Maintaining a healthy diet becomes more important than ever as you age. Eating a well-balanced diet can help seniors stay active, maintain a healthy weight, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
However, many seniors face challenges in meal planning, such as cooking for one or dealing with health conditions that require dietary restrictions. That’s why having a plan and helpful tips can make all the difference.
In this guide, we’ll provide seniors with practical advice for healthy meal planning, including tips for grocery shopping, cooking, and adapting to dietary needs. Whether you’re a senior looking to improve your nutrition or a caregiver supporting a loved one, this guide will help you create healthy meal plans for a lifetime of good health.
Meal Planning Tips For Seniors
While no one tip will work for everyone, you can incorporate a few ideas into your week that will help make cooking easier for you and your older loved one.
1. Check the healthy eating guidelines first and assess your or your older loved one’s dietary needs.
Before embarking on a dietary plan, it’s advisable to consult your healthcare provider to set goals and objectives. While some dietary advice is relevant across all age groups, such as consuming nutrient-rich foods and limiting added sugars, older adults need to consider specific dietary concerns.
According to the Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, older adults should pay attention to their protein intake, as nearly half of the women and a third of men over 71 years old do not consume enough.
In addition, due to age-related changes that impede their ability to absorb this vital nutrient, some older adults may need to boost their consumption of vitamin B12-fortified foods or take supplements.
2. Look for inspiration.
You can unleash your creativity and explore recipes on your preferred websites or cookbooks to bring some excitement and diversity to your meal planning.
There is a vast array of recipes to choose from, catering to different tastes, cultural traditions, and cooking styles. Another alternative is meal delivery services that provide healthy ingredients and innovative recipes.
Regarding breakfast options on a healthy meal plan, you can go for a simple bowl of bran flakes cereal with low-fat milk and Vitamin C-rich blueberries.
However, you can also try more adventurous breakfast options, such as eggs served over kale and sweet potato grits or a quick, no-cook overnight banana oatmeal for those days when you’re in a hurry to get to your activities.
3. Opt for foods that can do more than one thing for your body.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advocates using food as “preventative medicine” to promote overall health and wellness. When planning healthy meals at home, it’s crucial to prioritize both taste and nutrition.
To maintain a healthy diet, it’s recommended to include foods with anti-inflammatory properties, such as legumes and apricots, as they may assist in reducing the risk of chronic diseases and other health concerns.
Berries rich in flavonoids may also be added to help with memory function. Leafy greens are an excellent addition to your diet because they are full of nutrients, and you can top them with slivered almonds to provide phytonutrients that support gut health.
4. Always be prepared
It’s crucial to have a well-stocked pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to prevent your healthy meal plan from getting sidetracked or resorting to ordering takeout due to a missing ingredient. This will aid you in achieving your healthy eating objectives while keeping your meals cost-effective.
According to the American Heart Association, it is advised to keep the following items readily available:
- Canned or dried beans, including kidney, pinto, black, butter, and navy beans; canned or pouched tuna, salmon, and chicken; and spaghetti sauce.
- Canned vegetables can be used as side dishes or added to soups and sauces.
- Whole grains such as brown rice, oats, couscous, bulgur, quinoa, whole grain pasta, bread, and tortillas can be stored in the freezer and wholegrain flour or cornmeal for baking.
- Cooking oils like olive, canola, and corn oil are non-tropical.
- Nuts, seeds, and nut butter can be used as garnishes, in stir-fries, or as satisfying snacks.
- Broths include fat-free, low-sodium chicken, vegetable, and beef that can be used to make soups.
- Dried herbs and spices, including various salt-free seasoning blends that can be purchased or created.
- Proteins like fish filets without breading, skinless chicken breasts, extra-lean or lean meats, and tofu.
- Dairy products such as low-fat and fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese.
- Soft margarine is made with non hydrogenated vegetable oil and contains no trans-fat.
- Frozen vegetables and fruits, preferably without added salty sauces and sugary syrups, and with various colors.
Customize the list to fit your preferences, healthy eating recommendations, and financial situation. Furthermore, keep in mind that you can purchase these essential items using your Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
5. Check out other healthy eating meal plans
Review food plan templates from trustworthy sources when creating your food plan to save time and kickstart your healthy eating journey at home.
