For Older Adults: When You're Cooking for One

If you are an older adult and live alone, you may not be giving your meals and nutrition enough thought. This can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, weight loss or gain, constipation and energy loss.

You can avoid nutritional problems by selecting the right foods, making mealtimes more enjoyable and adjusting your cooking habits, says the National Institute on Aging.

Cooking and nutrition tips

  • Don't skip breakfast. Missing the most important meal of the day can make it less likely you'll get all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need. To make it easier to start your day right, have things on hand that don't require cooking or a lot of fuss. Examples include high-fiber cereal with bran, fresh fruit, fruit juices and bagels. (To keep bagels and bread from spoiling, store them in the freezer in individual servings. You can store cereal in the freezer, too.)

  • Eat nutritious midmorning and midafternoon snacks. Doing so provides extra energy and will boost your nutrient total. Try apple slices spread with peanut butter or cottage cheese with fresh fruit slices.

  • Healthy frozen dinners are fine, just not every day. For balanced nutrition, eat a small green salad with these meals.

  • If you use a cookbook, cut recipes in half. Serve yourself enough for one meal, then freeze the rest in serving size portions you can microwave.

  • Pay attention to serving sizes. To maintain a healthful weight as you age, you'll need to consume fewer calories.

  • Make every calorie count toward good nutrition. To do so, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. (You can keep a variety of frozen fruits and vegetables on hand, if fresh fruits and vegetables are liable to spoil before you can eat them.) Avoid high-fat or deep-fried foods. Eat lean protein such as chicken, fish and lean meats.

  • Take a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement. Many older people are deficient in vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin D. The best way to consume nutrients is through food, but you may need more vitamin D, calcium and folic acid than your diet can provide. Ask your health care provider about supplements if you think they may interfere with medications you may be taking.

  • Eat more fiber. Fiber can help prevent constipation. To consume more of it, eat more fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.

  • Keep meals interesting and appealing. As people age, smell and taste begin to diminish. Add more spices, herbs and lemon juice to foods to enhance the flavor.

  • If you have difficulty getting out to the store for groceries, consider signing up for Meals on Wheels or similar program. Most communities have such programs.

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