Administrators of senior living communities have to make wellness choices for their residents every day; the good news is that some of the choices are easy.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” -Benjamin Franklin
When working with the dietitians, cooking staff, and seniors in your community, having some knowledge around nutrition will help all involved make better results-driven health choices for the residents.
The Power of Perception
Everyone knows they should “eat right.” Most know that eating fatty red meat and processed cheese is like sucking butter right into coronary arteries. Most also know that drinking water and eating kale is great for digestion and minerals. The thing is, one of those menu items is part of our culture, and seen as a treat and a delight, while the other is seen as a chore and un-enjoyable. Much goes into the perception of food and that comes out as a choice, and often the wrong one. There is great power in changing that perception. Having kale out on the table isn’t enough to get people to want to eat it. It has to be delicious and easy to eat.
“Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.” -Doug Larson
It’s unclear how veggies got such a bad rap, but it’s never too late to give them the attention and credit they are due. Give them star status. Challenge your meal planners to make vegetables the main event, like fire-roasted artichokes, sautéed portabellas, or butternut soup with pumpkin seed garnish. Sounds yum, doesn’t it?
There’s such a bounty of vegetarianism the world over, that it isn’t difficult to come up with flavorful, easy-to-digest, options on the menu for the week. You don’t have to skip the animal protein either, but it doesn't have to be the focus. You can easily serve up some chicken salad on the side of an avocado wrap served on lettuce with dressing. This way the protein and veggies are prepared in ways that make you want to eat them both.
Eating Time = Party Time
While having meal times be social events doesn’t sound like a nutrition tip, it may be one of the most important ones.
When we age and let “settling down” get the better of us, it’s easy to get stuck and sedentary. It’s then a short step to getting a sugary drink and a donut while we chill out in front of the T.V...again. Instead, when we eat with others, we can inspire each other to be better together, but make sure you aren’t just eating donuts together!
If you have the facilities, have a potluck once or twice a week. Get your residents excited about healthy food. You can have your kitchen staff come up with cooking contests. For example, who makes the best chili, soup, or smoothie. Perhaps giving participants a list of ingredients and each person is challenged to make the most flavorful dish they can out of them.
When you get your residents involved in the participation and preparation of food, it’s good for social bonding, health awareness, along with tasty, more creative dishes. You may have several seniors jumping at the chance to show off.
Social time eating is a tremendous opportunity for community building and health education.
Make the most of it.
The Nuts and Bolts: AKA Vitamins and Minerals
The National Institute of Aging recommends balanced, healthy diets for older adults and that supplementation should be reserved for those making poor food choices. So for when your residents aren’t quite “eating a rainbow,” here are the recommendations for older adults:.
- Vitamin D: 50-70 year olds need at least 600 IU every day, and less than 4,000. Over the age of 70, we need at least 800 IU. This means choosing dairy, fatty fish, and fortified cereals, on a daily basis. And don’t forget the sunshine!
- Vitamin B6: Men need 1.7 mg a day. Women need slightly less at 1.5 mg. Make sure menus are full of whole grains, fortified cereals, and healthy meats.
- Vitamin B12: All people need 2.4 mcg every day. Some over 50 have a harder time absorbing B12 which can lead to pernicious anemia. Symptoms of this include insomnia, lack of energy, and nervousness. Keep your staff alert to what may be a simple dietary deficiency if these behaviors come up. Mostly, B12 is found in animal products, so make sure your vegetarian choices still have high amounts of B12.
- Folate: All people need 400 mcg a day. This can be harder for the typical American diet as folate is primarily in dark leafy greens and legumes. Remember that chili contest? This would be a great way to get in the right amount of folate, add kale in with the beans too!
- Calcium: Women over 51 need 1,200 mg a day and men require slightly less. Given the reduction in bone density as we age, calcium is arguably the most important mineral to consider. It’s in dark leafy greens, sea vegetables, and dairy products. See a trend here?
“The easiest diet is, you know, eat vegetables, eat fresh food. Just a really sensible healthy diet like you read about all the time.” -Drew Carey
Something to Chew On
Many older adults have dentures or extensive dental work. Seniors can struggle with sensitive gums and mouths that tire easily. This goes back to having soft, flavorful food choices. While attractive and healthy, residents may shy away from a salad bar with giant chunks of veggies not wanting a tired mouth by the end of lunch.
Hydration and Digestion
Digestion slows way down when we’re older. As a result, older adults need more liquid and fiber to keep things moving. Make choices available that are softer, full of moisture, and easy to chew and swallow. Snack bars filled with high-quality liquid dairy, cottage cheese, and yogurt are yummy and inviting selections. Fresh berries, melon, citrus add flavor, color, and fiber to many dishes. Smoothies are an excellent treat and the fiber of the fruit (and vegetables!) can be added in without anyone even noticing.
Keeping hydrated is even more important than fiber. Remove sugary drinks, abundant caffeine, and soda. Make water attractive and tasty by adding lemon, lime, grapefruit, strawberry, or cucumber. You can get your staff to throw blueberries or raspberries into some ice cube trays for ice cubes with a flavorful treat as they melt. Consider sparkling water or herbal ice tea. If your staff wants to sweeten them, go for stevia, a natural sweetener without calories and that’s safe for diabetics without any harsh chemicals. Suddenly hibiscus mint tea made with sparkling water will sound like the best thing on the menu.
HUR understands that true wellness comes from a holistic health approach. A healthy diet, a balanced mind, and a moving body are three key items that unlock the true potential for the greatest quality of life. STRONG is AGELESS.