If you’re an adult child or a primary caregiver for an older adult, or if you’re a senior yourself, it can be stressful trying to create nutritious tasty meals. Sad to say, but when “healthy cooking” comes to mind, most people think “boring” or “tasteless.” But it doesn’t need to be that way.
There are several easy fixes for brightening up your meals, and you don’t have to skimp on flavor or nutrition.
Try to use fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible. The textures are usually crisper, and the colors are brighter, which make them more appetizing and usually healthier.
If you do need to save time, try some of these preserved options that have a longer shelf life. Canned tomatoes and frozen corn and green beans are often picked at the peak of freshness and preserved. Avoid canned green beans, though, which have a poor texture and flavor.
Canned beans like chickpeas can also be a healthy protein-rich timesaver. Chickpeas can be seasoned and roasted in the oven, blended into hummus or added to pasta and salads for variety. The options are endless.
When using canned or preserved food, always check labels to make sure there’s no added sugar or salt (or very little), which are often hiding in the small print.
Use seasonings in place of salt. Though salt is delicious, many seniors are told to watch their sodium intake so try to get familiar with the basic seasonings to avoid boring, bland food. Garlic, for example, is a seasoning that packs a powerful and nutritious punch, boasting manganese, selenium, Vitamin C, phosphorous, calcium, potassium, iron and copper. Fresh garlic’s sulphur-containing compound, Allicin, also has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Not to mention, it’s delicious. Garlic powder doesn’t contain allicin, but it does provide the flavor and is an easy salt substitute.
Another staple seasoning to consider is dried parsley, which offers a decent serving of potassium, folate and vitamin K, and a mild flavor that goes with almost any savory food. It also makes an excellent garnish and provides pretty color contrast.
There’s also cumin and cilantro for a Latin or southwestern flair, and oregano and basil for Italian-inspired dishes. Paprika and smoked paprika are also welcome additions for their bright red color and muted spicy kick.
And don’t forget good old black pepper. Ground or pre-ground pepper offers an oomph to any meal, though watch it if your loved one is sensitive to spicy food. An interesting fact about black pepper is that it’s a carminative, which means it discourages gas from forming in the intestines, making it easier to digest for seniors.
When cooking with oil, use sparingly. Though coconut oil has been recently debunked as a health food, many other types of oils are beneficial for a healthy diet, such as olive, canola, flaxseed, avocado, sesame and grapeseed. Unless you’re on a doctor-mandated low-fat diet, oils are beneficial and are known to support energy levels, cell growth, manufacturing hormones and to help the body absorb nutrients. Though we usually need fats, too much of a good thing is not healthy, so don’t go overboard. Greasy food can also be unappetizing and hard to digest for senior stomachs.
To start off, try cooking with a small amount of flavorful oils like olive for Mediterranean or Italian and sesame for Asian-inspired food. You can also try baking with more refined or neutral-flavored oils like canola or grapeseed.
Sweeten sparingly with low-glycemic or natural sweeteners. Avoid white sugar. If you need to sweeten a dish, try using a little honey or maple syrup, which both have lower glycemic indexes (they will not spike your blood sugar as quickly). Even so, use sweeteners sparingly.
You can always add fresh-cut fruit for both color and sweetness. Fruit is gorgeous and delicious in salads, served alongside meals, or even as dessert!
For diabetics, it’s best to check with a doctor or nutritionist on what sweeteners are allowed, though low-glycemic foods are usually considered safer, since they don’t raise your blood sugar as quickly.
Vanilla extract is also an excellent addition to desserts and smoothies. Coupled with a tiny bit of sweetener, vanilla extract brings a rich sweetness to healthy food.
Lastly, we recommend enjoying the meal with your loved one — instead of serving it to them. If you’re cooking for yourself, invite a friend of loved one! Many beautiful moments and interesting thoughts are shared over food in every culture. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn something new about them and enjoy each other’s company.
This information is provided by CarePatrol of Baltimore, a senior housing placement agency that serves the Baltimore city and county areas. If you or your loved one need to find a new home, consider talking to a CarePatrol housing placement specialist. They will sit down with you, assess your needs and financial situation, and offer the best options they can find. They are also available for tours and guidance during your final search. You can contact a specialist at (410) 844-0800, [email protected] or www.carepatrolbaltimore.com. You can also find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CarePatrolBaltimore.