Improving Nutrition for an Aging Parent
An aging parent living alone may be at nutritional risk. These tips can help you stock the kitchen to keep your parent healthy.

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picture of senior holding an apple Improving Nutrition for an Aging Parent

Do you have an aging parent who lives alone? If so, it's a good idea to make sure that your parent's diet is nutritionally sound. Poor nutrition can cause a weakened immune system and weight loss. And nutrient deficiencies can contribute to many chronic health conditions, including osteoporosis with its raised risk of falls, anemia, and even dementia.

Many factors can contribute to poor nutritional status, including:

  • Low energy or shakiness
  • Decreased appetite from depression, medications, or diminished taste buds
  • Hard time shopping, carrying groceries, or getting to the supermarket
  • Lack of money to buy food items
  • Tooth loss, dentures, or other dental problems that make it hard to eat
  • Trouble with swallowing
  • Not knowing how to cook, especially men

Because of one or more of these situations, older adults may skip meals or choose convenience foods that are quick and easy to prepare. But if they don't choose wisely, they could end up with foods that are highly processed and have poor nutritional quality. Be sure to talk to the doctor if you think your parent is depressed. Also make sure the doctor knows about any problems with eating.

How you can help
Your aging parent will need adequate protein, fruits and vegetables, wholesome starches, and some healthy fat. If you live close by and can do some cooking, pre-cooked small portions of casseroles and soups are ideal. These items can be easily frozen and reheated for later use.

Ideally, helping your parent stock the kitchen with nutritious, convenient foods can be a big help. Your first step will be to take a peek in the fridge and pantry. Expired milk and meat, withered fruits and vegetables, and stale cereal or crackers will need to be tossed and then replaced with nutritious and durable items.

Whether you take your parent shopping with you, hire someone to do the shopping, arrange delivery, or just provide your parent with the information he or she needs, use the following budget-friendly suggestions as a guide for what to keep on hand.

For protein

  • Individually wrapped pieces of frozen salmon, tilapia, and chicken breasts. These can be taken out one at a time and baked in the oven with a touch of butter, whole-wheat breadcrumbs, and a dash of seasoning.
  • Resealable bags of pre-formed meatballs and pre-made soups. Go for low-sodium items. Heat the meatballs and eat them on a whole-wheat bun or over pasta.
  • Packaged low-salt nuts. These make for quick and easy snacks that deliver on protein and healthy fat. Save by buying in bulk and keep in the freezer. Take out small amounts as needed.
  • Yogurt, without high-fructose corn syrup. Yogurt delivers on calcium.
  • Small, individually wrapped packages of cheddar cheese. The cheese can be paired with crackers for an easy lunch.
  • Cottage cheese. Cottage cheese can be eaten cold and mixed with fruit and nuts or served warm mixed with pasta or topped onto a baked potato.
  • Canned beans. Cans of beans are super convenient - just rinse and eat. Beans can be added to salads and soups or mixed with quick brown rice for a wholesome fast dinner.
  • Canned low-sodium chili that has beans and/or ground beef or chicken.
  • Natural peanut butter. Peanut butter can be spread on bread or crackers.
  • Eggs. Eggs can be hardboiled or scrambled and eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
  • Canned or pouched tuna, salmon, or sardines.

Some frozen dinners are nutritionally sound. Check the nutrition label on the back of the box and choose an entree with no more than 10 grams of fat and 500 mg of sodium.

For fruits and vegetables
If these are constantly going bad, suggest buying green bananas, which will last longer, and fruit canned in its own juice. The freezer can also hold the following:

  • Resealable packages of frozen fruits. Your parent can take out what is needed and run it under cold water to thaw. Frozen fruit is also great for smoothies. Just add yogurt or milk for a quick breakfast or snack.
  • Resealable frozen packs of veggies such as broccoli, peas, brussels sprouts, or mixed vegetables.

For grains and starches

  • Individual servings of packaged oatmeal. Opt for plain and encourage your parent to add a serving of fruit, such as sliced banana or thawed frozen berries and nuts.
  • Quick-cooking brown rice.
  • Pasta, mixed with jarred sauce and a dollop of cottage or ricotta cheese.
  • Baked or sweet potatoes. These can be cooked in the microwave in minutes and then topped with shredded cheese or cottage cheese for extra protein.
  • Whole-grain breads and English muffins. Bread can be kept in the freezer and taken out one slice at a time.
  • Whole-grain crackers. Crackers can be transferred from their package to a sealed jar or resealable plastic bag to help them stay fresh.

Write it down
Another helpful hint is to write down breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack suggestions on a sheet of paper and post it on your parent's fridge. This can remind your parent of what the options are and can help increase the likelihood your parent will eat a nutritious meal.

By Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, Staff Nutritionist
Created on 01/31/2011
Updated on 02/02/2011
  • Lee JS, Frongillo EA Jr. Nutritional and health consequences are associated with food insecurity among U.S. elderly persons. Journal of Nutrition. 2001;131(5):1503-1509.
  • Smith SM, Mathews Oliver SA, Zwart SR, et al. Nutritional status is altered in the self-neglecting elderly. Journal of Nutrition. 2006;136(10):2534-2541.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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