Have you noticed your mom or dad losing weight rapidly? Is there a layer of dust over their pots and pans? Do they pick at meals, or claim to rarely be hungry?
Eating is fundamental, for people of all ages. However, malnutrition is one of the biggest health issues facing many seniors, particularly those who live alone.
In fact, did you know that of the millions of senior patients who go to the hospital each year, at least one in three is malnourished when they’re admitted? Another major study recently found that about 20 percent of seniors who live alone “have at least four warning signs of poor nutritional health.”
It’s important to keep in mind that there are many different reasons why the senior in your life may be losing their interest in food. As we age, our metabolic processes slow down, and many older adults naturally tend to eat less with time. In other cases, your parent may be neglecting eating and drinking because of an underlying health condition, such as mouth pain, digestive issues, or a loss of taste or smell. Some older adults may avoid the kitchen because physical changes make it difficult for them to move, bend, and lift pots and pans like they used to. For others, medication can be a major factor, as many common medicines can cause side effects like loss of appetite or nausea.
Whatever the underlying causes, it’s important to make sure your elderly family members are eating well. One way to help may be to adopt the habit of “meal prepping” with your senior loved one.
Also sometimes called “meal planning” or shortened to “meal prep,” this practice can offer remarkable health and lifestyle benefits for people at every stage of life. In fact, one prominent French study found that those who adopted meal prepping habits ate a healthier diet and maintained a healthier body weight than those who did not.
Getting Started With Meal Prep for Seniors and Caregivers
How does it work? With a meal prepping strategy in place, you and your senior can prepare perfectly portioned “make ahead” meals, to be stored for later in the fridge or freezer. This way, whether you’re preparing breakfast, lunch, or dinner in advance, your senior loved one has a composed dish ready to go, perhaps for a week or more at a time.
One of the big strategies with meal prepping is to make food in large batches, and then organize it to be eaten in stages, over time. For instance, a large batch of soup could be put into five sealed bowls, for five different meals throughout the week. Instead of your senior loved one making one order of chicken and rice at a time, the two of you could work together to make enough for three different dinners, all in one enjoyable afternoon.
There are a few different ways to put a meal prepping or planning strategy in place. Here are a few resources to help you get started, which may be worth a look:
- “Meal Prepping 101 for Beginners”
- “A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Prep”
- “10 Things To Know Before You Start Meal Prepping”
Whatever route you choose, focusing on “make-ahead” meal prep can offer serious benefits for seniors. With a meal prep plan in place, seniors and their family caregivers can ensure that they:
1.) Always have food ready to go
For many older adults, the biggest hurdle to clear is gathering ingredients from the fridge or pantry, pulling pots and pans from the shelf, and making a dish from scratch. It’s easy to put off cooking if it seems like too much work to do solo. In a similar vein, many seniors who live alone may not want to put a lot of effort into preparing elaborate meals, knowing that they’ll be eating alone.
With make ahead meals, your senior loved one will always have a supply of home-cooked food ready to heat and eat. With all of the work already completed, dining regularly – and getting the nutrition they need – might just start to look a lot more appealing to seniors who might otherwise skip a meal or two.
2.) Create more nutritious meals
Many seniors tend to replace full meals with less healthy options. For example, a senior who doesn’t feel like cooking may just snack on a handful of crackers instead. It’s hard to remain healthy when you’re not getting the vitamins and nutrients your body needs! With a meal prep strategy, you and your senior loved one can plan ahead to create meals that are both full of their favorite foods (for their taste buds), and nutrient dense (for their health). For example, packing meals with foods rich in proteins and fiber can help your loved one get the beneficial ingredients they need, without making it feel like they have to go out of their way to “eat healthy.”
3.) Save time and money
One major advantage of meal prep is that gives you and your senior loved one much greater control over when and how they eat. As a result, you can also use this strategy to help save time and money. It’s much easier to buy in bulk when you meal prep, for instance, which can allow you to save on your weekly or monthly food budget. Similarly, meal prepping may take a few hours a week to plan, prep, and store – but that may open up a few hours every night, which might have otherwise been devoted to creating and cooking a dinner.
4.) Eat better portion sizes
One of the biggest advantages of meal prepping is that it allows you to lay out well-portioned servings of food. You can adjust the serving sizes to suit your loved one’s preferences and needs – perhaps you toss in more nuts and avocados if they need protein, or more leafy greens, if antioxidants are more vital. You can make servings larger or smaller, depending on your loved one’s habits and appetite. Whatever strategies you use, having these prepared meals is a great way to encourage your loved one to eat more healthy portions, and cut down on wasted food.
5.) Transform cooking into a social activity
As we noted earlier, one of the big factors holding seniors back from eating well is having to do it all alone. It can be daunting to have to shop, cook, and eat a meal by yourself. In fact, in a survey, more than half of respondents said that “lack of companionship during mealtimes” and “cooking for one” were some of the biggest challenges facing seniors living alone. With a robust meal planning strategy in place, you can help turn cooking into a more enjoyable and entertaining activity.
You could, say, turn Saturday of each week into a fun day for shopping and cooking together with your senior loved one. This way, the process of looking for food and doing the prep work can be more enjoyable for seniors, who may have otherwise put off these activities, thinking of them as “chores.” Or what if you and your loved one each took home some of the portions that you’ve created together? This way, even if you can’t necessarily sit at a table and eat together, you can both enjoy the same meal, and compare your notes over the phone or the next time you meet up.
How Companions for Seniors Can Help
Food is universal. It’s a cornerstone of good health, and of a happy and fulfilling life.
That’s why, at Companions for Seniors, we make mealtimes a point of emphasis when it comes to the care we provide. A companion can help step in and help out in many different ways – from sharing meals with your senior loved one, to helping them with grocery shopping and other errands, to cooking for or with them in the kitchen.
Our companions don’t look at cooking for our clients as a chore, but a privilege. Shopping, cooking, and dining all present an amazing chance to connect with seniors, and help enrich their lives. When our caregivers cook and share meals with their clients, they talk about their day, share stories, and, most importantly, forge a meaningful bond. We often hear that these shared meals become highlights for not only our client, but for our caregivers as well.
If you have a loved one that could use assistance with meal prep, or perhaps just a home cooked meal and some company, we’d love to be the ones to provide it. Our professionally trained and bonded companions offer flexible hours and personalized care plans, designed to help meet the needs of each of our senior clients and their families.
Our mission is to help your loved one maintain their independence and a higher quality of life. We offer meal prep services, companionship, driving services, and much more.
Have any questions? Want to get in touch? Don’t hesitate to reach out through our website or give us a call at (866) 910-9020 to get the conversation started!