The DASH meal plan, developed by researchers at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), is a heart-healthy and adaptable option. A weekly healthy meal plan based on a 2,000-calorie daily intake can be printed or downloaded. The plan can accommodate different daily calorie levels and nutritional requirements.
Typically, the DASH meal plan includes a breakfast of wholegrain cereal, fruit, and fat-free yogurt. Lunch options may include tuna salad, barbecue beef, and chicken breast sandwiches.
Dinner options include zucchini lasagna, roast beef, and a lighter version of stuffed baked potatoes topped with fat-free sour cream, reduced-fat cheddar cheese, and chopped cheese scallions. Healthy daily snacks could include almonds, dried apricots, graham crackers, and peanut butter.
What’s Cooking: Foods To Include in Your Meal Plan
The Eatwell Guide groups our food and drinks into five categories. Choosing various foods from each group is recommended to ensure that you have the necessary nutrients to maintain good health and proper bodily function.
These food groups are:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Bread, rice, pasta, and other starchy carbohydrates
- Dairy and substitutes
- Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat, and other sources of protein
- Oils and spreads
For aging people, the recipe for healthy aging starts with nutrient-dense food. This is because metabolism slows down as you age, and you may require less energy from food.
However, there may also be instances when you’ll need more nutrients. Hence, My Healthy Plate recommends lean meats and cutting back on food high in added sugar and salt.
For more specific recommendations, here’s a concise list of the foods you must incorporate into your or your older loved ones’ meal plans.
1. Protein Rich Foods
Protein-rich foods like meat, fish, chicken, eggs, tofu, and lentils are essential to building and repairing the body. As you age, ensuring that your diet contains enough high-quality protein to preserve physical function and prevent muscle loss becomes increasingly important.
Opt for low-fat alternatives like lean meat, skinless chicken, fish, and low-fat dairy products to minimize fat intake.
Consuming three servings of protein-rich foods daily, such as meat, fish, chicken, eggs, tofu, and lentils, is recommended. Serving size can be represented by the following examples.
- 1 palm-sized piece of lean meat, fish, or poultry (90g)
- 2 glasses* of low-fat milk/soy milk (500ml)
- 2 small blocks of tofu (170g)
- 5 medium prawns (90g)
- 3/4 cup** of cooked pulses (peas, beans, lentils) (120g)
- 3 eggs (150g)
2. Foods Rich In Calcium
Our bones should be healthy and strong throughout our lives. However, individuals over 50 are at a higher risk of losing bone mass faster than it can be replenished. Therefore, it is essential to consume an adequate amount of calcium. Insufficient calcium intake can lead to osteoporosis, which causes bones to become brittle and more prone to fractures.
To promote strong bones, incorporate calcium-rich foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese, tofu, sardines, and calcium-fortified soymilk into your diet. Opt for low-fat dairy products to maintain a healthy weight.
For individuals aged 50 and above, consuming 1000 mg of calcium daily is recommended.
Below is an example of food portions that can assist in achieving the daily calcium requirement.
Breakfast: 1 glass of high-calcium low-fat milk 250ml
Lunch: 1 square piece of taukwa (firm tofu) + 3/4 mug of Choy sum
Dinner: 3/4 mug of kai-lan
Other Food Servings( with their amounts of calcium)
|1 glass of low-fat high-calcium milk (250ml) / 4 scoops milk powder|
|1 glass of soybean milk with HCS (250ml)|
|2 tablespoons of non-fried dried ikan bilis (40g)|
|1 piece of canned low sodium sardine (70g)|
|3/4 mug of cooked kai lan (100g)|
|1 slice of low-fat cheese (20g)|
|1 small tub of low-fat yogurt (100-150g)|
|1 square piece of taukwa (100g)|
|1 cup of Edamame (200g)|
|2 tablespoons of roasted sesame seeds (20g)|
|3/4 mug of cooked chye sim (100g)|
|3/4 mug of cooked spinach (100g)|
|1 1/2 mugs of cooked broccoli (200g|
|1/2 pack of tofu (150g)|
|1/4 cup of almonds (30g)|
3. Wholegrains, Fruit, and Vegetables
Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables contain vital vitamins and minerals that enhance the immune system and safeguard against heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
These foods are also rich in both soluble and insoluble fibers. Soluble fiber can reduce blood cholesterol levels, while insoluble fiber supports healthy bowel functions.
