3 Easy Ways for Your Senior Parent to Eat a Healthier Diet

As adult children of mothers and fathers in their Golden Years, we continually find ourselves concerned about our parents’ health. We can be more at ease regarding our parents’ well-being by ensuring they are eating well. Harvard Medical School offers us three easy ways in which our senior parents can eat a healthier diet consistently:

  • Aim for eating only real food
  • Schedule meals and snacks
  • Reduce portion sizes

Aim for Eating Only Real Food

At the heart of Harvard Medical School’s advice for aiding seniors in eating a healthier diet is establishing a goal to eat more and only real food. Real food is a term used to describe whole, unprocessed foods without added preservatives, chemicals, or artificial substances. Real food is as close to the natural state as possible for these food items. This includes vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes and grains, dairy products such as milk or cheese, eggs, and meats.

In contrast with processed foods like chips or candy bars, real food has been grown in natural soil rather than genetically modified. Real food has not been altered through processing techniques such as bleaching or hydrogenation. Real food contains no artificial flavors or colors. Rather, it includes the naturally occurring nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. Real food does not contain preservatives that can extend shelf life but may also be unhealthy for consumption.

Focusing on whole grains instead of refined grains can be beneficial when switching from processed to real food. Whole grains have more fiber than the refined versions, which helps to keep you full longer while also providing essential vitamins and minerals for a healthy diet. Eating real food can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, by providing necessary vitamins and minerals without the added sugar in some processed foods. Additionally, eating higher-quality protein sources, such as grass-fed beef, will provide you with more omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain health.

Schedule Meals and Snacks

Harvard Medical School also stresses the importance of establishing a schedule for meals and snacks for men and women. There are three key reasons why scheduled meals and snacks benefit your senior mother or father:

  1. Improved nutrition: Eating on a regular schedule helps to ensure that your senior parent’s body receives the essential nutrients it needs each day. You can help your senior parent plan ahead to include nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains in each meal and snack, providing his or her body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs to remain healthy. Additionally, regularly scheduled mealtimes can help prevent overeating or snacking out of boredom or hunger between meals.
  2. Steady energy levels: Eating on a consistent schedule helps keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day so that a person can experience fewer energy peaks and dips. This means fewer cravings for sugary snacks between meals and improved focus and concentration during work or school tasks. Additionally, regularly scheduled meals may help reduce feelings of fatigue due to insufficient nutrition or excessive snacking between meals.
  3. Improved digestion: Eating smaller but more frequent meals throughout the day can help support better digestion by keeping the digestive system active and regular. It also prevents overloading the stomach with too much food at one time which can lead to indigestion or discomfort after large meals. Additionally, eating smaller portions more often allows for greater absorption of dietary nutrients into your bloodstream, which provides additional support for digestive health over time.

In addition, Harvard Medical School recommends avoiding eating a meal or snacking too close to bedtime:

Avoid scheduling late-night meals or snacks when your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) senses that you’re supposed to be sleeping. “During the circadian sleep period, our metabolism slows, our digestive system turns down, and brain temperature drops, part of the process of clearing toxins during sleep. Eating at different times than our typical circadian awake phase leads to weight gain,” says Dr. Lawrence Epstein, an associate physician with the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Reduce Portion Sizes

Controlling portion size is a crucial element of ensuring that a senior eats healthier. According to Harvard Medical School, if your senior parent is like most Americans, your mother or father is simply eating too much food during a typical meal.

Regarding eating healthier, portion size can play a huge role. Often, people tend to serve themselves too much food, which leads to consuming more calories than necessary and can lead to weight gain. The key is getting the amount of food right so you’re properly nourished without overeating. Here are five tips for reducing portion size:

  1. Use smaller plates: Using smaller plates helps reduce portions without leaving a person feeling hungry. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people who used larger plates served themselves more food than those who used smaller plates. By using a smaller plate, your senior parent can monitor how much food is being eaten and have better control over your portions.
  2. Slow down: Eating slowly can help reduce portion sizes by giving the brain time to register when a person is full before it’s too late and an individual has eaten too much. Try taking smaller bites, putting down your utensils between each bite, and drinking water in between bites to slow yourself down while eating.
  3. Make healthy swaps: A senior can keep all his or her favorite foods to cut down on portions. Rather, a senior can be encouraged to make healthier swaps when possible. These swaps can include replacing traditional starches like potatoes or pasta with quinoa or bulgur wheat which contain more fiber and nutrients while still providing the same texture and flavor as starchy side dishes.
  4. Measure ingredients: If cooking at home, it is easy to go overboard with ingredients if they need to be properly measured beforehand. A senior parent is well served to try using measuring cups or spoons for all recipes so that you know exactly how much of each ingredient goes into each dish.
  5. Fill up on produce: Packing meals with fresh fruits and vegetables help fill up a plate with fewer calories since these foods are mostly composed of water and fiber, which provide bulk without packing on extra calories from fats or sugars like more processed foods. Filling up on produce also adds important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants into each meal. Produce is nutritionally superior when compared to its less healthy counterparts.

Incorporating these five tips into your senior parent’s routine can help make sure that your mother or father gets the right amount of food every time. Using these five suggestions, your senior parent will find it easier to control portion size. Indeed, these are portion control tips you will want to consider incorporating into your own life if you are not already doing so.

How Assisted Living Can Help Your Senior Parent’s Nutritional Needs

If your senior parent is at a juncture in life at which he or she may need more assistance with different activities of daily living, there are available options to assist your mother or father in this regard. Among these options are an in-home care aide and an assisted living community. Assisted living can be of significant assistance to a senior when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet:

  1. Nutritious meals: Many assisted living communities offer meals that are made with fresh, nutritious ingredients. Eating meals in an assisted living facility can be a great way to ensure seniors get the vitamins and minerals they need daily. Furthermore, meals can be tailored to meet special dietary needs that some seniors may have. For example, if a senior has diabetes or other medical conditions, their diet can be adjusted for their well-being.
  2. Proactive approach: Assisted living facilities usually employ dietitians who can proactively work with seniors to plan healthy eating habits. They will design meal plans specifically for individual needs and any dietary restrictions that may be necessary due to medical conditions or preferences. Dietitians will also work closely with other professionals, such as physicians and therapists, to provide comprehensive healthcare services for more complex cases.
  3. Education opportunities: Assisted living facilities can also provide educational opportunities for seniors about how nutrition impacts overall health and wellness. Senior residents may attend seminars or classes offered by dietitians on healthy eating habits or how certain foods affect their bodies differently than others. Through these activities, seniors understand how nutrition plays a role in maintaining good health and helping them stay active and independent throughout their lives.

In conclusion, working with your parent to create a healthier diet will not only have more immediate benefits for your mother or father. A healthier diet enhances the prospects for your parent to live a longer life in good health than might otherwise have been possible.