Meal Planning

Meal Planning

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 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.

The Approach

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!


Five Superfoods for the Elderly

Our entire lives we hear about how important it is to eat healthy. For most of us, it’s something we hear and always wish we could improve on, but struggle to have the motivation to do so. Instead of thinking of how hard a lifestyle change can be, start thinking of how much better you will feel when you eat food that will actually fuel your body. This is especially true for the elderly. The common mindset among the elderly is that as you get older, you get weaker. While this is true to an extent, it also has to do a lot with the foods that we are putting in our bodies. It is possible for those who are aging to have strong, energetic bodies. I have a great aunt who lives in the Colorado Rockies, she is 86 years old and still hikes them frequently. I can guarantee you that she did not remain fit by frequently indulging in the processed foods that we commonly eat today. Here is a list of five superfoods that can help you maintain a healthy physique as you age:


  1. Avocados

Avocados are probably one of the best superfoods on the market. For the elderly they can help with digestion, as they are full of fiber. Avocados are known to be a heart healthy food that contains potassium which can reduce the risk of heart problems, stroke, kidney failure, and can even help lower blood pressure. They are fat soluble, which means that they help your body absorb the nutrients in other healthy foods that you eat with them. There have also been studies that show that the nutrients in avocados can help prevent cancer, relieve arthritis pain, and promote eye, skin, and hair health. You can eat these plain or in soups, salads, and smoothies.


  1. Blueberries

Blueberries are another great superfood! They are full of Vitamins C, A and K. They are another heart healthy food that can help in lowering cholesterol. Blueberries also contain flavonoids which can help your night vision and keep your brain sharp! They are yummy to just snack on, put in oatmeal/yogurt, or to use in smoothies!


  1. Quinoa

This is one of those superfoods that is lesser known. Quinoa is a grain and is a good source of iron, calcium, fiber, magnesium and protein. These nutrients can help relieve constipation, build strong muscles, relax the muscles, increase blood flow, and is good to help your body eliminate disease causing toxins. Quinoa can be used as a side dish, in salads, as a breakfast cereal, in soups, or in baked goods.


  1. Pink Salmon

Pink salmon contains lots of Vitamin D, which is good for bone health. And is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids which can lower the risk of heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, and lower blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Make sure you get salmon that is wild caught. It is way healthier and doesn’t contain lots of the toxins that farm manufactured fish do. Salmon can be baked in the oven with olive oil and whatever seasonings you prefer.


  1. Broccoli

Broccoli is good for us for many reasons and it’s simple to make, which is a win! Broccoli is full of fiber, helps with metabolism and lowering blood sugar. It can also lower the risk of high cholesterol, osteoporosis, certain cancers and heart disease. It is stocked full of vitamins A, C, B9, and K; all of which will boost your immune system and bones. When you cook broccoli, it is best to steam it so that you don’t lose the nutrients in the boiling water.


Whether you are living independently, in an assisted living home or nursing care facility. It is up to you to set the standard for your health. Just making simple changes in what you eat can really help you maintain a more enjoyable lifestyle. If you are a family member reading this with a loved one in an assisted living or a nursing care facility, try to encourage your family member by helping them buy healthy foods and coming up with creative ways to eat them.

Malnutrition in the Elderly


Have you ever noticed how little some elderly people eat?  Even if you meet those who are elderly that have great attitudes, often their food intake is very little.  A small amount of one kind of food and they seem satisfied and move on with their day.  Is it really that older people need fewer calories or are there other issues that cause decreased appetite?  How does that suppressed appetite affect them over time?

There are many contributing factors to a shallow appetite in older adults.  There can be psychological factors, physical & even financial factors affect how much elderly people eat.  You’ll first need to determine what may be causing them not to eat before even being able to offer the help that they need.

Psychological factors might include anxiety, depression, or even something as fixable as not being in social situations very often.  People who are accustomed to being with others often but end up in a new situation where they have less contact socially can enter a slump that is hard to climb out of.  Setting a date for lunch once or twice a week can be a great help.  If they have issues with anxiety, check to make sure that their nervousness is occurring because of their diet.  Often people feel extreme nervousness or anxiety if they are lacking the correct balance of protein & carbohydrates in the diet.  Their blood sugar spikes or crashes & this can make them feel anxious.  If you can increase social contact & ensure that they have balanced meals, you may find their anxiety waning.  Social get togethers need not be always surrounding food.  You can arrange card games or other board games evenings.  You could also arrange for crafting/hobby times that would be enjoyable for several people to attend.  Pay attention to the things that they talk about, especially if they are feeling lonely.  Some people do not know how to cook for themselves & need to attend a cooking class.  Some people have cooked for others for so long that they see it as silly to cook for only one person.

