Healthy Eating for Healthy Aging


Planning ahead, shopping carefully, and preparing food at home are ways to help maintain our health as we age.

Planning, preparing, and eating healthy meals can be challenging for many older adults. Some may not be motivated to prepare meals for just one or two people. For others, poor health may limit the ability to shop and prepare meals. Many medications may interfere with how food tastes, so that favorite meals no longer appeal. Finally, because many older adults live on a fixed income, it may be difficult to afford healthy foods.

Although it may be challenging, good nutrition becomes very important as we age. Eating on a regular schedule every day and preparing meals with vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, and fruit improves energy levels, may lower blood pressure, and contributes to overall better health.

Here are some tips to help plan and prepare healthful meals that are easy on the budget as well.

Plan well.

  • Plan for good nutrition every day. For healthy meals, choose variety, balance and color.
  • Cook from scratch rather than buying convenience or prepared foods. Cooking at home lets you control the amount of fat and salt as well.
  • Choose recipes with similar ingredients to simplify shopping and preparation.
  • Plan meals around staple foods such as milk, eggs, bread, tortillas, flour, peanut butter, beans, lentils, peas, canned tomatoes, tuna, rice, pasta, potatoes, garlic, and onions.
  • Before you shop, plan several days of recipes. Check cupboards and pantry and make a shopping list before you go. Don't buy items that are not on the list.
  • Do not buy too much. This will lead to waste if the items spoil.
  • Try bulk food bins for a grains, pasta, cereals and spices. You can buy exactly what you need and usually at a lower cost.

For more articles on good food and healthy aging, visit the AgeWise King County Issue Archive.

Use less meat and more beans and legumes to lower saturated fat and cholesterol.

  • Plan and prepare meals that use less meat and more dried beans as a source of protein. Canned pinto, black, red, and garbanzo beans are easy to use. Rinse well before using to reduce sodium.
  • If you want to purchase meats, buy family size packs and portion out the amounts—freeze anything you won't use.

Include fruits and vegetables daily to add essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

  • Use fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season and affordable.
  • Frozen vegetables are a healthy alternative and may be more convenient to use. You can portion out what you need and save the rest for another meal.
  • Even canned vegetables can be part of a healthy meal plan. Drain and rinse before using to reduce excess salt. Purchase no-added-salt varieties if possible.

Choose whole grains.

  • Whole grain bread and pasta are good choices for older adults. They add fiber to help keep our bodies regular as well as lower our cholesterol.

Even with careful shopping and meal planning, sometimes older adults may find that they do not have enough money to eat healthy meals. There are many food assistance programs for people of all ages, and some specifically for seniors. Most senior centers offer a daily lunch that is free or very low cost. Many communities have Community Kitchens or Dinners where older adults can receive an evening meal. Many sites encourage participants to help prepare meals and take home leftovers as well. The Basic Foods Program (food stamps or EBT) provides a monthly benefit that can be used to purchase food at almost all groceries or markets.

Planning ahead, shopping carefully, and preparing food at home are ways to help maintain our health as we age. Variety, balance, and color (as in colorful fruits and vegetables!) are important for creating healthful meals at home. 

Janet L. Kapp, RD, MPH, CDE, a nutrition consultant and diabetes educator with Public Health—Seattle & King County, will present Good Food, Good Health, Good Life on a Budget at the March 8, 2013 Advisory Council for Aging & Disability Services hunger forum.