Aging Parents–Eating Healthy: How/What 98-year-old R Prepares for Meals

“I don’t cook anymore. I’m not interested”

I like to think aging parents who are relatively healthy, live fairly independently and have decent mental ability can make good decisions about eating healthy. But then don’t we know people our own age who ignore healthy eating? Is it part of human nature to indulge or, on the other hand, to simply forget the importance of eating regular, nutritious meals? Do older people think supplementing with Sustacal or Ensure qualifies as a meal?

You may recall J, in the driving post, saying “no-one (referring to aging drivers) wants to be treated like an infant.” Also haven’t we learned that suggestions from adult children–unless asked for–may not be welcome? With this in mind, below is Sr. Advisor R’s quick, easy, no-mess, tasty, healthy meal-preparation strategy.

98-year-old R looks forward to sitting down to a meal, while she watches the news or a favorite TV program.  Can we diplomatically suggest her model, especially to those who are non-driving and living alone–without earning the Indian name “Five Horses?” (It’s a joke out here in the West–“Nag, nag, nag, nag, nag.”) OK. Here’s the information.

Meals continued: Dinner and desserts.

R’s dinner consists of a main course–often a well-balanced, heated frozen dinner, along with a salad (see Tuesday’s post) and dessert. Her favorite frozen dinners: Eating Right (Safeway brand) or Healthy Choice. Less often the main course consists of left-overs (after a restaurant meal), a rotisserie chicken purchased at the grocery store, a hot dog or frozen meat balls from a “big plastic bag” that a still-driving Swedish friend (in her mid-80’s) brings from Ikea.  In these last instances, R may heat a can of soup, bake a potato (takes longer than 15 minutes but sometimes she likes to do this) to accompany the main course, and make a salad. Salad usually contains TJ’s chopped veggies. Low fat cottage cheese and peaches or another canned fruit provide a change.

R’s sweet tooth is indulged at dessert time. Eating Right’s 100 calorie probiotic lite ice cream cups are a favorite Safeway product–4 small tubs and a wooden “spoon” are in the pack. (R prefers the mocha, but says pomegranate is nice.) Trader Joe’s package of 8 little ice cream bars, 1/2 raspberry, 1/2 vanilla are also favorites, as are their Meyer Lemon Cookie Thins.

While Kozy Shack isn’t a brand R is familiar with, I well remember an elderly friend–a widower–always asked me to get Kozy Shack tapioca and chocolate puddings for him when I went marketing. It may be an Eastern product, but it’s worth looking into. (Sugar-free puddings also available.)

For older people who don’t drive to seriously think about making a nutritious meal, the ingredients need to be within reach. R usually has at least a week’s worth of neatly stacked frozen dinners on the shelf of her small freezer above the refrigerator and always ice cream.

Low-fat milk, cereal, a loaf of 8-12 grain or whole wheat bread, cans of soup, peanut butter, bananas, orange juice, and Trader Joe’s organic, chopped, veggie salad mix are staples. Going to Trader Joe’s, to get that veggie salad mix after dinner last Monday triggered this post. And thus we’ve come full circle.

P.S. Lisa’s shared an observation about her grandmother, commenting in Tuesday’s post: “food preparation in 87+ year olds is low on the priority list. Even if they’ve enjoyed cooking for years, as they age – they enjoy it less (and of course, they’re usually only cooking for 1).”  Lisa may be expressing  a universal truism.

But there’s hope. The quote at the top of this post, is from R, who says she “doesn’t cook,” she just “heats up” the food.

PSS. A head’s up if elderly parents shop at Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s shopping carts are evidently less heavy than those at other markets. If heavy groceries aren’t centered in the cart it can tip over and cause an aging parent to fall with it–as it did with R awhile back. (Since we live far away, we only learned of this last Monday.) R wasn’t hurt, but her neighbor–much younger than we–had taken her shopping and was upset. R said it’s a lesson: frail, older people should be aware of the need to center heavy groceries in shopping carts.