Health & Wellness

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Tips to Eat Well…

While Living Independently

By Donna Barnes

Living independently has its challenges. Some may seem obvious at first, especially in terms of safety and preventing falls. And others may not be as apparent, but still have a significant impact, such as getting the right nutrition and enough calories.  This is especially true for people living with heart disease, osteoporosis or diabetes.

To maintain a healthy mind and body, eating well is important for people of any age but in older adults eating well has some obvious benefits. It helps to:
• stave off illness and disease
• improve mental acuity and
• contribute to higher energy levels.

According to Statistics Canada, a third of people over the age of 65 are at nutritional risk with women demonstrating more risk than men. These numbers grow by almost 50 per cent if the older adult lives alone.

Skipping meals
One of the most common causes of malnourishment is missing meals on a regular basis. There are numerous reasons cited: 1 ) Often times aging taste buds aren’t as acute so food doesn’t taste as appetizing as it once did. 2 ) Medications may change the way food tastes. 3) Preparation work and cooking can be a chore. 4) Grocery shopping is confusing. 5) Carrying groceries is too hard 6) No family to take them.

cs-wellness1bBernice Johnston, a sprightly 77-year-old, is a good example of this attitude. After preparing meals for her family for more than 30 years, she had no desire to cook for herself when the kids had grown and she was on her own.

For twenty years, she hadn’t eaten properly because she had no interest in peeling, chopping, sautéing, etc. just to prepare a meal for herself. Also, the experience of shopping had become more vexing for her. “I want my life to be easy and calm, but when I go out to get groceries, I find myself getting caught up in the hustle and bustle. Everyone is so distracted and in such a rush,” says Bernice. “For a long time, I would just buy a prepared roast chicken and eat that for the week so I didn’t have to cook or go back to the store. Now I have my groceries and home-cooked frozen meals delivered. It’s a godsend.”

Yes, many seniors like Bernice face obstacles, but here are some simple steps to improve daily nutrition and maintain a healthy weight:

Set regular meal times
Create a routine so that meals will not be missed. Choose a time that is convenient for breakfast, lunch and dinner and stick to those times as much as possible. If it’s easier, set an alarm clock to stay on track.

Plan meals ahead
Getting organized ahead of time saves worry, cuts down on waste and makes grocery shopping and budgeting easier. Rather than having to throw together something at the last minute, planning ahead will facilitate eating healthier, more fulsome and more interesting meals. Aim for at least three food groups with each meal.

Order to your door
Find a company that will let you place an order over the phone or online and have your items delivered to your home. If you would rather not cook try a meal delivery service. Heart to Home Meals, for example, offers more than 150 different meals to choose from and delivers straight to customers’ freezers. They offer everything from a traditional turkey dinner, to sliced beef with béarnaise sauce to creamy vegetable lasagna, as well as soups and desserts. 

Mini-meals are available for those with a smaller appetite and texture modified meals for those with difficulty swallowing.

Get comfortable
Eating should be a pleasurable experience, but I can understand that eating alone might be no fun. It’s a good idea to make your eating area comfortable and pleasing to the eye. If possible, eat close to a window so you can enjoy the view while eating your meal. Avoid distractions like TV so that you can be more mindful when eating. If you eat slowly and chew your food well it’ll help reduce indigestion.

Pack snacks
It’s a good idea to take a healthy snack with you to appointments, when travelling or to other commitments.

As nutrition is such an important element of health, staving off illness and improving mental acuity, it is important to find ways to ensure you are eating well. These simple tips will certainly help, but it is up to you to make the first step and remain consistent. Your body and mind will reap the benefits.

Donna Barnes has been a practicing Registered Dietitian for over 25 years. In addition to teaching at the university level, she is a private consultant for the foodservice industry.

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