Many families worry about senior nutrition and making sure their loved one is eating correctly, sitting down to meals full of healthy choices.  So we decided to come up with a great guide to senior nutrition and eating.  

You will not find a more extensive online guide/webpage/or blog post on senior nutrition and eating.  

What You Will Learn In The Senior Nutrition and Eating Guide

  • Is your parent eating well?
  • How eating alone can be bad for a senior
  • Why senior nutrition and eating declines
  • Explain “MyPlate,” an eating resource for older adults
  • Plan meals for seniors
  • 9 Ways to increase senior nutrition
  • Senior eating guidelines
  • Healthy meal planning
  • Nutrition resources


Download The Ultimate Guide To Senior Nutrition in PDF format

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Nutritional Guide for the Elderly

Is Your Aging Parent Eating Well?

Here’s a telling number: More than half of senior citizens in America are malnourished when they are admitted to the hospital. Widowed and other older Americans living alone, as well as those living in nursing homes are the most likely to suffer from poor senior nutrition.

Malnutrition in the elderly can lead to everything from lack of energy and constipation to severe anemia, bone loss, poor wound healing and increased hospital re-admissions. If you are caring for an aging parent or employed as a home helper, you can take crucial action now to help your loved ones maintain a healthy diet as they age.


Eating Alone Too Often

Unlike teenagers who may be squandering their calories on fast food or grabbing candy bars on the go, malnutrition in the elderly has its own unique causes. The first is isolation, eating so many meals alone. Eating is a social activity, and eating in isolation day after day can lead to depression as well as dangerous declines in nutrition.


Why Senior Nutrition Rapidly Declines

It’s increasingly for a person with age and memory issues or who’s managing several medical conditions to plan and prepare healthy meals and snacks. Sometimes it even becomes difficult to chew or enjoy the foods that once kept them well nourished.

  • A gradual decline in sense of taste and smell can reduce appetites and make food less enjoyable.
  • Medication Side Effects can cause mild nausea or make certain foods taste different.
  • Jaw pain or missing teeth making it harder to chew.
  • Frailty may make healthy meal preparation difficult.
  • Forgetfulness can lead to skipping meals or forgetting to vary their food choices.
  • Depression
  • Lack of Transportation to a decent grocery store can limit access to fresh fruits and vegetables and lead to more reliance on canned or boxed food.

Healthy Eating for the Elderly is a Team Effort

Good eating and great nutritional habits can be achieved despite these obstacles. For seniors living alone it’s essential to their well-being that they have someone to share meals with on a regular basis, whether it’s a relative or professional companionship care. 

By now you’ve probably heard of the USDA’s “My Plate” nutritional guidelines, but did you know that Tufts University in Boston has unveiled a MyPlate for Older Adults?  Better yet, the nutrition scientists have identified 5 five key senior nutrition needs you need to make a priority when shopping and planning meals with, or for, your aging parent or relative. 


Why there’s a MyPlate for Older Adults

The old USDA “food pyramid” is dead. In the summer of 2011 it was replaced by new USDA food guidelines and a new image called “MyPlate”.  All adults have the same basic nutritional needs, but the way we get our nutrients changes as we age. After age 70 our dietary needs are affected by health issues such as high blood pressure, lowered activity levels, and reduced gut function.  The scientists at Tuft University’s USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging studied these changing needs and created MyPlate for Older Adults, a visual quick guide to healthy senior meals.


The 4 “Main Ingredients” for Planning Nutritious Senior Meals

My Plate for Older Adults is divided into four parts. The plate itself has three parts, and where the original USDA My Plate shows a glass of milk, the senior version has a circle for beverages.

  1. The fruit and vegetable group takes up half the plate. Half of senior meals should be made up of fresh produce with vibrant colors that are loaded with nutrients: dark greens, deeply colored berries, and orange vegetables like sweet potatoes. You can supplement fresh produce with low-sodium canned vegetables and canned fruit in its own juice to save money or time.
  2. The next quarter of the plate shows options for whole grain, enriched and fortified grain foods because these types of grains and breads provide much better nutrition and fiber than refined grains and are necessary for senior wellness.
  3. The final quarter of the plate combines low- or non-fat dairy foods and plant source protein foods as well as lean meats and fish.
  4. In the beverage circle you’ll see several glasses of water, tea, juice and other liquids. Dehydration is a common problem for the elderly so it’s vital to encourage plenty of beverages throughout the day.