Physical factors could include lack of absorption because of digestive issues.  If a doctor can diagnose what is going on, it is best.  If they have a problem with alcohol, it will interfere with their absorbsion of nutrients, so getting them help for the alcohol would be the logical first step.  Ask about their teeth and whether they are bothering them when they eat.  A trip to the dentist could be all that is holding them back from eating a healthy diet.  Ask if they’re trying to follow a certain diet that the doctor recommended.  Sometimes something as simple as a doctor asking them to cut out salt is enough for them to change their diets drastically and end up not eating enough because they don’t know how to cook or eat in this new way by adding in other herbs to make their food more appealing.  If they have many dietary restrictions, ask at the hospital or at a nursing home to see if they have a nutritionist you could consult with to help them come up with meal ideas and plans.

Financial factors often occur for elderly adults.  Assisted Living on social security alone is very difficult, but it is a reality for many senior citizens.  If they are struggling to buy healthy foods on their budget, try to help them figure it out.  There are many state & county programs available to help seniors with meals.  Meals on Wheels is a reputable one, but there are others.  Also, any time that there is a function that offers a low cost or free meal for the community, make sure that you invite them and find a ride or bring them.  It can be encouraging for them to be out and about and part of things in the community, and it can also provide their meal for the night.

All of this may seem a bit daunting at first when you’re delving into it but rest assured that once you start tackling the problem, they will most likely become more enjoyable people to be around.  Malnutrition can affect people in different ways and is almost always accompanied by health problems.  Iron deficiency can be caused by malnutrition.  Fatigue, dizziness and weakness can also be caused by it, even in early stages.  Once it is more advanced, there are a plethora of ailments that can come of it.  Do your friend or loved one a favor and get them help with the specific area that they need help so that they can go on to live a full and happy life!

Cooking for the Elderly

 Most people find it challenging to cook flavorful, nutritious food.  When you're trying to cook for one or two people without food waste, it becomes even more challenging.  When those people are aging and are in need of special consideration in their diets, it becomes particularly overwhelming.  So how DO you cook for a senior or a couple of seniors while paying heed to dietary needs, flavor, & trying not to waste food?


  1. Pay attention to doctor's orders. If your doctor has warned the person against a certain food, refuse to have it in the house.  It will make it much easier not to have the temptation around.  If it's something that can be used in moderation, you can still have it around, but consider dividing it into portions straight away when you get it home from the store.  For instance, if you're supposed to limit refined sugar intake, determine a likely offender source ( a sweet snack) and divide it into snack bags.  Then you can put the bags into the freezer & decide what the limit is for the day.
  2. Pay attention to food preferences. It doesn't matter how much a nutritionally sound diet that you come up with, if your client or loved one does not prefer that kind of food, they're not going to eat it!  Look at the things that they like & work from that starting point.  If they like pasta and sauce, try to find ways to incorporate healthy things into that dish, add vegetables or change the grains in the pasta to be a healthier option.  If they don't like a certain type of food, respect that.  They've been on the planet long enough to know what they like & what they don't!
  3. Think about ways you can incorporate similar things into you meal plan to cut down on food waste. For example, if you plan to have chicken breasts for chicken parm, buy a couple extra, bake them at the same time as the others & then have strips of chicken in a salad for lunch some time throughout the week.  It will cut down on your time in the kitchen, and also provide another healthy meal.  If you think like that all across the board, you'll be surprised at how many options you can come up with!
  4. If it's necessary, consider softer food options. Sometimes as we age, it can become necessary to have softer foods.  Hot soup might become boring if served all of the time, but there are a number of things that are fairly easy to chew and swallow that are not soup.  Bake squash, make mashed potatoes and carrots, enjoy fruit smoothies, & make egg dishes.  You might also want to try out some cold soup options for your client or loved one.  They can be delightful, especially when the temperatures start warming up!
  5. Whatever you decide to cook, make sure that it is served in an atmosphere that is conducive for digestion. Don't serve meals in front of the television.  Food eaten slowly & with care is enjoyed more thoroughly.  Food eaten with friends & loved ones is even better.  Play their favorite music in the background.  Discuss favorite topics.  There is much more to healthy eating than the food itself!