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Simple meal time tips to get the nutrition you need

26th July 2016

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

As we get older it’s important to check we’re getting the nutrition we need to stay fit and healthy long into retirement.

In our later years we can lose interest in cooking gourmet dinners and our appetite may well lessen, but it’s a time in our lives when nutrition plays a pivotal role in improving our quality of life and we need to be mindful of the vitamins and nutirents that our body needs as we age.

Find out what foods can help keep you well-nourished and active in our guide to ensuring a simple meal time.

Healthy Eating for older diners

Dietary requirements change throughout our lives. While in our earlier years we may have gotten away with a few naughty treats, later in life we need to be more stringent about the fuel we put in our bodies, but that doesn’t mean that meals should be dull.

Simply follow the advice in this healthy eating overview from Age UK and you’ll see that there’s plenty of food groups to inspire tasty and nutritious options for older people.

How much should older diners eat?

There may be a general assumption that older people should eat smaller meals. However, this is not necessarily the case – meals still need to be nutritious and balanced, which means eating regularly and eating enough to get the right amount of nutrition.

Wiltshire Farm Foods is the UK’s leading frozen meal service, offering more than 300 meals and desserts that cater to a range of diets. This includes Softer Foods for those with swallowing difficulties and Free From meals for customers who have food allergies.

They offered their expert opinion:

“If older people start to reduce their meal sizes or cut out food groups, it could result in them suffering from issues such as malnutrition due to the changes in their diet.

“As people get older they are more likely to suffer from a number of health issues that can affect their eating habits. They can also experience digestive changes that can be caused by a number of different factors, for example, as a side effect of medication or increased inactivity.

“As a result of this it is important for older people to receive enough nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D to maintain normal bones and higher calorie meals to prevent any weight loss. If you do notice any digestive changes, it is important to contact a health professional before making any significant changes to your diet as it may have a greater effect on your health in the long run.”

If you know an older person is eating less because it is a struggle, Wiltshire Farm Foods’ Softer Foods range, as pictured below, can help them maintain their calorie and nutrition intake.

What should older diners eat?

Keeping your mental faculties up to scratch is important too, after all in retirement you have time to enjoy stretching your brain with a library of good books, participating in your favourite hobbies or completing a challenging crossword.

Food for the Brain is an organisation dedicated to promoting nutrition information that can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline, memory loss and Alzheimer’s.

The organisation produces a useful guide for older people which features the 6 Alzheimer’s Prevention Steps. You can read the full guide for a small voluntary donation on their website, but Jenna from Food for the Brain has kindly shared the excerpt below to help you start eating healthily for the future today.

“As we age we usually need less calories as we are not as active, so portions will need to get smaller to avoid excess weight again, but our bodies still need lots of nutrients to stay healthy, so the focus needs to be on 'nutrient dense' food. Opt for fresh, unprocessed foods including healthy fats - and avoid food and drink that can actually stop the absorption of nutrients (vitamins and minerals) or deplete our stores such as sugary foods, caffeine and alcohol.”

Key dietary areas for the elderly relating to cognitive health (which will also support wider health and vitality) include:

  • Keeping sugary foods in your diet to a minimum but make sure you eat lots of nutrient and antioxidant rich fruit and veg - especially leafy greens and colourful veg and fruit
  • Getting essential fats from oily fish, nuts and seeds
  • Eating foods rich in B vitamins such as meats, dairy and whole-grains. B12 especially can be difficult to absorb from our food as we age; it requires strong stomach acid to be digested and absorbed into the body and stomach acid often weakens with age

Mobility can also decline as we get older and while you can help to alleviate some of the discomfort using a rise and recline chair to make sitting down and getting up easier, it’s essential that you’re aware of what you can do to improve this through your diet. The guide also covers this, as Jenna explains:

For those with mobility issues, staying hydrated and drinking water throughout the day can be difficult but is very important - perhaps consider having a water bottle filled and put near where you sit so you have water to hand to sip throughout the day. Our brains are over two-thirds water and dehydration can cause fatigue, poor concentration, dizziness and confusion.”

Eat fresh and stay safe in the kitchen

Cooking for a simple meal time full of nutrition

In retirement, we may feel less enthusiastic about spending time in the kitchen but eating fresh ingredients, prepared to gain the best nutritional value from them, remains important.

Clare Jeffries, the nutritionist behind Healthy Influence, has helped hundreds of clients grasp wholesome eating and understand how their diet can help with a variety of health issues. She’s also an expert in helping older people to maintain a healthy mind and body through the food they eat.

She explains how attitudes to the kitchen should change in later life: “I work with older clients who may have got ‘stuck in a rut' of relying on convenience packet meals with no preparation required because it is easy and means they don’t have to go to the shops too often.

“I help them get re-enthused about food and start cooking simple meals again. I also recommend also cooking extra, so 2 meals in one go,” reducing the time and effort spent on making healthy meals.

