The importance of healthy snacks or small meals for seniors and elders in care. by francy Dickinson
Dear Francy; My mother is not eating…I am not kidding. She has always been thin, but now, she has no appetite. I have tried every dinner I can think of but nothing works. What can I do to spark her taste buds? Anne
When you get older, and many times when you are on certain medications, you lose your taste buds. The taste of food no longer pulls you in…nor does the smell. So, the best thing to start is to really spice up the meal with low-salt herbal spice mixes like Mrs. Dash. My secret is to simply tell the senior they do not have to eat a meal…just snack. That might sound easy but it means you have to make sure that snacks are easy to grab and easy to chew and swallow. So, this is a little extra work on the family member that over-sees your mom’s care.
Every 2-3 hours the senior needs to have a snack…a protein drink, a piece of cheese ( I love cheese sticks), a slice of good deli meat, veggies with dip, fruit with dip, a piece of chicken, a slice of steak, a baked potato. Keeping that energy level and blood sugar on an even keel is the true key to strength in mind and body. How can you help them with smaller eating all day long? Here are some tips to help them on their way.
It means you have to prepare food ahead and have it ready to go…so I will list ideas that will keep you involved and keep her eating:
- Chicken is so good….so you have all sorts of ways to serve it in small pieces. Bake or buy a roasted chicken and have it sitting in the fridge for snacks, or pre cut it into small pieces and have it in a zip lock…even easier. OR — buy the large family size chicken thighs and legs and put them into the oven – spice well, put BBQ sauce on a few and bake them all. After they bake and cool…divide them into small zip locks – freeze a few bags and keep a couple in the fridge for easy snacks.
- Apples are so easy to use…you can peel, cut and slice and put some lemon on them and tuck it into a ziplock for easy grab snack. Serve it with a sweet dip, caramel..or some sour cream mixed with honey and cinnamon. Adding protein, calories is the point. If they dip, its more calories and that is a good thing
- Another soft dip sauce that is easy is peanut butter with honey and nutmeg…it makes a great dip for fruits and celery –always adding in calories and protein to everything that the senior eats
- Buy full seed and bran breads and crackers so when they choose to eat, it’s filled with good grains
- OK-Mok crackers are high in fiber, so are wheat thins – they’re best if you put them into a glass container on the counter – so the senior is tempted to grab a few when they walk by.
- Visual is so important…so make sure their cupboard is filled with containers not boxes. Buy see- through containers that will keep snacks fresh but let the senior see and grab easily. Do not pile on loads of food, best to do small amounts. If they live alone; buy a box of crackers, put 1/2 box in the container and take the rest home to your own family to enjoy. That way the crackers and snacks stay fresh for grandma and they change types often.
- Get soft cream cheese that is flavored with something they enjoy…the strawberry cream cheese is delish. I enjoy the salmon one myself. Good things are available in the dairy isle…take a look. They are pre making all sorts of things, including puddings. Remember buy small containers so they do not spoil so fast.
- Yogurt is great, but many elders do not like it. So introduce them to the Greek style yogurt that is richer and the new trend is putting loads of goodies into the yogurt. You will find it easy for the senior to have a small treat that tastes so rich.
- Every week, take over another fruit that is fresh. Strawberries; hull them and have them ready to reach in and take a bite. Do not put them into the salad drawer…keep them right out on the shelf so when the fridge door opens they “look” good and ready to eat. Always prep the fruit so the senior will eat it. Pineapple is so good, but only if the senior can take a bite size piece…otherwise it looks like too much for them and they pass over it. Bananas are great…and show grandma she can cut it in half and eat it…then eat the other half the next day. Often seniors say; I can not eat a whole banana…so let them know it’s OK to only eat half
- Veggies; many elders do not eat raw veggies. It was not popular when they were cooking or growing up. So, entice them with cutting veggies into small pieces and buy the tiny carrots and tomatoes. I buy a larger Rubbermaid container that has a green top. It’s a “fresh” container. If you get the larger one, you can fill it with a mix of little veggies that the senior can grab. It will stay fresh for a couple of weeks and then you can add a few different veggies to the mix. You gotta have “Ranch dip” for the veggies…and a secret? You can add in 2 scoops of vanilla protein mix folded into the ranch dressing. Each time they reach for it…they have more protein with each scoop. Watch the due dates on things and be prepared ‘throw away’ things. Try not to fuss over the waste…its better to have good food available for the senior than force them to eat left overs for days.
