Many variables can affect the desire and ability of older adults to eat healthfully every day. Living on a limited income, decreased appetite and changing digestive patterns may alter meal planning. Planning nutritional meals can be challenging for the elderly or their caregivers, but it is not impossible. Consult a doctor when planning meals for the elderly for specific recommendations.
Good nutrition is no less important as you age. The MedlinePlus website relates that a healthy diet "in your later years reduces your risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers."
Older adults with chronic conditions should plan meals with those guidelines in mind, particularly if they need to follow certain dietary restrictions.
Factors that influence the appetite and eating habits of the elderly include the difficulty of cooking for one person; undesirability of eating alone; chewing difficulties; changes in ability to taste food; financial considerations; mobility issues; loss of interest or depression; decreased physical activity; and limited availability of transportation for shopping.
Do not overlook the importance of one or more of these factors when creating meal plans for an older adult. It does little good, for example, to plan meals that require cooking at the stove when the older adult has difficulty standing up for more than a few minutes at a time.
The National Institute on Aging recommends the following caloric intake for adults over age 50: Women who are physically inactive need 1,600 calories per day; men who are physically inactive require 2,000 calories. Women who are moderately physically active need 1,800 calories; men who are moderately physically active require 2,200 to 2,400 calories. Women with an active lifestyle need 2,000 to 2,200 calories per day; men with an active lifestyle require 2,400 to 2,800.
Not all foods of the same calorie value provide the same nutrients. A nutritionally balanced diet at any age requires not only counting calories, but being aware of the nutrient value of each food. MyPyramid, a website with nutritional information for all age groups provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is a valuable resource for determining caloric and nutrient values of food.
The National Institute on Aging offers examples of foods with the same caloric values, but very different nutrient content: A tablespoon of peanut butter, a medium banana, one cup of 1-percent milk are nearly equal in calorie count, but a banana offers more potassium than the other two, milk offers more calcium than the other two "and a banana is likely to make you feel fuller than a tablespoon of peanut butter."
A study published in the October 2006 edition of "The Journal of Nutrition" found that elder self-neglect is the most common form of elder abuse. In times of neglect, researchers note, the elderly are particularly likely to get less of the folates, vitamin D and antioxidants that are crucial to staying healthy. Meal planning for the elderly should address these issues by ensuring that a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is included in the diet.