Please note that I am not a nutritionist or medical professional. The information below is simply to provide ideas for ways to improve the meal opportunities for those in their later years who are no longer inspired to cook in the way they used to or are no longer physically or mentally capable of doing so. It maybe, that they suddenly find themselves having to enter the kitchen for the first time after losing someone who always took responsibility for meal preparation.
There are so many factors that can affect what food will work for someone, it might be personal tastes, medication restrictions, physical or mental restrictions or financial restrictions. Therefore some of the suggestions below may simply not be workable. It is therefore very much a trial and error case for most and of course if it is affecting their health it would be best to talk to their GP and/or nutritionist for professional guidance.
For anyone reading this, I welcome feedback especially if you have found some solutions of your own.
Pretty much a staple diet for many. Warburton Thins - these are a great option for those with a small appetite. Available in brown, mixed and white. Have fresh or toast, they defrost quickly and can also be toasted from frozen. Making sandwiches from these means those with smaller appetites can get a better ratio of nutrients from well selected fillings, rather than filling up on the bread alone.
Mixed salad bags - these can be great if you know that they will eat it all in a couple of days after opening as they only have 2/3 days best before date. Alternatively, Little Gem style lettuces give you more leaves and they last a lot longer.
Salad delicatessen – many Supermarkets have a large selection so you can choose as much or as little of whatever takes your fancy.
Potted mixed bean salads, beetroot salads, cous cous etc might offer some enticing new flavours, allowing them to just add a tablespoon to their plate.
Frozen options - whilst fresh is nice, if not eaten quickly and in season then frozen is just as good and full of nutrients. Steamed is best.
Potatoes – some might find peeling and preparing to be troublesome, there are some made up potato mash options in the chiller section but the one recommended to me, did take 45 mins to reheat correctly.
These tend to be around 450g, look around for smaller portion options, I found Annabel Karmel chilled meals which are targeted at children with 12 day best before date and only 200g portions. Sainsbury’s have some interesting options in their ‘Basics’ range.
Also look at frozen meals specially prepared by on-line companies such as Oakhouse and Wiltshire Farm Foods who offer a large selection in 2 or 3 different portion sizes. These are pricey but sold as nutritionally well balanced and very convenient as bought in bulk and delivered to your door.
Standard size and some in mini size, can be frozen and very versatile. Also found some with just a pastry base, no sides – for those who might find excessive pastry too stodgy for them.
Baked Beans and varieties of - protein, excellent shelf life and there are some easy to open packaging options now.
Tinned fish - especially the oily fish such as sardines and mackerel are full of beneficial nutrients. They have a long shelf life, easy open tins and very versatile (sandwiches, toasted or with salad)
Soups – tinned and fresh options such as Covent Garden and many others. Many of the pots also become useful if you make your own soups. Good shelf life and wide selection, but why not make a batch and freeze up, healthier and everyone has an old family favourite recipe.
Noodles and pasta – dried or fresh, good shelf life and can be turned in a number of easy meal options.
There are huge selections available now, many with a fairly good shelf life.
Frozen – quick and easy to cook up with good shelf life.
Fresh cooked/smoked fishes – these can be had cold or warmed up
Tinned – great shelf life and big selection.
Prepared fruit salads in ‘fruit and veg’ chillers – might add some balance to their diet without any effort. Also look at the tinned fruit options, fruit pots found in the chiller units and also frozen fruits for making a quick compote at home.
Yogurts - pudding or breakfast option, look at the Children’s options too.
Jelly pots – or make your own
Various packs of mini cheeses for variation and freshness. Grated cheese options if mobility is an issue, however consume within 3 days after opening, but a 4 to 6 week best before date if unopened.
Watch out for sell by dates - make sure you check the shelves for the items with a longer shelf life.
Encourage them to make up batches of their favourite dishes to divide up into meal size portions and freeze (use containers that can go in the microwave, oven and freezer if possible.)
If they are not up to this, are you or someone else in the family or friend group able to either assist them to produce these or who can do so at their own home and drop them off? Do they have some willing home help that can assist? Ideally use their recipes rather than your own unless of course they know and love your recipe. The fact that it is their recipe can make it more inviting to them.
Suggestions that freeze well:
Lasagne, bolognaise, stews, pies, chilli, cottage pie, shepherds pie, fish pie, curries. Note changing pallets to ensure that dishes still appeal to them, medication and treatments can change palate and digestion, my mother had to go on oxygen and she said some foods became tasteless and others suddenly too spicy
No harm in going for those bargains of fresh meat, but if you are going to freeze some, give consideration to what portion sizes to freeze in. For example, if you buy 6 chicken breasts, maybe freeze them in pairs or singularly depending on what you plan to make with them. No point in having to defrost 6 breasts and then either throwing away out of date ones or eating chicken for 6 days on the trot.
Ideally choose those that are suitable for the available cooking methods, something that can go in the microwave and oven is best if you have both. Ramekins are particularly useful as they are about a perfect portion size for the smaller eaters and are microwave, oven and freezer proof. Make up labels that identify what is in it and when it was made. Age related memory issues or dementia needs to be considered, it might be wise to make up some easy to read and follow basic cooking information too e.g. name of dish. Defrost for 1 day in fridge. Oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes. Suggest beans or carrots with.
Preparations for Winter
Most of us can comfortably survive missing a few proper meals, but the elderly can deteriorate quite quickly if they are not getting a balanced diet every day, so it is important to consider this. If someone is still independently living, then they could easily be caught out by bad weather stopping them from getting out, even worse stopping support getting to them. Also, what options are there if there is a power failure? If they still have a gas hob, can it be lit manually? Are there meal options that can be cooked on gas alone? Are there meal options to be eaten cold? Is there a good size thermos flask available that someone nearby could fill up with tea, coffee, soup to keep them going?