniors but for many other people. Comparing a serving size to another object can help. For example, a serving of cheese is about the size of a pair of dice.
Here are some serving comparisons that can help:
- A serving of protein (3-ounce size) is about the size of a deck of playing cards. A serving this size is about 200-300 calories.
- A serving of bread is one slice and is about the size of a smartphone and contains about 100 calories.
- A serving of grains (rice, pasta, potatoes) is about the size of a mouse for your computer. The ½ cup serving size is about 100 calories.
- A serving size of fruit is about the size of a tennis ball and will weigh in at about 100 calories.
- A serving size of veggies is the size of a baseball and has a low 30-50 calories.
- A serving size of butter is 1 tablespoon. A tablespoon fits between the first joint of your thumb to the tip of your thumb and has about 100 calories. Other oils and fats fall under the same rule.
- A serving of nuts or seeds is about the size of a golf ball and has about 200 calories.
Serving size should never be larger than the top of your hand when you make a fist. As you can see from the list above you can eat a lot of veggies without going overboard on the calorie count. Filling your plate with vegetables will fill you up without taking up your calorie allotment for the day.
Becoming familiar with serving sizes can help you to make better nutritional choices. When you consider what a serving size really is, it can be very shocking to learn how much we all overeat.
Read Nutrition Labels
Now that you understand what a serving is, make it a habit to read nutrition labels. A good rule of thumb is if you cannot pronounce the words in the ingredient list, put it back and choose something that is easier to say.
Becoming a label reader can really be an enlightening experience. You can learn a lot about what you are eating by simply reading the nutrition label. The first ingredient on your nutrition label is the ingredient that is most prominent in the package. Keep your eye on sodium content (especially if you have high blood pressure), calories, and the daily percentages of the good stuff.
There is a lot of not so good for you stuff in processed foods. Avoiding processed foods is a good idea not only for seniors but for everyone. Fresh foods are always a better option.
If you are out there living your best life it can be hard to find time to cook every meal. One of the ways that you can make sure that you eat well at every meal is to do some meal prepping each week. If you set a day aside to get all your cooking done you will have convenient healthy meals ready to eat anytime.
It is easier to eat well when you prepare to eat well. You will feel obligated to eat the food that you have spent time preparing and avoid those fast-food fixes. Meal prepping can also be a great way to save money.
When you go grocery shopping if you find a great deal on something healthy that you enjoy you can stock up and cook it all at once. Most healthy cooking for seniors recipes can be produced in large quantities and frozen for later. You can save money and have the meals that are nutritious already made.
Improve Your Cooking Skills
Learning more about healthy cooking for seniors is a great way to improve your cooking skills and take care of your health. There are plenty of resources both online and off that you can tap into to sharpen your skills.
If you are a member of AARP you can access the website to find flavorful recipes that taste great and are easy to prepare. You can also find recipes through Google or any other search engine by simply typing in healthy cooking for seniors.
Community colleges often offer cooking classes. Senior citizen clubs also offer healthy meal cooking classes. Your local community extension office is another great resource about cooking healthy meals. If you seek out the knowledge you will certainly be able to find it in a number of different places.
Eating right at any age is important. Good health starts with good nutrition. You can enjoy all the plans you have for your golden years by staying healthy with the right diet.