Clare shares her simple meal time tips for eating fresh and enjoying the kitchen again:

  • Buy a couple of pieces of fish like salmon and ask the fish counter in your supermarket to put it in a cook in the oven bag, ready to heat when you get home. You can then just make a selection of fresh vegetables as a side. The extra salmon can also be eaten cold the next day for lunch, just add a salad or have mashed in a sandwich.
  • Make a large pot of soup which can be an easy go-to lunch or light dinner for several days - one effort for several meals.
  • Likewise, make a meal such as shepherd’s pie large enough for a family, as you often might have in your younger days, and then freeze portions to keep for healthy homemade 'convenience meals’.
  • If you have a friend in a similar situation, take it in turns to cook for each other maybe once per week or as often as you like. Often it’s the boredom of only cooking for one that has led to a loss in interest of cooking.

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous with your flavours or simply want to try some new meals out in the kitchen, get online and discover over 35,000 tasty recipes on the Epicurious website. You’ll find menu inspiration, information about nutrition and cooking advice from professional chefs. Epicurious can also be downloaded for free as an easy-to-use app for your smart phone or tablet computer device so you can read through the recipe as you go. 

What if I have mobility difficulties?

For some, preparing food and keeping an eye on food cooking on the stove can be too difficult and energy-consuming to do every day, and particularly if you don’t have any assistance.

A pre-prepared meal service like Wiltshire Farm Foods can help in these instances. They provide meals that are simple to prepare; they arrive frozen and can be cooked in the microwave or oven. This prevents people from cutting down and skipping meals, reducing the risk of malnutrition

“Our friendly drivers are happy to put the meals away in the freezer which can be a great difficulty for some.” – Wiltshire Farm Foods

Kitchen safety

Now you’re inspired to get cooking and creating new culinary delights, bear in mind the importance of ensuring that your ingredients are fresh, stored safely and germ free. Age UK provides some essential reading to learn more about storing and preparing food safely.

When we’re older and not quite as flexible as we once were, the kitchen can prove a challenge to negotiate around when preparing meals. There are some measures you can take to make this space safer and ensure you can continue to lead an independent life in the comfort of familiar surroundings.

It’s important to ensure we’re getting the nutrition we need, but as things slow down, it could be the case that more preparation is needed around meal times, whether this means placing convenient seating in the dining room or opting for easy-to-grip utensils and lighting that makes it easier to see what we’re doing. Find out more about updating your kitchen safety from Age In Place, offering advice that can help you stay in the home you want to live in for as long as possible.

You should keep hygiene in the kitchen up to scratch too, keeping surfaces clean and tidy to make for a safer environment to prepare your meals in. Why not ask a friend or relative to lend a hand and help you clean your way to a better 2016?

Nutrition advice for later in life

Our dietary needs change as we age in a number of ways. Clare from Healthy Influence points out a few adjustments that you can make to boost the benefits of healthy nutrition in your later years:

  • Stomach acid often lowers, making it harder to absorb some vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin B12. A supplement that absorbs under the tongue is often helpful to reduce risk of dementia and unnecessary falls - as this vitamin effects balance.
  • Medication can often cause nutrient deficiencies so these should be considered. You can follow the guidelines on medical packaging or ask your GP for further advice.
  • To reduce the risk of osteoporosis you need to not only have calcium but other bone-related nutrients such as magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K. Find out more about the different health benefits of vitamins.
  • The older generation often spend more time inside. Without adequate time outside in the sunshine, vitamin D deficiency is extremely common and reduces immune strength and can affect healthy bones. On better weather days, put the sun cream on and enjoy your garden.

For tips on keeping cool when it’s hot outside, read our article and learn how to keep safe in a heatwave.

Lastly, Wiltshire Farm Foods has some tips on interpreting diet advice given to the wider public:

  • Older people are more likely to suffer from health problems which can have an impact on their eating habits. Often when nutritional advice is provided to the wider public there is a ‘one size fits all’ perspective when it comes to our diets with a great emphasis on reducing fats and sugars to tackle issues such as obesity.

“However this advice is not appropriate for everyone, in particularly elderly people who may require an increased amount of fat and sugar to maintain a healthy weight.”

Whether you want to learn more about nutrition, find a workshop in your area or talk to an expert, you can find everything you need at Nutritionist Resource.

Ellen Hoggard tells us more about the organisation that’s helping you find professional advice from the right sources:

“Our team at Nutritionist Resource are passionate about helping others and believe that everyone deserves health and happiness. We are dedicated to giving people access to quality nutritional information and advice and want to promote how beneficial it can be to have the support of a professional nutritionist.

“We understand that as you grow older, it can be difficult to know what your body needs. When it comes to food and nutrition, we have to adjust our habits as our body changes. This isn’t always easy to do alone, so we want you to know that help is available.”

Nutritionist Resource is a support network, connecting you with the qualified nutritionists where you live. You can search for events in your area, read up on several healthy eating topics and find out more in the expert articles on their website.

 

Image Credit: Ron Mader (flickr.com)