Daily consumption of at least one whole grain food, such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, or oats, is recommended. Additionally, aim to have two servings of fruits and two servings of vegetables daily. Eating diverse fruits and vegetables is crucial as they provide different nutrients that contribute to maximum health benefits.
Here are examples of 1 serving of fruit.
- 1 small apple, orange, pear, or mango (130g)
- 1 wedge of papaya, pineapple, or watermelon (130g)
- 10 grapes/ longans (50g)
- 1 medium banana
- ¼ cup** of dried fruit (40g)
- 1 glass* of pure fruit juice (250ml)
Here are examples of 1 serving of Vegetables.
- ¼ round plate of cooked vegetables
- 150g of raw leafy vegetables
- 100g of raw non-leafy vegetables
- ¾ mug*** of cooked leafy vegetables (100g)
- ¾ mug*** of cooked non-leafy vegetables (100g)
4. Natural Seasonings and Low- Sodium Foods
Most people enjoy consuming salty food, making it difficult to reduce their salt intake, particularly for those who frequently dine out. Nevertheless, the gradual salt reduction can allow our taste buds to adjust.
Consuming excessive sodium can lead to hypertension, also called high blood pressure. Hypertension is a risk factor for several diseases, including stroke, heart, and kidney disease. Sodium is obtained from various sources, including:
- What is found naturally in food
- What is added during the processing of food
- What we add when cooking
- What we add to the table
4a. Natural Seasonings
Fresh foods possess naturally low levels of sodium and feature glutamate, a natural flavor enhancer. To add natural flavor to meals without salt or sauces, incorporate glutamate-rich foods such as meat, chicken, fish, peas, tomatoes, corn, and mushrooms.
In addition, fresh or dried herbs like parsley, coriander, onion, garlic, chives, and spring onions, along with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, pepper, curry leaves, and chili, can be used to add flavor to dishes without increasing their salt content. Alternatively, lemon, lime, or orange juice can add a tangy taste to food.
4b. Low-sodium food options
When you dine out
- It is advisable to request that sauces be provided separately and taste the food before adding salt or sauces to the table.
- Avoid adding gravy to your rice and consuming all the soup in soup dishes since they may contain high amounts of sodium.
When shopping for groceries
- Prioritize fresh food over processed, canned, or cured foods.
- Opt for products with lower sodium levels or those certified with the Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS).
5. Meal Prep Shopping List
To ease your grocery shopping, here’s a list you may use on your next shopping day to ensure you get the right foods for your healthy meal plans.
For your protein
- Lean meat and poultry – remove skins and visible fat
- Fresh or frozen fish
- Tofu, tempeh, beans and lentils
- Low-fat milk, low-fat cheese
- Low-fat yogurt
For your calcium needs
- Low-fat milk
- Low-fat cheese
- Low-fat yogurt
- High-calcium soybean milk
- Brown rice, wholemeal bread, wholemeal
- noodles, brown rice
- Wholewheat biscuits and crackers
- Any fresh fruit
- Any fresh or frozen vegetables
- Herbs and spices
- Oils and margarine
- No sugar or reduced sugar drinks
Healthy Meals For Seniors
If you’re still scratching your head thinking about incorporating the food mentioned above into your or your older loved ones’ meals, below are some healthy meal examples you can copy, along with short instructions on preparing them.
From breakfast to dinner (and snacks in between), these are great meals for seniors that pack a seriously nutritious punch.
- Warm oatmeal and berries. Prepare warm oatmeal and berries by placing frozen or fresh berries in a crockpot on low heat, adding a serving of old-fashioned oats and water, and cooking for several hours until it has the consistency of bread pudding. Alternatively, add berries to warm oatmeal.
- A hard-boiled egg. Enjoy a hard-boiled egg with fresh fruit and a slice of whole wheat toast.
