Food is a matter of much discussion all across the country. It evokes emotions all across the spectrum, especially if people have food related illnesses that need to be controlled, like diabetes. Food is a topic of debate even with people in their younger years. Should you have more protein in your diet or more fat? Should you limit your carbohydrates? How much sugar is acceptable and which forms of sugar are healthy? How do dietary needs change as we get older? We can easily open up a can of worms if you bring up a specific kind of diet plan, and everyone seems to have an opinion about what is best.
For elderly people, diet and meal planning may not be as much of a hot topic but it has, perhaps the greatest potential to change health outcomes among any group of people alive. The method discussed below will be for a one or two person household that has to plan for every meal throughout the week. But it can be applied to a larger family or groups of individuals - such as those living in assisted living or independent living communities. There are a variety of ways to make this process even easier, one is by using an internet-based food delivery system. Another way is to use Amazon.com or another internet-based business to order staple supplies, like canned goods, that you can used for multiple meals. It saves you the expense and trouble of arranging the transportation of going to the grocery store. There are other systems, such as nutria-system, that will do the work of meal planning for you and you only need to arrange for the pick up or delivery of the food. If you are on a tight budget, also look into a program called, “Meals on Wheels” which may be available in your area for a meal on a regular basis.
If you are starting from scratch, print a blank calendar for one month. Divide each day into 3 sections by placing lines across the box. On a separate piece of paper write down the things you’ve discussed with your doctor or nutritionist that need to be incorporated into your diet. Many elderly people find that they are not getting enough protein, some also find that they need to cut sugar out of their diets. Some need to include more foods with iron or calcium. Whatever your needs are, write them out on the paper beside your calendar so that you do not lose sight of that while you’re making your plan. Research which foods carry the goal nutrients you’re hoping to increase & write them beside your list. If you choose to plan for an entire month, but most people plan for 2 weeks at a time. If you meal plan for a month, plan to use fresh, quickly perishable foods at the beginning of the month (berries, asparagus, etc). Longer lasting produce in the middle of the month (carrots, cabbage, apples). And finally, canned options for later in the month.
Now, think about your day & your natural appetite. If you are not usually hungry in the morning, you can still plan for what you’ll eat for breakfast but make the portions smaller so that you do not feel ill upon eating. Be sure to write water at the top of each day’s meal if you are trying to improve your hydration. It is a simple item that often gets overlooked when one lives alone.
As you plan for your breakfast, be sure to include a protein, fat, carbohydrate and a fruit or vegetable each meal. Protein is very important at the first meal because it helps to keep your blood sugars stabilized throughout the day. The carbohydrate will give you the quick energy that you need to get up an get moving. An example of a balanced breakfasts might be: 1 scrambled egg (or egg white) with spinach, 1 piece of toast with butter, & a handful of cherries.
Another option might be: A bowl of oatmeal with fruit and cream, and a hard-boiled egg. Some people try to eliminate anything sweet from their diets, but it is better to include fruit with a low glycemic index so that you eat a bit occasionally instead of starving yourself of it and then crashing and eating half of a chocolate cake. If you find that you need to reduce your sugar intake drastically but cannot kick the cravings, begin taking a strong probiotic. These bacteria help to digest the sugars and the candida in your body, balance out your own gut bacteria and eventually nearly eliminate cravings for sugars.
Lunches are generally the largest meal of the day, but feel free to adjust to your own lifestyle. Include a type of starchy carbohydrate to hold you over for the afternoon, something like rice, potatoes or pasta. Whole grains options are much better for sluggish digestion than their enriched and bleached counterparts. Add in a protein, and a lot of vegetable options. Have milk or another type of drink that includes calcium if you’re supposed to be improving your calcium intake. This is generally the best time to take vitamins, as well, as your stomach will be more stable and the heavier food makes it easier to digest them without upset.
Suppers should include similar things to lunch, but in lighter proportions for easier and faster digestion. Remember that you’ll be lying down a few hours after you eat, so if you like spicy food, you may want to have it over the lunch hour rather than the supper hour so that heartburn will not keep you awake!
With all of these things in mind, make out your meal plan. Include a few foods that you enjoy, but do not have regularly, like fish perhaps. This gives you something to look forward as you begin to prepare for your week.
From Grocery Store to Pantry Shelves
After you’ve finished shopping in the store or online, and before you put the items away, get your meal plan out. Look at what types of meals you have listed. If you have several meals that include ground beef, for instance, that need to be browned, take the opportunity to brown it now. You can freeze it in individual meal portions for use later in the week or month. Also take care of washing, shredding, dicing and chopping any produce that will need that preparation. One of the chief complaints that I hear from senior citizens regarding food preparation is that it doesn’t seem worth it to go to all that trouble and have all those dishes “just for me”. If you consolidate the food prep into one evening, it cuts down drastically on the dishes because instead of having to haul out the frying pan for each time you need to brown a ¼ # of meat, you only haul it out once and wash it once.
Make sure to mark any of the portions that you refrigerate or freeze in advance so you know what is included and perhaps even write which meal you planned it for.
Sharing Is Fun
Another thing to consider when you’re making your meal plan, if you have the funds to do so, is to plan a couple of meals that you could share with others. Plan on having someone over a couple of times during the month. This will give you confidence to do so without having to come up with a plan at the last minute. It will also help you to have something to look forward to. If you have young children that come to visit, consider adding the ingredients for cookies or a dessert to your shopping list so that you’re prepared.
Whichever combination of tools you use to be sure that you’re eating properly, be sure to use a meal plan of some kind. Any large changes to your current diet should be considered with your health professional and/or doctor. A healthy diet can be the difference between years of good health and energy and years of just getting by with little energy and stress. No one really likes to plan meals well in advance, but stress is eliminated, budgets are easier to maintain and health is improved when we do! Good luck! If you run out of ideas, have someone over to eat with you and maybe you can brainstorm together some options that might be good for both of you to include on your menus in the future!