October is the time of year when the weather gets cooler, the leaves change color and fall from the trees, and people swap out their summer short sleeves for autumn sweaters.
It’s also a time of year when people significantly change their eating habits. So, it’s a good opportunity for seniors, and those creating senior diet plans, to pause and think about diet and nutrition so that they stay well throughout the year.
Transitioning from Summer to Fall
Serafina Ranieri, a registered dietitian and Director of Nutrition, Health and Wellness for Unidine, the provider of meal services for Bethesda communities, said people switch from light summer meals and cool drinks to hearty comfort foods as the weather starts to become cooler.
“In the summer, people might eat a salad for dinner,” Ranieri says. “When fall and winter come, they start to eat things like casseroles, meatloaf, roasts, and soups or stews. Those foods can have more fat in them, so people need to think carefully about what they’re eating.”
Keys to Healthy Eating: Moderation & Color
Healthy eating doesn’t mean you can’t ever have the things you like to eat, Ranieri said. There are often ways to prepare fattier entrees to make them healthier, such as grilling or baking instead of deep frying. Fatty, calorie-dense foods aren’t forbidden, but they should always be eaten in moderation, she advises.
“Seniors are often ‘meat and potatoes’ people when it comes to the kind of meals they like to eat,” says Ranieri. “They don’t have to deny themselves their favorite foods, but portion control is the key. It’s also important to look at the plate and make sure you see a lot of colors when you sit down for a meal. You need to see a red vegetable and a green vegetable. Half of the plate should be color.”
Fresh vegetables become tougher to get during the cold weather months, but that’s alright, Ranieri said. Frozen and canned vegetables are fine – although, she stressed that senior shoppers and those creating senior diet plans should look for veggies labeled “low sodium” or “no sodium added” when purchased from the canned or frozen food section of their grocery store.
Staying Hydrated, Even as the Leaves Change
Besides fat intake, other things to watch for when creating senior diet plans include monitoring salt or sugar intake, and making sure they consume plenty of liquid. Ranieri said older folks usually drink and eat less than their younger counterparts.
“There’s a natural tendency to consume less liquid when you’re indoors more, getting less physical activity,” Ranieri said. “You need to replace the cool drinks of summer with an increase in the number of hot liquids, like tea, coffee, and soups.”
Other alternate sources of liquid for senior diet plans, according to nutrition.gov, include the following fruits and vegetables: apricots, bell peppers, broccoli, cherries, grapes, grapefruit, lettuce, nectarines, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes and watermelon.
Cultivating Healthy Seasonal Fare for Seniors’ Diets
Unidine is trying a healthier spin on comfort food favorites this fall and winter, including pot roast made with turkey (instead of beef) and burgers that replace ground beef with black beans. This healthy-eating initiative will also have a new twist on macaroni and cheese by using butternut squash instead of pasta.
While it can be a challenge to make a heartier fall meal plan healthy, Ranieri said it’s good for people to have some variety in what they eat – and to occasionally reconsider their diets.
“There is room for variety, and all types of foods can fit into a healthy diet,” Ranieri said. “You just have to plan ahead and make sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit together over the course of the day.”
At Bethesda, we believe the foundations of great health begin with great nutrition for senior diets! Check out our other senior health and wellness articles for more tips and tricks on staying healthy all year long!