- Whole grain pancakes or waffles. Opt for whole grain pancakes or waffles, choosing a brand that contains chia seeds for added essential fatty acids and proteins. Mix fresh berries and a handful of walnuts or almonds for additional protein.
- Yogurt parfait. Make a yogurt parfait by mixing yogurt, nuts, and fruit to get healthy fat, Vitamin C, and carbohydrates.
- Power toast. Have a power toast with peanut butter or almond butter spread on whole wheat toast for healthy fats and protein. Enjoy fresh fruit on the side.
- Poached egg. Prepare a poached egg and place it on top of whole wheat toast and steamed asparagus. Top with a small amount of butter.
- Quinoa stir-fry. Sauté chopped vegetables, pine nuts, or pecans, and mix in cooked quinoa with Italian dressing for a tasty and versatile salad.
- Potato and egg skillet. Melt butter in a skillet, add chopped potatoes, cover, and cook for two minutes. Pour scrambled eggs over potatoes, add pepper, and toss until eggs are hot.
- Cottage fries. Slice parboiled red potatoes, cook in olive oil, and top with leftover veggies and sharp cheddar cheese.
- Southwest omelet. Beat eggs, pour into an oiled skillet, add pepper jack cheese and salsa, and fold when firm. Serve with avocado.
- Salmon wrap. Fill a whole grain wrap with canned Alaskan salmon, chopped avocado, tomatoes, greens, and plain yogurt.
- Grilled or baked Alaskan salmon. Season with tomato, sweet onion, garlic, basil, and olive oil. Wrap in foil and cook at low heat for 15 minutes until moist and flaky.
- Lamb meatballs and potatoes. Add garlic, basil, sliced pre-cooked potatoes, and lamb meatballs and cook in olive oil for 15 minutes.
- Shrimp pasta. Cook shrimp, garlic, and fresh herbs and serve over pasta with chopped tomatoes.
- Liver with fennel. Cook liver, fennel, red onion, and cabbage in a skillet with olive oil until tender.
- Beans and grains. Heat canned beans and serve with brown rice, oats, or barley.
- Shrimp and greens. Sauté pre-cut vegetables in olive oil, add cooked cocktail shrimp, and serve with a berry vinaigrette salad dressing and lime.
- Southwest chicken salad. Cook chicken breast in a skillet with olive oil and salsa, shred, and refrigerate for wraps, salads, or soups.
Can’t Cook? Here’s Where To Get Help
If an older adult can no longer cook and doesn’t have someone who can cook for them, these companies and organizations provide meals for seniors:
- Meals on Wheels Association of America. Prepares and delivers more than one million meals to seniors each day.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the government food assistance plan once referred to as Food Stamps. Seniors with trouble affording fresh fruits and vegetables and other food can apply.
- Schwan’s. A national grocery store delivers frozen meals — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — door to door every two weeks.
- Amazon Fresh. Amazon’s grocery delivery for perishable and frozen foods and other groceries is available to Prime members.
- Silver Cuisine. Aims to deliver fresh meals to seniors and accommodate many different dietary restrictions and will even deliver nutritious snack options.
- Magic Kitchen. Magic Kitchen is another online delivery system that allows you to choose from several dietary types, including senior diets.
- Mom’s Meals. Mom’s Meals provides meal delivery services across the country with a particular emphasis on catering to the dietary requirements of seniors.
Eating a healthy diet benefits as it supports both physical and mental well-being. A nutritious meal can leave you feeling energized and vibrant throughout the day. However, many need help maintaining a healthy diet due to the effort and time it takes to prepare meals.
As individuals age, the motivation to cook a nutritious meal can decrease, particularly if they have spent years cooking for others.
However, meal prepping can make planning for seniors more manageable. This approach offers several benefits, such as eliminating the need to decide what to eat at the last minute and ensuring that the meal contains healthy ingredients.
Additionally, meal prepping can save time during the cooking process as the preparation work has already been completed.
If you’re ready to move on in learning about some useful cooking tips for older adults, check out our article Cooking For Seniors: A Guide To Healthy Techniques.