Help Aging Parents: The Food a 98-year-old Buys to Cook for Herself

Trader Joe's West Hartford 2

Last night we took 98-year-old R out to dinner. They say evenings are a lonely time for people living alone and that’s no doubt true for many. Perhaps because R has been widowed so long, being alone at night is normal and relaxing–a time when she can eat dinner while enjoying her favorite TV programs.

Nevertheless, she loves going out for a meal–usually takes half of it home because, it seems, older people eat less. I touched on this recently when I wrote about our Feb. 28th lunch.  Also–if you missed it–do read  “What a 97-year-old Eats”, my March 5, 2011 post when R was 97. There’s good information that I won’t repeat here.

Last night, after dinner, R needed some groceries. She requested going to Trader Joe’s. With her shopping list in hand, we were efficient. Here’s how she works/thinks everything out.

First, she makes everything as easy as possible when it comes to meals. Groceries are heavy, so she gives thought to the size/quantity she buys–always checking dates. If she’s with someone who can carry a heavy gallon of milk with a late future date, she’ll buy it. Otherwise, she buys a carton that weighs less. This is a heads up when we shop for/with parents…….get the heavy stuff if it won’t spoil.

Vegetables and Fruit

R eats three vegetables and three fruits daily because, she says, that’s what you’re supposed to do. Trader Joe’s “Healthy 8 chopped veggie mix” (broccoli, carrots, green and red cabbage, jicama, green bell pepper, radish, and celery”) precipitated R’s wanting to go to Trader Joe’s that night. “Whoever thought up the chopped salad should get a medal,” she exclaims. “Makes it possible to have good vegetables every day.”

“I’ll add these little tomatoes,” she says, picking up the plastic box, “and I’m getting a can of the sliced black olives–they’re cheaper than the whole olives and it saves me cutting them up–sometimes I add these to the salad–gives extra flavor and they’re healthy.” R. explains that she puts all her salad fixings, with dressing, in a container with lid (like the one her take-home food from the restaurant is in), and shakes. No mess. Salad ready.

R steams a few vegetables–asparagus and artichokes–when the price is right and the price was right for the artichokes. “I have a strainer thing you put them in–in the pot, cover, and steam. It’s simple.” And then R adds: “Some of the prices are terrible so I can always eat frozen or canned vegetables or canned fruit. Every day I eat a banana ’cause it’s a fruit–and usually have orange juice I’ve diluted with some water to make it milder.” That’s 2 easy fruits.

R’s meals usually consist of one item that simply needs heating–in the oven or on the stove. The rest of the meal preparation is even easier or needs no preparation. It’s quick, there’s plenty of nutritious food, and little mess.

Her first meal of the day this year is usually brunch (it’s a larger meal, part breakfast and part lunch) around 11:30. (Last year she ate breakfast.) She says she uses what’s “on hand…wholesome, filling and good.” It could be cold cereal; a slice or two of a cold roasted chicken (purchased a day or two before at the grocery store) on one slice of 8-12 grain or whole wheat bread with a lettuce leaf and Smart Balance “butter;” or she could heat up a bowl of soup; make a big salad or add a small salad or any combination thereof, depending on her appetite. “Now and then a hot dog,” she confesses, quickly adding “But you know I’m careful about salt…just because I think that’s healthy. No one ever restricted my salt.”

Snacks, dinner, and dessert follow on Saturday.