COLUMN: Cooking for elderly can be tricky

Heather Winn

Three in four adults more than 65 years of age have two or more chronic conditions that can limit day-to-day functioning. If an older adult is not able to grocery shop or cook meals, these tasks fall on the caregiver.

In 2015, 76% of caregivers helped their loved one with grocery shopping and 61% helped with cooking meals. As a result, the caregiver's dietary habits will impact their loved one's diet. In other words, if the caregiver eats poorly - non-nutritious foods, so will their loved one, typically resulting in poor health.

Older adults have about the same nutritional needs as a young adult, but with some differences: It is important that older adults eat nutrient-dense foods, which are foods with fewer calories, but more nutrients. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free milk products, seafood, lean meats, eggs, beans, peas, lentils and nuts. The amount of calories an older adult consumes on a daily basis is dependent on their activity level: individuals who are not that active should consume between 1,600 and 2,000 calories daily.

Choose carbohydrates wisely. How might this look in food portions? For a 1,600 calorie diet, older adults will need approximately one and a half cups of fruit each day; two cups of vegetables each day, with one cup being beans, peas and lentils each week; and five ounces of grains each day - at least three ounces should be whole grains. A 2,000 calorie diet will need approximately two cups of fruit each day, two and a half cups of vegetables each day with one and a half cups being beans, peas and lentils each week, and six ounces of grains each day - at least three ounces should be whole grains. The best carbohydrate-containing foods are whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes.

Fiber is more important than ever. Dietary fiber is helpful with constipation, cholesterol, diarrhea and heart disease. Unlike other nutrients, fiber cannot be digested. It is recommended that older adults consume 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day. Older adults should consume a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber, since both types provide various benefits.

One-third of older adults do not eat enough protein. The cause can be a reduced appetite, dental issues, change in food preferences, swallowing problems or limited financial resources. Research has shown that older adults who consume an adequate amount of protein are more likely to be in better health.

Dietary fat is a major source of energy and helps absorb important vitamins and provides taste and helps you feel full. Even though fats are important, many people consume too much fat in their diet. High fat diets can lead to a wide range of health problems such as heart disease, high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes. There are different types of fats - some provide health benefits in small amounts, while others do not.

It is not surprising that price is a deciding factor in food choices. Healthy foods can cost more than unhealthy food - an average of $1.48 per day per person. Remember, when buying groceries, there are multiple ingredients that can be used for several meals and some meals may have food left over for future consumption.

Cooking for several people with different tastes can be difficult. Like other families, caregivers often must consider each family member's tastes when making meals.

It is difficult to make healthy meals everyone enjoys. To avoid problems, most families will stick to "old tried and true" recipes everyone likes- instead of having a wide variety of foods for a well-balanced diet.

Research has shown that the individual who makes the meal can change their family's eating behaviors. Some helpful strategies can include buying and preparing healthy foods and setting a good example by eating healthy foods yourself. Avoid pressuring family members to eat healthy foods.

Heather Winn is family and consumer sciences educator for the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County.

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