We all know that nutrition is one of the most important parts of staying healthy, but when it comes to eating well, it can be hard to stay consistent.
Let’s face it: even if you love cooking, nobody wants to be in the kitchen most of the day. But if you leave meal prep until 30 minutes before mealtime, you’re more likely to be stressed, tired, and out of ideas, which means it will be that much more tempting to just order takeout or throw a TV dinner in the microwave.
Meal planning for elderly parents allows you to dramatically reduce the amount of time you spend in the kitchen while ensuring that you and your loved ones are still eating healthy, nutritious meals. You plan and even prepare meals well in advance so that when mealtime comes, eating healthy is as easy as warming up something in the microwave or on the stove.
Why Meal Planning for the Elderly Matters
Eating healthy is important at any age, but it’s especially important for elderly people. As we get older, things start to break down. Our immune systems weaken, our digestive systems grow less efficient, and our cells don’t regenerate as fast as they used to. Our bodies aren’t able to deal with bad diets and poor nutrition as well as when we were younger.
Bad nutrition can lead to everything from poor moods and low energy to shorter life expectancy and increased risk of disease. But cooking healthy meals takes time, and none of us have enough of that. Too often, our good intentions get overtaken by the realities of our busy schedule.
Meal planning for elderly parents allows you to take the pressure and guesswork out of healthy eating while dramatically reducing the amount of time you spend in the kitchen.
What to Keep in Mind when Meal Planning
Meal planning means simply deciding and often preparing what you want to eat for the week in advance. There is no one right way to meal plan, as long as the way you are doing it makes preparing healthy meals easy and painless.
Some people just like to decide what they are going to eat ahead of time so that they can make sure they have the right ingredients and don’t have to make decisions when they’re hungry. Other people take things a step further and prepare meals ahead of time in big batches, then portion them out and put them in containers in the fridge or freezer. When mealtime comes, all they have to do is pull out the containers and stick them in the microwave.
Whichever way you decide to do it, there are some things to keep in mind with elderly parent nutrition.
Heavy on the plants; easy on the animals.
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that a plant-based diet lowers blood pressure, increases heart health, lowers the risk of Type-2 diabetes, lowers the risk of cancer, improves cholesterol, and helps maintain a healthy weight.
In other words, a plant-based diet improves almost everything we tend to worry about when it comes to the health of our elderly parents.
Conversely, research has shown that consuming large amounts of animal protein (meat, eggs, and dairy) leads to increased blood pressure, cholesterol, and risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and early death.
This doesn’t mean you have to become a vegetarian, but it does mean you should emphasize plants while de-emphasizing animal products in your meal plans. This could mean only eating meat for certain meals or days of the week. When you do eat meat, choose white meat and fish over red meat.
When it comes to plants, dark green vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli are high in calcium, iron, and vitamins A, C and K. Legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and different types of beans are excellent sources of protein, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. And fruits like apples, blueberries and strawberries have lots of antioxidants—compounds that lower the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Pay attention to serving size.
When it comes to food, more isn’t usually better. Multiple studies have shown that calorie restriction in mice led to slowed aging and increased longevity. This doesn’t mean your elderly loved ones should go hungry, but it does show that excessive calorie consumption leads to reduced life expectancy.
Pay attention to calories per serving in the recipes you make. Depending on activity level, it’s generally recommended that men over the age of 50 should consume 2,000 to 2,800 calories per day. Women over the age of 50 should consume 1,600 to 2,200 calories per day.
Don’t forget about water.
Water is essential for life, but most of us don’t get enough of it. Not drinking enough water causes all sorts of unpleasant effects like fatigue, headaches, trouble focusing, constipation, and an increased risk of strokes. Not only that, but chronically dehydrated people often mistake thirst for hunger, leading us to snack when what we really need is a glass of water.
In general, scientists recommend 15.5 cups of fluid per day for men and 11.5 cups of fluid per day for women. About 20% of that fluid comes from what we eat, which means men and women should be drinking 12 and 10 cups of fluid per day, respectively.
You can get some fluid from drinks such as tea, juice, and coffee, but the majority of your liquid should come from water. It’s clean, calorie-free, and easily available.
Meal Prepping Ideas
Healthy meals should taste great—if they don’t, find new recipes.
There are countless recipes and ideas for meal planning for the elderly out there. Just hop on Google and search “best plant-based meal prep ideas” or search specific recipes based on ingredients you want to use.
Here are a few delicious, healthy, and easy recipes to spark your inspiration.
- Chickpea spinach stuffed sweet potatoes
- 20-minute chicken, rice, and broccoli
- Plant-based chili
- Sweet chili salmon meal prep bowls
- Meal prep yogurt parfaits
The options are limitless. Have fun with it!
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