One of the challenges we face as we age is getting adequate nutrition. Appetites change. Food preferences and tolerances change. Nutritional needs change. Diet quality has been found to be a significant factor in overall health and well-being for older adults. Even the act of cooking can become challenging. And, lets be honest, sometimes you just don’t feel like cooking a big meal, especially if you’re cooking for one. The good news is, eating well doesn’t have to be hard. Here are our best tips for eating well and a few recipes to get you started.
Keep It Simple
We all know that good nutrition matters but what does that mean? You might find yourself wondering, “What should I eat? How much?” One great tool comes straight from the USDA called My Plate. The idea is to think of your plate as divided into 4 equal parts. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Divide the remaining half between a serving of whole grains and a serving of lean protein like fish, chicken, lean beef. A serving of low-fat or fat-free dairy rounds out the meal. There’s even an app to help you choose what to put on your plate! For details on MyPlate for Seniors, check out this great resource from Tufts University that includes tips, recipes, and more.
Make A Shopping List
Whether you do your own grocery shopping or someone helps you with that, a shopping list is a must-have tool. A shopping list helps you to make sure you have all the items you need for your meals. A list can also help you stick to your food budget and remind you to choose healthy options. If making a paper list is hard, there are lots of apps out there to help. Out of Milk is a great free app that allows you to share your lists and add items to your list by scanning the barcode. It’s available for both iPhone and Android phones too!
Cooking nutritious meals can be challenging, especially if you’re doing it for yourself for the first time. Many recipes tend to be “family sized” or involve food prep that may be more difficult now. That doesn’t mean you have to forego tasty, satisfying meals. Look for recipes that are easily modified or designed as single-serve.
One easy-to-prepare meal that is a breakfast fav is something called overnight oats. What makes this recipe easy is that you mix it together, pop it in the frig and in the morning, you have a delish breakfast that you can eat hot or cold. Some people like to make overnight oats in small mason jars so that they are individually packaged and ready to go when you are.
Here’s a basic overnight oats recipe. You can modify it to include your favorite nuts, seeds, fruit, and flavorings.
- In a jar or bowl that can be covered, add ½ cup of rolled oats, ½ cup of milk, almond milk or other milk of your choice.
- Add a dash of your favorite flavorings such as vanilla, cinnamon, or nutmeg. Mix it up. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- In the morning, just give it a quick stir and add your favorite toppings. Nuts, berries, or bananas are great options.
An easy dinner option is to make meal packets. These are essential a meal in a foil or parchment paper packet. Best part is that cleanup is minimal.
Here’s an easy one to try from Gimme Delicious. (Click here for the recipe) This foil packet is particularly good because you can prepare your chicken, rice, and broccoli all in one packet! How simple is that?
4 4 oz chicken breasts, boneless skinless
2 cups Instant brown or white rice
2 cups water
2 cup broccoli florets
4 teaspoons EACH chili powder Italian seasoning, black pepper
Salt to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
Pre-heat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with 4 sheets of foil (about 6-8 inches) and set aside.
Combine the brown rice, and water in a medium bowl and soak for 5 minutes. Divide rice (and it's water) into 4 sheets of foil.
Place the chicken breasts and broccoli florets on the rice. Seasoning each chicken breast generously with 1 teaspoon of chili powder, Italian seasoning, black pepper, and salt to taste. Drizzle each packet with olive oil and fold the sides of the foil over the chicken, covering completely; seal the packets closed.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until chicken's internal temperature reaches 165F. Remove from oven and carefully open up the foils. Serve immediately.
The recipe makes 4 packets so you have enough for left overs but you could easily half the recipe. And, the best part is that using this simple formula, you can easily swap protein and veggie sources as well as spices and flavorings, depending on your preferences.
Healthy Restaurant Choices
Of course, there may be times when you’re eating away from home. Socializing with friends and family, sharing a meal with them, is an important part of how we connect. In fact, according to a food industry survey, seniors actually eat out more than younger adults. While eating out is fun, it’s important to be mindful of what you’re eating and any dietary needs or restrictions you might have. Is it possible to make good food choices and still enjoy eating out? Absolutely!
Here are some great tips for dining out while being mindful of your dietary needs.
- Make A Plan
If possible, check out the restaurant’s menu ahead of time. You’ll be able to see what the options are and get an idea of what you might like to eat. Some restaurants even include some nutritional information in their menu descriptions.
- Have It Your Way
Just like the old commercial, when it comes to dining out, more and more people are asking for their meal to be prepared their way. And, most restaurants are more than willing to accommodate individual needs whenever they can. Ask if something can be substituted. Can you get your entre baked or broiled instead of fried? Ask if sauces can be “on the side”. Whatever your need is, it’s perfectly fine to ask. Of course, not every request can be fulfilled but you may be surprised at how accommodating a restaurant can be. Of course, if you have significant dietary restrictions, it’s always a good idea to call ahead to be sure they can meet that need.
- All About Apps
For people with smaller appetites, sometimes appetizers make the perfect meal. Some restaurants offer app or small plate versions of their larger entrees.
- Include Some Veggies
Of course, you’ll eat some of the “fun stuff” but you also want to be mindful of your nutritional needs. When planning your restaurant meal, look for fresh, whole food offerings like fresh veggies and salads. Whether you choose a side veggie or an entrée salad, look for simple preparations without a lot of high salt, high fat sauces or seasonings. Go easy on the salad toppings.
- Meal Delivery Services
If cooking is difficult or just not your thing, meal delivery service can be a great option. There are many to choose from and you’re sure to find one that fits your dietary needs and budget.
Maintaining good nutrition doesn’t have to be hard. With a little planning, you can keep your body nourished and ready to take a bite out of life.