Q3 MON Seniors Cooking1

beef stew with potato and carrot in blue plate

If you live alone, you know it can be hard to get excited about preparing a meal to eat by yourself. With the time it takes to cook a dish that generates too many leftovers, along with a pile of dirty dishes, it hardly seems worthwhile.

But, there’s a lot to be said for cooking a healthy dish to dine on alone.

You have only yourself to please. There’s no one to reprimand you for enjoying your meal on the living room sofa. And there’s the sense of accomplishment you’ll get from knowing you didn’t reach for a bowl of cereal or a fast-food meal. Also, you’re less likely to sit down to a big feast, which isn’t something older adults usually want anyway.

A lower food drive

Shelly Smoker cooks dinner every night for her elderly friend, Katherine, who lives alone. Smoker says Katherine only wants small portions, and she often worries that she isn’t eating enough. “She doesn’t have much of an appetite,” Smoker says.

Dietitian Liz Veri says Katherine’s small appetite is common among older adults. You may find your hunger decreasing as you age for a number of reasons, including the medications you take and not moving as much.

“It just makes sense,” Veri says. “As we age, we’re not as active, so we don’t burn as many calories. Some antibiotics also alter your sense of taste and smell, and even your favorite foods don’t appeal to you.”

Reset your mindset

You’re cooking for one. You’re not even that hungry. So, don’t worry about making a big meal. And definitely don’t think you have to settle for frozen dinners or pre-packaged single-serve meals. Instead, Veri suggests simply reframing your notion of what the ideal meal is to you.

“Large meals are a thing of the past for people of any age,” she says. “Think tuna, turkey and even peanut butter as great sources of protein and go from there—and keep it simple.”

Smoker prepares tuna and chicken salad sandwiches for Katherine on sliced Hawaiian mini dinner rolls. “It’s the perfect portion size for her,” Smoker says.

Also, eggs, Veri says, are “the perfect food for seniors—a great source of protein, neatly packed in individual containers, and they are incredibly versatile.”

You can also make simple soups and stews in the slow cooker and freeze what’s left over in single-serving containers to save for another day.

Soups are a great way to incorporate a variety of vegetables and other nutritious ingredients all in one bowl. Smoker says Katherine especially relishes a savory bowl of soup, so Smoker cooks them to meet her nutritional needs.

“My stuffed pepper soup is her favorite,” Smoker says. “And I can feel good knowing she’s getting protein and vegetables in just one serving.”