Healthy eating and seniors, especially seniors that love sweets and old fashioned meat and potatoes can be a hard issue to tackle. My grandparents immigrated from Europe to Canada in the 1950s, in their 80’s when they came into my care I was horrified at the amount of rye bread, bacon grease used as butter and gravy, but how was I going to introduce a healthier diet? The doctors were quite upset that my Opa was overweight. If my grandmother made a beautiful salad (only ever with iceberg lettuce) and then make her salad dressing with water, vinegar and a whole bunch of white sugar, that it was almost a simple syrup salad dressing!
Most seniors are stuck in their old ways, it is not easy to change a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits into good ones because back then that way of eating was healthy. Many of our clients will say they do the grocery shopping for their elderly parents and although they stick to healthy foods they feel guilty but still buy the cookies and ice cream because it is requested and they don’t want to upset the request.
Food and mental trauma
Many of you know what was on your dinner table every night as a child, many of you know our parents and grandparents were part of the war and great depression, deep-seated issues with food security can drive someone to hold-fast to those favourite meals and when you try to even suggest change you may find your elderly parent less than willing to adapt. Food, as you know, is also comfort, we see many seniors who have lost their spouses no longer care about food, or miss meals because of loneliness. Before you begin changing a senior’s diet, respect where they are coming from and be kind with your suggestions.
Make small changes
You probably already know that small changes are easier on everyone. I read all the labels on the rye bread when my grandmother refused to give it up, so we picked the healthiest one, less sugar, least preserves, but they still had rye bread, small steps, small wins. Instead of the full-fat ice cream, we picked out sugar-free ones, we also added fresh berries, yes it was a battle because fresh berries weren’t what they were used to in ice cream but I was thankful that they tried.
Make more meals for them
We find it interesting how much our clients love when our workers will make them a new meal, many of our workers have even brought food from home for their lunch/dinner and the senior is very eager to try it because its there, ready and its not being forced on them. If you have an elderly parent try it sometime bringing them some “leftovers” of your healthy meal, you might be surprised they might try it.
Mouth issues/chewing problems
Be aware that often seniors with dentures can find it difficult to eat salads, and hard veggies, cooking these items extra or even mashing or pureeing them into a soup can help, sometimes seniors with dementia don’t know how to communicate mouth pain and they might have had mouth pain since they got their dentures and just accept it, dentures should fit comfortably, speak to your denturist if your elderly person is having eating issues.
Make the bites count
It is unfortunate but often we have senior clients that “eat like birds”, we tell families and our PSW’s (Personal Support Workers) to make every bite count for these clients. Did you know you can freeze meal replacements like Ensure/Boost and they can be eaten like ice cream? Did you know that if your doctor approves it, protein powder can be added to a veggie soup if that is all your senior can eat?
Need help with meals for seniors? Contact AgePro Senior services to get the help your family needs
Susan Bridges – Executive Director – AgePro