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. 

Edible/Drinkable Valentine’s Day Gifts

I put my senior advisors to work for this post and we’ve come up with ideas for bringing pleasure to aging parents on Valentine’s Day. Today we feature Edibles and Drinkables. Makeables (things you make), and Nursing Home ideas follow.


Older people–aging parents and grandparents–welcome something special to please their taste buds, especially when they no longer drive, have less money for luxuries or just enjoy indulging. That’s why serious indulgences (things they probably wouldn’t buy for themselves) plus a few healthy indulgences make perfect Valentine’s Day gifts.


La Duree’s macaroons are the gold standard for macaroons, which have become popular in the US. Although very expensive, people in NY line up to buy them from Laduree’s small shop. Their varieties of fillings are delicious, amazingly capturing the essence of the chosen flavor, but are not appropriate for people who shouldn’t have sugar. These macaroons aren’t shipped in the US as far as I know. However Fauchon, a top French food retailer with a US presence, offers macaroons, and takes orders on-line. In addition, Bissinger’s, a “handcrafted chocolatier” in St. Louis, USA since 1853, makes French macaroons and offers on-line ordering. That said, you can find ordinary macaroons at local bakeries and French macaroons at French bakeries.

Check out Laduree and Bissinger’s websites.  Near the top left of Bissinger’s site, click “Valentine’s Day VIEW ALL,  for macaroons, cookies and candy.

Who doesn’t like home-made cookies! If you bake, so much the better. If not, buy bakery cookies or check out Trader Joe’s cookies if a store is near. Breakfast pastries and coffee cakes are additional suggestions–freshly baked or frozen.

Individual pies, small cakes, cupcakes, decorated for Valentine’s Day, are always a hit. And we know the value of eye appeal.


We know our parents’ favorites. Sr. Advisor R says, “I’m always glad when someone sends–or brings–me candy. I wouldn’t buy it for myself.”


Sr. Advisors think jams and jellies in little jars are welcome gifts for those living alone. There’s variety and they won’t get old as quickly. Makes sense, doesn’t it.


Fruit baskets which–if we make them–are easily (and less expensively) put together. Think red fruits (strawberries, apples), combined with purple and green grapes and possibly more exotic fruits (kiwis, mango), bananas, tangerines and/or a pineapple plus dried fruits and packages of nuts.  And chances are, elderly parents have plenty of baskets if they have been hospitalized within the last decade and still live in their homes.  Why not borrow one, if you don’t have your own supply.


Gifting bottles of flavored waters serves 2 purposes: older people often don’t drink enough (they don’t feel thirst as younger people do); they taste good and are good for hydration. Especially if parents take pills, we know drinking lots of water is important..

R thinks “hot chocolate mix in a can makes a wonderful, comfort food gift, especially for a man.”

A fine bottle of wine or liquor, case or 6-pack of beer (micro-brew?) are other options.

Tea (canisters or boxes)–always popular with tea drinkers. Starbuck’s VIA coffee packets are handy and pricey (Costco has packaged the Columbia coffee single servings in many VIA packets [can’t remember how many] for around $15-$16–no doubt a good buy). Older people may hesitate to buy these “luxuries” for themselves. Both tea bag packets and Via packets can be incorporated into a Valentine–so can gift cards. You’ll see easy instructions on Tuesday’s Valentine’s post, thanks to Martha Stewart.

“Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well.


What Food Should a 97-year-old Eat?

“What should 97-year-old people eat to stay healthy?”

Who better to ask this question of than 97-year-old Sr. Advisor, R, whose broken hip recovery has been followed in my blog this year. While the following has worked for R, it may not work for everyone. Nevertheless, R. shared the following in a quick phone call.

First, she eats “very simply.” Breakfast consists of oat meal or cheerios, with fat-free milk, fresh fruit, and sometimes toast–raisin bread, whole wheat or milti-grain (“never white bread”). She has 2-3 helpings of fresh fruit daily–sometimes berries or banana with her cereal and/or orange juice with pulp. (Note: frozen fruits and vegetables are frozen at their peak of perfection and are said to have the same nutritional value as fresh–and even more than fresh, if the fresh have been sitting around for a while.)

Living in her own home and cooking for herself, she buys frozen dinners–“Eating Right” (a Safeway product), and “Healthy Choice,” (available at most grocery stores).  She especially likes the large variety of dinners “Eating Right” offers. Since the dinners can be expensive, she looks for the sales; sometimes it’s less expensive to buy 3 at a time, she says. She finds it comforting to know she has a supply in her freezer.

R makes a green salad nightly to accompany dinner and ends with dessert. “Eating Right” makes 100 calorie ice cream in new flavors–an alternative to yogurt with fruit. She especially likes Trader Joe’s Lite Greek Yogurt, to which she often adds a bit of Smucker’s “no artificial sweetener,” Sweet Orange reduced-sugar marmalade or some jam. She likes the fact that yogurt supplies additional calcium. 

We know R reads labels for calorie count. She also checks grams (g. and mg.) of fat, cholesterol, sugar, sodium and fiber. While she has no problems that necessitate reduced sugar or salt, she “never overdoes.” That said, she loves candy, “always has some in the house, but eats it in moderation– 1-2 pieces, depending on size”.

The frozen dinners, she says, may have too much sodium for people on sodium-restricted diets.  She has always watched her salt intake because she knows salt isn’t good for you, not because a doctor has said she should. So, for example, she prefers low-fat cheese because it’s less rich (also has less sodium and “you get used to the taste”) and lite mayonnaise.

She eats a lot of fish; avoids rich and fatty food. (The frozen dinners she selects are no problem in this regard.) Even if she initially loves the taste, she has learned to avoid food that “gives her discomfort” after a meal, and that’s the rich and fatty food…although she loves a good hamburger now and then.  But that’s the point, she says, “once or twice–now and then”–not as a regular diet.

R never drank coffee, likes hot tea in cold weather, and drinks a lot of water.  We know older people don’t get as thirsty as young people, but still need to drink a lot of water daily to remain healthy (and give medications the best chance to do their job). Check with doctor for daily recommended number of 8 oz. glasses.

We should know our parents’ dietary restrictions. Making it easy for aging parents to get the nutrition they need is another way to help parents age well.

Do we want to schedule a time to take them to the grocery store on a regular basis and help carry in the groceries? And when we do our own grocery shopping and see a food item they like on sale, is it helpful to buy it for them?  Of course, and let them reimburse you if they wish.  Affirms independence–and dignity. 
Bon Appetite.

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