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Meal Planning Tips for Caregivers

Coordinating healthy menu options that address the nuances around a loved one’s specific health concerns can be challenging for caregivers. While proper nutrition is vital for every age and gender, maintaining a healthy eating plan for individuals coping with one or multiple chronic conditions like COPD, CHF or diabetes can be especially complicated. Many seniors struggle to prepare meals from scratch themselves and rely on frozen entrees. As a care provider, only you will know what’s truly in the fridge, and only you can ensure your loved one’s access to a healthy menu.

(Source: Residential Home Health)

A healthy diet can make a huge difference in a senior’s well being and daily function. Healthy food offers nutrients that are crucial to support an aging body, including bones, skin, organ health, detoxification, and immune support; healthy food also has healing properties; and of course it fuels the body and provides energy to get through the day. In addition to the obvious physical value of healthy foods, everyone knows food is often associated with companionship, which is truly invaluable to a senior, who may be lonely and in need of company.

So as a caregiver, please do not underestimate the value of intentional meal planning for your loved one. To help you along, here are some meal planning tips for caregivers:

1. Include your loved one.

This isn’t just about you serving them; remember, meals are as much a social and companionship thing as they are an eating thing – sometimes even more so. Sit down and ask your loved one what foods they like.

Consider taking your loved one with you to the market and make an outing out of it. (But don’t shop on an empty stomach – you’ll be tempted to buy junk foods.) Let them help you prepare the food, and eat together so they can enjoy your company. You might find it very refreshing yourself, as it gives you time to reconnect on a personal level rather than a “business” level.

2. Variety is the spice of life.

Try and choose a variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy proteins such as yogurt, eggs, chicken breast, and fish. Buy as much fresh food as possible and avoid packaged, processed foods and frozen entrees (“TV dinners”). Keep fruits and veggies washed, as well as nuts, cheese, and other healthy snacks ready to eat.

The following list of foods from Interim Healthcare are known to be especially beneficial to a senior’s aging body:

  • Oatmeal and eggs. Oatmeal is full of fiber and can fight against heart disease. Eggs are packed with vitamins and minerals. Both foods are soft and easy to eat.
  • Yogurt is loaded with vitamins and calcium which is needed to prevent osteoporosis.
  • Blueberries and apples – antioxidants and vitamins.
  • Fish and chicken, which are low in fat and high in protein.
  • Broccoli, sweet potatoes and squash are loaded with vitamins.
  • Soy and rice – helps with bone health and a complex carbohydrate.
  • Dark chocolate in moderation can boost your good cholesterol and lower blood pressure.

3. Be creative.

Diminished taste and smell are not uncommon for seniors to experience, whether due to aging, medications, or treatments, so keep that in mind when selecting foods. Find fun and creative recipes that include a variety of foods and flavors, and be generous with the spices (they not only add flavor, but have many health benefits!).

And do your homework, too! For example, lemon and other citrus fruits help combat the cottonmouth that chemo patients often experience. Good to know, right? Chances are, there are other foods that could provide relief or healing to your loved one. Do some research online or at the library, and ask your loved one’s doctor, nurse, or dietician for more ideas.

4. Reach out.

Bottom line, we understand being a caregiver is a challenging and often exhausting job. It can be a thankless one, too. Don’t forget to take care of your own health by drinking plenty of water, eating healthy foods, getting adequate sleep, exercising, and taking time to do things you enjoy.

Rely on other family caregivers for great ideas and support. Google “family caregiver support” for resources, opportunities to connect with other caregivers, and support groups in your community.

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