While it’s always a good idea to talk to a primary care doctor about your or your aging parents’ daily diet, remembering the four MyPlate for Older Adults food groups will make planning nutritious senior meals much easier.


senior nutrition

9 Ways to Bolster Senior Nutrition

If your aging parents or other relatives over 65 and are near a major city like Boston, they have access to some of the premium doctors, hospitals, and senior care services in the USA. Even so, we’d all rather keep our loved ones as independent as possible and avoid lengthy hospital stays. One of the best ways of doing that is to ensure proper senior nutrition.

Senior nutrition can be challenged by other aging issues like loss of appetite or sense of smell, inability to plan and prepare healthy meals, and days on end of eating alone. As a caregiver or cheerleader for your aging parent, knowing these issues you can help them make better food choices and get the help or companionship that’s needed to see that they aren’t skipping meals or eating junk.


Senior Nutrition Caregiver Guidelines

First, take into account any dental, appetite or digestive issues. 

  1. If they have trouble chewing, instead of serving tough cuts of meat, try using ground beef or turkey, eggs, and other softer proteins.

  2. Avoid foods that cause gassiness. Common culprits are beans, cabbage, onions, celery, raisins, and dried fruit. Carbonated beverages and artificial sweeteners can also cause gas or bloating.

  3. Make sure they have can and jar openers they can use easily. Give reminders over the phone about specific healthy food they like, and reminders not to skip meals.

  4. One of the best things you can do is make sure you or an in-home care companion helps plan meals and eats with the elderly person. Eating alone has been shown to lead to loss of appetite, poor nutrition, and depression in too many cases.


Healthy Meal Planning for Seniors

  1. Fill half the plate with colorful vegetables and fruit.

  2. For heart health, switch to skim or low-fat (1%) milk.

  3. Add fiber to the diet with fortified whole grains and cereals.

  4. Compare sodium on food labels for soup, bread, and frozen meals.

  5. Encourage frequent beverages, mostly water and decaf tea or coffee. Non-diabetics can drink juice in addition to water.  Ask their doctor if you’re not sure.

Know How Much to Eat

Eating a mix of healthy foods every day provides the nutrients, fiber, and calories your body needs. The amount you should eat depends on your age, whether you are a man or woman and your height and weight. It also depends on your level of physical activity. The more physically active you are, the more calories you might be able to eat without gaining weight. Most people in the United States eat more calories than they need.

Daily Calorie Levels for Women

A woman over age 50 should consume about

  • 1,600 calories a day if her level of physical activity is low (only performs activities associated with typical day-to-day life)
  • 1,800 calories daily if she is moderately active (walks the equivalent of 1.5 to 3 miles a day at 3 to 4 miles per hour)
  • 2,000 to 2,200 calories daily if she has an active lifestyle (walks the equivalent of more than 3 miles a day at 3 to 4 miles per hour).


Daily Calorie Levels for Men

  • 2,000 to 2,200 calories a day if his level of physical activity is low (only performs activities associated with typical day-to-day life)
  • 2,200 to 2,400 calories daily if he is moderately active (walks the equivalent of 1.5 to 3 miles a day at 3 to 4 miles per hour)
  • 2,400 to 2,800 calories daily if he has an active lifestyle (walks the equivalent of more than 3 miles a day at 3 to 4 miles per hour).


Senior Nutrition Resources for Caregivers in Boston Area


The Meals on Wheels program brings nutritious prepared midday meals to eligible homebound senior age 60 or older and their spouses. For Meals on Wheels service information in Lexington, Carlisle, Acton, Arlington, and Bedford go to Mass Resources Website. 

With a healthy senior nutrition your loved one should be able to stay at home longer and suffer fewer serious setbacks, which means fewer worries for you. If you have your own questions about companion services that include meal prep or transportation to senior meals, contact Minute Women Home Care.


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