Do you eat alone many times a week, or know someone who does? People who share meals together generally eat more nutritious foods regularly and have better nutritional status overall.
There are many seniors living at home, who may eat meals alone much of the time. Finding motivation to prepare and cook meals for oneself can be a challenge. Sometimes, it’s easier to cobble together tea and toast, than to make a well-balanced meal.
Seniors who live alone are at an increased risk of malnutrition due to many factors. With aging comes physical changes in body composition. Without regular weight bearing activity, individuals can lose lean muscle tissue quickly.
‘Middle age spread’ (more girth around the middle of the body) can lead to self limited dieting and unnecessary food restrictions. This can actually increase risk of nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition.
Many seniors require fewer calories due to decreased metabolism and need to be more aware of nutrient-dense foods, so they can get enough vitamins, minerals, fibre and macronutrients, such as protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.
Adequate fluid is very important for healthy bodily functions too. Reducing amount of caffeinated, sugary and alcoholic drinks can have a positive effect on how well the body digests and processes food. Water, milk and liquid meal replacement drinks can be some of the best fluids, depending on an individual’s nutritional status and health goals.
As people age, there is wear and tear on the body which can be a result of lifestyle and daily chronic behaviours of living. For example, food choices, exercise, work environment and frequency of alcohol intake, smoking and other drug consumption all contribute to how well the body and mind ages. Healthy living including good food choices, daily activity, plus fulfilling work, social supports and fun hobbies can affect quality of life and physical well being for the long-term.
There are some easy ways to start improving food intake to affect nutritional status for the better.
Eating breakfast within an hour of waking up will help you on your way to get all of the nutrients your body needs each day. Research indicates that, in general, people who do not eat breakfast regularly have more problems with being overweight.
Starting the day with some food helps to ‘break the fast’ and improves overall body metabolism. To run properly, the body needs fuel. There are no rules for a perfect breakfast. Including some fruit, wholegrain and low fat dairy or a lean protein would offer some good nutrition in the morning to start the day.
High fibre cereal, milk and fruit, or leftovers from dinner the night before, or a fruit/yogurt smoothie with ground flaxseeds can all be examples of good breakfast meal options.
If eating alone for your dinner meal is a regular habit, and appetite isn’t great, there are a few ways to improve the experience.
Some ways to help make meal times more enjoyable are finding a comfortable place to sit with your meal, walking before you have your dinner (to stimulate the appetite), adding herbs and spices (instead of salt) to flavor the food, trying a new recipe once in a while, and seeking out a community meal club, group, friends or family that gather for regular mealtimes.
If preparing a daily meal is too cumbersome, plan for batch cooking and freezing leftovers to help offer homemade options that are convenient and nutritious to prepare at the last minute.
Also, stocking the fridge and cupboards with tinned fish and Eat your veggies: aim to eat a dark green and orange-coloured vegetable or fruit daily for good nutrition.
Bone up on calcium by adding cheese to food, using beans/legumes more often, sprinkling sesame seeds on salads and use low fat yogurt instead of sour cream.
By identifying and remedying some of the barriers to enjoyable meals, you can improve the overall meal environment. This will help to increase nutritional options to ultimately improve energy, well being and long-term general health.
Sharing meals with others much of the time just feels good. In addition, walking after a meal will help with more efficient digestion and the body’s processing of nutrients.
Sandra Gentleman, RD, is an Alberni Valley-based registered dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.