A healthy diet is important at any age. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and plenty of water are keys to nourishing your body and mind. A well-balanced diet helps you maintain a healthy weight, strengthen your teeth and bones, and reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Of course, as you age, your dietary needs change. For example, the older you get, the fewer calories you need. That’s because you move less and you lose muscle mass at a more rapid rate than when you were younger, which can slow your metabolism. The calories you do consume should be high in fiber and nutrients to help your body’s natural cycle and to avoid malnutrition and other health problems. Furthermore, many seniors also deal with chronic health conditions, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, that require special dietary accommodations, including reduced red meat consumption and/or salt intake.
Cooking at home is a great way to eat well, and the physical, mental, and social benefits of making your own food are well documented. As an activity, preparing your own meals can reduce your stress, improve your relationships with the loved ones you share your home with, and even help ward off depression. Research also shows that people who cook at home eat a better diet for less money than those who don’t.
And, contrary to popular belief, it’s possible for you, even as an aging adult, to create a nutritious menu that nourishes your overall wellness in spite of the common challenges you may face, including:
- vision problems that make it more dangerous to prepare your own meals,
mobility issues that make grocery shopping more difficult, and/or
a fixed income that requires sticking to a frugal budget.
The following tips are general guidelines. As always, you should check with your doctor, nutritionist, or other healthcare professional before altering your diet.
Tip # 1 – Make a List and Check it Twice (for Healthy Choices!)
When it comes to eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, your grocery list is either your best friend or your worst enemy. Whether you scribble it on the back of a receipt, plan it meticulously on a dedicated notepad, or carry it digitally on your mobile device, you should make your list with your nutritional needs in mind.
Actually, the first mistake most people make when they go grocery shopping is not having a list at all. One of the most popular excuses for not doing it is a lack of time. It’s true — it does take time to plan out your purchases in advance, but it’s also true that having a list in hand saves you time once you get to the store. Knowing what you need and grouping items together by section can minimize the time you spend shopping.
If you are always on the go and can’t seem to find the time to make a list, try keeping a piece of paper and a pen in the kitchen — either on the counter or posted on the fridge — and add items to it gradually between trips. Then, all you have to do when it’s time to go shopping is grab the list and go. If you’re the digital type, use a note or a grocery list app on your phone for the same purpose. As an added bonus, it will be harder to misplace or forget!
Another perk of shopping from a list is that you’re more likely to stay on budget — as long as you stick to the plan, that is. Picking up last-minute items or deliciously-tempting snacks while you shop adds up quickly. To save even more cash, plan your list to include items that are on sale. Make a star next to items for which you have coupons so you don’t forget to use them.
But it’s not just convenient. Thinking through each meal before you get to the store gives you ample opportunity to make healthy food choices. Additionally, having everything you need on hand makes you more likely to cook. Let’s be honest. If you forgot a key ingredient for a meal, it’s tempting to just scrap cooking altogether, and eat something processed or run out for fast food instead of heading back to the store.
Tip # 2 – Ask for Help
For many aging adults, making a grocery list is the easy part. There are other challenges associated with healthy eating habits that are more difficult to overcome. First, they have to get to the grocery store. Reliable, affordable transportation becomes more of an issue as you age, especially if you no longer drive yourself. To help with this specific need, many towns and cities offer on-demand, no-cost, public transportation services for senior citizens. Most programs require you to make an appointment with advanced notice.
But that’s not the only issue. When you add the stress caused by the physical and/or mental disabilities that are common to seniors, it’s enough to make you want to avoid the grocery store altogether. Navigating a shopping cart, walking up and down aisles, reaching for items off of shelves, and loading and unloading groceries can be daunting for people with low vision, mobility issues, or other handicaps. The good news is that grocery retailers are typically happy to provide assistance to any customer who needs it. You can either call ahead to request the help you need, or you can speak to a manager when you get to the store.
Finally, much of the aging population operates on a fixed income. For this reason, being frugal is a top priority for many. Taking advantage of clearance items, store sales, and coupons is an easy way to stretch your monthly food budget. You can also buy long-lasting or frequently purchased items in bulk and enjoy additional savings.
Tip # 3 – Get Your Meals on Wheels
Thanks to technology, there are a number of available options that make it easier and more affordable than ever to fill your fridge and pantry with all the fixins for easy-to-make meals that are also good for you. One of these options is online grocery delivery. A handful of local grocery stores, big box stores, and online retailers now offer same-day grocery delivery services. With a few clicks on their computer, tablet, or smartphone, seniors can fill their carts with the items on their healthy shopping list and have them delivered right to their homes. In some cases, their items can be there within just a few hours. It’s food fast, not fast food.
Another option is to sign up for a meal delivery service. Choose from a variety of services, price points, and menu options, including vegan, vegetarian, and heart-healthy recipes. There are even meal services tailored specifically for people who are trying to manage their weight. Some services offer pre-packaged meals that just need to be warmed, while others provide the ingredients and the recipe, and leave the rest to you. You simply log on to the website, choose the meals you want for the week, and checkout. (If you are part of a subscription service, they will auto-charge the debit or credit card you have on file.) Once you’ve made your selections, they’ll mail them to your home in a stay-fresh container.
In the end, eating nutritiously requires more than just a list, a ride, or a meal box subscription. It takes a commitment from you to make your health and wellness a priority, and the willingness to confront the obstacles between you and a healthy diet head on. I think most people who try it will find the rewards are well worth the effort.
Ralph Bredahl is an Independent Medicare Broker serving Medicare recipients since 2007.