Friends were shocked when a very independent, accomplished 80-year-old widow sold her home and moved to much smaller quarters in an independent living complex. Before, during, and after her husband’s death, her days were filled with activities; but from almost the moment he died she told everyone she “dreaded” eating alone and being alone at night.

Preparing and eating healthy meals can be a big hurdle for people living alone. While older couples can enjoy each other’s company at meal time, the thought of eating alone is painful for some older widowed people, and dreaded by others. Still others cook and eat alone, although transportation to grocery stores can be a problem. In such instances, adult children can schedule a time (or two) each week to take parents grocery shopping (or hire someone to do this).

One widowed mother, on a fixed income (as are many), goes to the market with someone twice a week. Even so, her daughter buys extra groceries to share with her mother when items are on sale. Example: she buys 3 products on sale for $1.00 and gives the extras to her mother, who likes to cook. It enables her mother to have items she wouldn’t afford otherwise, while making reimbursement by a proud parent, who doesn’t want to accept “charity,” insignificant: “Mom, they were 3 for $1.00. I don’t need 30+ cents.” Dignity upheld.

This same daughter not only brings groceries during her weekly visits, but cooks with her mother, when time allows. She and her mother enjoy doing something real together and make delicious dishes, some of which are frozen in small portions. A famous writer said she wanted to participate in life– didn’t want to be a “passenger in life.” Doesn’t cooking make one a participant?

After Mother died, my father made his own breakfast. It was a contribution to his well-being that he could control. He made large breakfasts. I believe he thought they would sustain him through the day if necessary. The small meal suggestions for old people that we hear about were not applicable to Dad’s breakfasts; however, lunch was usually soup.

Those who prepare food for older people confirm: they like soup. Dad soon found favorites that he could easily heat up. Dinner was more problematical. Ladies invited him to dinner, but he as very choosey about accepting invitations. This is where being from a large family has benefits. He never turned down an invitation from family. I have remembered this, knowing there would come a time when my older, living-alone family members would appreciate a home-cooked meal.

Many older people have diet restrictions. We also know aging affects feeling thirsty; and not drinking adequate water can cause problems such as dehydration. Also people’s sense of taste can decline with age. Returning from my childhood home last weekend I sat on a plane next to a man who works for a fragrance and flavors company; and I learned a food product’s taste can be enhanced by adding fragrance and flavor. Salt (sodium) is one of those added “flavors.” Since many people are on salt-restricted diets I wondered why salt? Answer: it’s a less expensive way to enhance taste.

The wise octogenarian in my book, while a fan of frozen dinners, restricts her salt intake. She keeps a week’s supply of frozen dinners in the freezer, choosing them carefully, she says, after reading the sodium content, as well as fats, sugar etc. . She admits it initially takes time to find the brands suited to her needs and taste, but once found these well-balanced dinners to which she adds a salad make a tasty, nutritious meal.

Question: How can adult children enhance their parents’ nutrition? Suggestions:

  1. Give a “Fruit of the Month” gift for special occasions (wwwHarry and David).
  2. Bring cheese and crackers and/or fruit, instead of candy and cookies, when visiting older people
  3. Bring sugar-free drinks and treats for those on sugar-restricted diets.
  4. Grocery stores carry flavored bottled water which can incent even non-water drinkers to drink.(and they are sugar-free)
  5. Nutritious snacks like peanut butter filled pretzels with or without salt are available at Trader Joe’s.
  6. Meals on Wheels supplies a complete hot meal daily.
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