Declining appetite is a natural part of aging. The body no longer needs as much fuel as it once did and the taste buds become less receptive. For seniors who have been advised by their doctors to gain or maintain their weight, and for caregivers or companions who are trying to help with an elder’s nutrition, here are 6 ways to make eating easier:
1. Make a List of Favorite Foods
If you are helping a senior shop for their menu, or you are trying to create meals they will enjoy, it may help to have them list their current favorite foods.
As people age, their tastes may change. They may prefer foods that they once disliked, and hate foods they once loved.
Choosing a few foods from each healthy category (lean meats, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, etc.) can make mealtime a lot less stressful.
Being able to shop for food in person may help stimulate appetite too. Who doesn’t get a little hungry when they go to a grocery store?
2. Choose Foods That Are Suited to the Individual
Sometimes you might see a senior turning down a steak dinner, even though they used to “love steak!”. Is this poor appetite, a change in taste preference, or something else?
As people age, they may not be able to chew certain foods as easily. Especially if they have dentures that are poorly made, or suffer from other dental issues. Other seniors may have difficulty swallowing, and worry about choking.
If you want to encourage a healthy diet in the seniors, help them prepare foods that are suited to their own needs. They may prefer softer foods, or foods that are more bland.
3. Try Snack Trays or Bento Style Plates With More Variety
Many seniors prefer to nibble throughout the day rather than eat three huge meals. Snack trays with a variety of enticing items are more inviting than a full plate-especially for a person who is being pressured to eat when they don’t feel hungry.
These foods are also attractive. Choose foods that can be left out for long periods on a table, or make a collection of small meals to go in the fridge. Homemade “convenience” foods are healthier than frozen dinners.
4. Try a Spicier Cuisine
Cooking with numerous herbs and spices can be a great way to build up flavor without depending on salty or sugary additives. For those who don’t like “warm” spices, strong herbs like rosemary, cumin, oregano, basil, and lemon zest can add flavor and tang without adding any heat.
Creativity with seasonings may help seniors who can’t detect subtle flavors very well, making their old favorite foods palatable once more.
5. Build Up An Appetite
For seniors who have no physical reason to not eat, it may be an issue of metabolism. Getting outdoors or taking part in some group activities can use energy and build up some hunger.
Some activities that can build an appetite might include water aerobics, dancing, walking, bowling or just cooking with a friend in the kitchen.
6. Invite a Friend!
For anyone who hates to “make a whole meal” to eat alone, a companion at meal time may make a difference. People tend to eat more in social settings (but watch about over-eating!).
Regardless of the reason for poor appetite, seniors need just as much nutrition as everyone else. Small portions, flavorful foods, and fun companionship while dining may be the key to helping them eat better and feel healthier.