Nutrition Article:

Older adults can eat well even when eating alone

Living alone can be hazardous to your diet.

That probably comes as no surprise to older adults who find they have little incentive to eat well when there's no one else to share their table. One of the primary pleasures of food, after all, is social.

Living alone can be as much a barrier to healthy eating as illness, financial difficulties and a lack of mobility, according to the Healthy Aging Partnership, a coalition of more than 35 Puget Sound-area not-for-profit and public organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of older adults.

HAP notes that older adults living alone often develop poor eating habits at a time in their lives when it's more important than ever to eat right. A diet rich in nutrients helps prevent osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other problems that tend to increase as we age age.

The Partnership offers the following tips for healthier, more enjoyable solo eating:

  • Add meal appeal with spices (hold the salt), herbs, variety and color. A diet that follows the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid (fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein) is more interesting and provides the nutrients that help fight disease and the effects of aging.
  • Set the table with your best dishes and play your favorite music to remind yourself that dining can be leisurely and pleasurable.
  • Invite a friend over for dinner or eat out at a family-style restaurant where groups of people sit together. Or, go to your local senior center for a low-cost and balanced meal with other older adults.
  • For convenience, buy healthy frozen entrees, canned foods and ready-to-eat packaged foods, such as bagged salad greens and vegetables. Be sure to check labels for sodium and fat content.
  • Prepare a big pot of stew or cook a casserole that can be divided into smaller portions and frozen.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals if you don't have the appetite for three large ones, but take time for breakfast. For variety, try adding milk to your favorite dry cereal and heating it in the microwave.
  • Prevent tooth decay by selecting food and beverages that are low in sugar.
  • If you're on a tight budget, compare prices, shop less frequently and stick to a list.
  • Make low-cost foods, including beans, rice and frozen vegetables, the foundation of meals.
  • Consider applying for the Washington Basic Food Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program). Depending on your income, you may qualify for up to $115 a month.

For more information about nutrition and other issues related to life as an older adult, call HAP's free and confidential information and help line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464).

HAP is supported by its partner agencies and by the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation and Public Health Seattle-King County.