- Soup- I make my soups, cool and put a serving into a small ziplock. I then take it over to the senior. That way they get homemade split pea soup, German potato soup, chicken and broccoli soup– without buying a can and its the family recipe they probably cooked on their own for years. I freeze the soups and always write what it is on the ziplock in permanent ink. They can grab and go with soups in the freezer to the microwave or bag into the boiling water for heating.
- Steak is often not eaten by elders with problem teeth. So, I buy small steaks, I slice them into small long slices. I then marinate them for 3 days and put the juice and the steaks in smaller ziplock. This way they can fry the steak in just a few minutes and have thin small size to eat as a snack or dinner. (Easy Marinate:. 1 bottle of Italian dressing into a large ziplock and put in the steak pieces. Place it in the bottom of the cool meat drawer, in fridge and turn it over every day. ) Once again, transfer the meat once it has soaked for three days and put small amounts into ziplocks so Grandma can grab them easy and fry up with an egg for breakfast or a baked potato for dinner.
- Pies are a perfect meal if you make them with fresh ingredients. A good apple pie can be breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack or dinner.Seniors do not have to think of fresh fruit pies as dessert…they can be just everyday eating. So when you bake or buy a good fresh fruit pie…cut it up and put it into Ziplocks.( I know I use a lot of them and I do buy the off brand of zip bags in bulk.) This way a couple of pieces are in the fridge and a couple more in the freezer. The senior needs smaller pieces and almost everyone loves the taste of fruit pies. They need to place them on the plate and hit them in the microwave for 1 min to warm and that brings out the flavor again
- Apple sauce and apple butter…both great stuff to have handy. The apple sauce comes in flavors and is in single serve containers…how easy is that one? Apple butter makes a good yummy toast treat on top of a rich grain and nut bread.
- Old fashioned but yummy: Quick coffee cakes and small one egg cakes work great for seniors. Once again; you leave out a small about; 2 small pieces and then they can add ice cream and have a filling treat. You can buy them at the store and cut it…or make easy cakes on your own.
Here is my recipe for the one egg cake http://joyfilledcooking.familyoven.com/
- Soft cheeses make for good dips and cracker toppings – I like the cheese with herbs and garlic…OH boy YUMM
- Popcorn may seem like a good snack but seniors can not eat it well, so go to Trader Joe’s and look over their selection of chips and snacks. They even have sweet potato chips, pretzels with peanut butter inside – be creative, it will pay off…the senior will love the new tastes
- Heritage…this is my trick. I think of the senior and what they ate when they grew up. What recipes were popular in the 1920’s or 30’s? What country is their heritage or are they Jewish or Latino? That means they have flavors that are in-grained in their mind about food. Once you get a feeling for the spices and treats that they enjoyed when they were younger and raising their own children…cooking, entertaining — those are the tastes and smells you want to bring back to them
- Many seniors love candy…sugar can really boost their brains as well as energy. Old fashioned hard candy like lemon drops, licorice that’s in small pieces and fresh so they can chew it. Do not bother with peanut brittle or taffy…their teeth will not do well with it. Keep a candy dish by them with spice drops, MnMs — It looks festive and tastes so good
- Add drinks with protein. You have to get your senior into protein drinks. If you have to buy a few and get the taste going…do it. I always chill the drinks, they taste better…there are many chocolate ones and the taste is vastly different between the companies. You can always do a vanilla flavor and ask them to drop in two strawberries and do a quick blend each morning. Work on it, your time will pay off with added intake of calories and protein. Most seniors have one each day and often two or three if they are not eating well
I hope the ideas have helped you thinking in a different direction. For us eating is so easy, we can even do a drive through to get a quick burger. Seniors living alone and elders in care are limited to what is in the house and how easy is it to prepared and eat. That is the key…easy.
Good luck, and thank you for all you do for the seniors in your family. Care giving can be a time-consuming and lonely time, thank you for your gift of love.
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*For all that want to know about George…he is due for this summer memory appointment. I will report back with how it went and what the doctor says about his medications. He is now on a cocktail of Alzheimer’s drugs…to boost his brain…Thank you for your prayers, I always feel them. f.