There are a multitude of reasons why your senior loved one may be having trouble eating well and maintaining a healthy weight. Maybe preparing healthy meals at home seems too time-consuming or expensive when living alone or on a limited income. Perhaps arthritis, vision problems or other health conditions make it difficult to stand at a counter for long periods, slicing and chopping fruits and vegetables. Or, your loved one may be dealing with a poor appetite and digestive problems or even problems chewing due to poorly fitting dentures.
Whatever the cause, skipping meals or eating only low-nutrient convenience foods can put your loved one at risk for malnutrition. Warning signs of senior malnutrition include low energy and mood, frequent infections, bruising, sleep changes, muscle pain, dry skin and confusion. The good news? There are plenty of ways you can help your loved one eat healthier and gain enough weight to be healthy. Here are some simple suggestions:
Seek Out High-Protein Foods for the ElderlyHigh-protein foods can help seniors maintain more muscle mass, keep their energy levels up and boost their immune systems. These easy-to-eat foods may be a good place to start.
- Beans: Black, white, kidney and garbanzo beans can be added to soups or stews or consumed mashed as hummus or bean dip.
- Eggs: This easily prepared protein source can be scrambled, fried, hard-boiled and more, and doesn’t require much chewing.
- Nut butters: Try peanut, almond or cashew butter on toast, fruit or oatmeal or blended into smoothies.
- Yogurt: Certain varieties, like Greek-style, are a very good source of protein and can be eaten sweet or savory.
What Are Some Other High-Calorie Foods that Promote Weight Gain for Elderly People?High-calorie and high-fat foods can help your loved one gain weight, but you’ll want to stick to healthy fats to avoid putting someone at risk of developing, or exacerbating, high cholesterol, diabetes or other potential problems. Here are some popular high-calorie foods for the elderly that are also good sources of health fats:
- Avocados: Mash them up with garlic, cilantro and lime for guacamole; slice them up on a sandwich; or blend them into a fruit smoothie. They’re rich, creamy and easy to eat.
- Coconut: Add coconut milk to soups, cereal or baking recipes; use coconut oil to make simple stir-fries; or try this delicious coconut rice recipe – a perfect pairing for fish, chicken, fresh veggies or tropical fruit.
- Full-fat dairy products: While low-fat may have been the fad in their younger years, many seniors now need the nutrition of full-fat milk, yogurt and cheese.
- Olive oil: Cook in it, use it as a dressing or even add it to recipes for baked goods for a dose of healthy fat.
- Potatoes and whole-grain starches: These versatile carbs can be made into soft, easily chewed preparations, dressed up with several different sauces, herbs and spices, and are great for promoting weight gain.
Need to Stick to a Soft-Food Diet?Some seniors are instructed to consume only pureed foods, which can make getting adequate nutrition a challenge. But many foods can still be enjoyable when whipped up in the blender or food processor, like:
- Guacamole, hummus and other dips
- Mashed potatoes
- Pumpkin (mousse, smoothies)
- Roasted cauliflower or baked sweet potato
- Smoothies (fruit, yogurt, nut butter, milk, avocados, greens)
Catering to Smaller Appetites and Convenience NeedsIf your loved one fills up easily, try spreading out meals and snacks so they’re eating five or six times a day, rather than two or three. And make – or help seniors make – meals and snacks that can be easily stored in the fridge or freezer, ready for defrosting, reheating or eating right away for the following days or weeks.