Meal preparation can be exciting or challenging, depending on your experience. Planning meals can help older adults make smart food choices, whether they love cooking or struggle to come up with meal ideas.
Consulting Nutrition Resources
Creating delicious meals can satisfy your inner gourmet, but prioritizing nutrition should be tasty and healthy. How can you learn how to prepare nutrient-rich, healthy meals? Fortunately, there are resources available to support nutrition education.
For example, MyPlate is a resource for nutrition information, from budget-friendly ideas to personalized recommendations. Nutrition needs are based on many factors, including age, lifestyle, and health.
Another excellent resource is your primary care physician. They know your medical history and health needs, so they can help personalize your nutrition recommendations.
A dietician may be worth visiting when seeking extra assistance personalizing your nutrition needs. Dieticians are health professionals with expertise in food and nutrition, including meal planning.
Planning for the Week
Planning the day of, or even a day ahead, can leave you scrambling for ingredients. Planning the week before (or on a grocery-run day) ensures you have everything you need to create a diverse and delicious meal plan. Planning ahead also gives you the freedom to look up new recipes and get inspired to try something new.
How to Get Started
Write out your menu for each day of the week. Include breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can also add snack times in the morning and afternoon.
You don’t need to follow the days in order as long as you follow the day as a whole. If being flexible is more enjoyable, loosen up and mix up your planned days. Individual days should add up to meet your nutritional needs (including calories), so be careful when switching out one breakfast for another unless they provide the same nutritional values.
Remember to prepare at your own pace. You might cook all your meals in one sitting, or space out batches of food. For example, maybe you prepare a salad to pair with multiple meals one night, then cook a pot of chili the next.
Check your storage options ahead of time. Having limited freezer or fridge space can impact how much you can prepare in advance.
Know the Value of Food Groups
According to the US Department of Agriculture, there are 5 main food groups and subgroups within each:
- Vegetables—dark green vegetables; red & orange vegetables; beans & peas; starchy vegetables; other vegetables
- Fruits—whole fruit; fruit juice
- Grains—refined grains; whole grains
- Protein Foods—meat, poultry, & eggs; nuts, seeds, & soy; seafood
- Dairy—milk & yogurt; cheese
Including at least one of every food group for each meal is a simple option to create a well-rounded diet. But don’t forget to personalize your food group selections based on your nutrition needs. For example, some nutrients essential for older adults include:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B12
- Dietary fiber
- Healthy fats
Managing Appetite Loss
Appetite can change as you age, but a significant loss of appetite can lead to health problems. Sitting down for a full meal can be overwhelming when you’re experiencing appetite loss or decreased hunger.
To mitigate a loss of appetite, try creating nutrient-rich meals with smaller portion sizes, prioritizing nutritional value. Also, consider eating more frequently in smaller amounts so you can still consume appropriate calories to maintain your health.
Sharing meals with friends and family can also make food more appetizing. Plan a meal as an outing or shared meal so you have delicious food and good company to look forward to.
Try Sample Menus
Try sample menus when you start planning weekly eats or need a new source of inspiration.
- MyPlate offers 2-week healthy eating sample menus with a breakdown of nutritional values
- The National Institute on Aging has a sample list of meal ideas to give you inspiration
- There are also many magazines, health guides, and other published sources of sample meal plans.
Once you get more familiar with your nutrition requirements and food groups, you can mix and match sample menus to meet your dietary needs. Sample menus are helpful as building blocks, but don’t feel pressured to follow them exactly. You could enjoy your meals more when you have the freedom to choose.
You can also try food services or meal kits to spice things up. The ingredients and the meals are already laid-out, so you can focus on the easy step-by-step instructions.
Making it yourself isn’t the only way to accommodate dietary requirements. At Chestnut Ridge, you can count on high-quality, chef-prepared meals prepared with fresh ingredients. You can enjoy meal-time your way, from casual to restaurant-style.