Healthy eating can be a struggle at any age, but maintaining a balanced diet is an uphill battle for low-income seniors with limited access to fresh, nutritious foods, mobility issues, and financial constraints.
The impact of food for the elderly is significant. People who follow nutritional guidelines are generally healthier and have fewer medical bills. On the other hand, people who eat poorly can face chronic disease, depression, and even poor oral health.
It is worth practicing healthy eating,
However, many seniors find themselves with a fixed monthly income that requires careful budget planning. While junk foods are often the cheapest and easiest-to-access option, seniors can prevent diet-related illnesses without breaking the bank, even with recent increases in food prices.
Shelf stable staples
Regular grocery store runs are only sometimes feasible for seniors with mobility issues. Fresh produce can be expensive or difficult to access in some areas known as food deserts, typically urban areas lacking large supermarkets, and as a result offer limited access to quality fresh food at affordable prices.
Despite these challenges, there are affordable options that can help low-income seniors incorporate healthier foods into their diets.
Plus, when fresh produce is hard to come by, canned fruits like peaches and pineapples and low-sodium canned vegetables like green beans and carrots provide convenient alternatives to nutrient-dense, high-fiber food.
Some examples of low-cost, stable protein sources are dried beans and lentils or low-sodium canned beans and tuna.
Other options include shopping at discount stores, buying foods that are in season, and eating frozen fruits and vegetables. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, most frozen fruits and vegetables are frozen shortly after picking, retaining many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, meaning they’re just as nutritious as fresh or canned.
In the absence of natural fruits and vegetables, many turn to grab-and-go snacks like packaged chips and cookies. These options, however, contain high amounts of sodium and sugar which contribute to chronic disease.
Increasing food security for the elderly
Depending on individual circumstances, community resources such as food pantries, community gardens, and nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may also provide support.
Another option is local farmers’ markets, such as the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP), which provides low-income seniors in some areas with access to locally grown fruits, vegetables, honey and herbs.
One note: It’s important to be aware of SNAP changes in your state. As states reduce their COVID state of emergency, SNAP benefits could be reduced,
The nutritious plate
One tool that has proven effective in directing healthy food choices is the MyPlat approach”.
MyPlate emphasizes five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy. This approach divides a plate into four sections, half devoted to fruits and vegetables, a quarter to grains and a quarter to proteins.
By following the MyPlate approach, you stay focused on eating nutrient-dense foods. MyPlate also offers meal ideas and tips for improving overall health.
This resource serves as a visual guide for portion control and can be applied by older adults to practice mindful eating. Seniors can place a photo of the MyPlate visual guide on their refrigerators to remind them what to eat. Following MyPlate guidelines provides a healthy foundation for a well-balanced diet.
By adopting these solutions, low-income seniors can improve their well-being within a limited budget. It could be said that nutritious food offers a feast of hope for an older person who hopes to enjoy good health in his later years.
Laura Aberrant and Nicole Maslar are registered dietitians with Trinity Health PACE, serving low-income participants. All-inclusive aged care programs exist throughout the United States, with one in the Pennsylvania area.