Making food appetizing is especially important for seniors, who may lose their appetites for a host of reasons. The elderly are especially at risk for malnutrition because of many social and psychological factors. Food may seem unappealing to a senior who has recently been ill, has dental problems or trouble eating, takes medication that affects appetite or who must follow dietary restrictions.
Here are five tips for making healthy foods more appetizing for the senior population:
- Making mealtime special can help a light eater enjoy it more. Ways to add ambiance include special table linens and dishes, soft lighting and relaxing music. Turning mealtime into a social event by sharing with family and friends may help improve the appetites of seniors who suffer from depression.
- Adding color and texture not only makes dishes look more appealing, it also can add extra vitamins and minerals. Adding a variety of favorite vegetables to jarred spaghetti sauce makes it more nutritious, taste fresher and adds texture. Combining different textures often makes foods more palatable. Examples include adding granola to yogurt, dried fruit and nuts to oatmeal, and cheese sauce to crunchy vegetables.
- Fresh herbs, garlic or ginger, and citrus juices are healthy ways to add flavor without adding extra sodium. Dried herbs, jarred garlic and juice concentrate are acceptable substitutes that can be stored for long periods. Seniors managing incontinence may want to limit spicy foods, which can irritate the bladder.
- Serving hot foods hot and cold foods cold makes meals more appetizing. Room-temperature foods often taste bland and don’t seem as fresh. Be sure to let hot foods cool to a safe temperature before eating to avoid burns.
- Daily exercise can help stimulate the appetite in addition to all the other ways it benefits the body. Seniors of any mobility level can aim for 30 minutes of activity most days, but should always check with their health care providers before beginning any exercise program.
Other contributors to malnutrition include little social contact, depression, excessive use of alcohol, financial limitations, and physical problems that limit seniors’ ability to shop for and prepare meals. Signs and symptoms of malnutrition include weight loss, muscle weakness, poor wound healing and bruising.
There are a variety of programs to help seniors get proper nutrition. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrition Assistance Programs page lists resources for federal or state help. For those who don’t qualify for government assistance, there are affordable services, like Mom’s Meals, which delivers tasty, nutritionally balanced, freshly prepared meals to a customer’s doorstep.
(This article by Dianna Malkowski originally appeared on the Caregiving Partenership blog. Dianna Malkowski is a Board Certified Physician Assistant and Mayo Clinic trained nutritionist specializing in diabetes, cancer, wound healing, therapeutic diets and nutrition support.)
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