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But, Dad, You Loved Spicy Chili Tacos When I Was 12!

So, your parents have moved in with you. Maybe it’s temporary—just until the pandemic has passed—or maybe it’s more permanent. Either way, it’s very different than their coming to visit over the holidays. This can be a wonderful and rewarding time, but it can also present its own special set of challenges.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to help by discussing some of the different challenges you may be experiencing with your now live-in, senior parents, and providing tips to make each challenge a little easier to handle.

Today’s challenge: When did my parents become such picky eaters?! After all, Dad LOVED spicy chili tacos when I was 12!

As a Wellness Warrior, you know I’m a big proponent of healthy eating. So here are six possible eating challenges your senior parents may have along with tips for managing them.

1. Loss of Control – One reason you may have a picky eater on your hands could be because they don’t feel in control of making decisions for themselves. This is especially true of your otherwise healthy, independent parents. Not having a say in meal planning can be hard for them.

TIPS: Get them involved by planning meals ahead of time. Make a list of healthy options and get their input. Also, have them assist you in preparing the meals. This will give them a sense of purpose and help them feel like they’re helping out and part of the family team.

2. A Change in Common Foods – Many foods that are popular and common today wasn’t widely available over the lifespan of many seniors. Think about it, foods like hummus and tofu have become commonplace over the last 10-15 years, but this may be long after your parents’ taste buds (i.e., their dietary habits) were already set.

TIPS: Present foods in a different or fun way. If your dad needs more veggies in his diet, then substitute spaghetti squash for traditional noodles. You get an extra serving of veggies in his diet while also reducing his starches (and gluten). Quiches and casseroles can also be a great way to “hide” healthy new foods in something they are more willing to eat.

3. Loss of Appetite – There are many reasons why your parent might have a loss of appetite. Common reasons include medication and loss of taste and smell, but there are other reasons that are more easily addressed. Constipation is a big reason. When you don’t regularly empty your bowels, your brain senses that you’re full, and you don’t get as hungry. Another reason is a lack of physical activity. When you’re physically active, your body is stimulated to get more energy from eating. The reverse holds true as well…not active, not hungry.If you’re like many people, at some point in the past few months, you’ve experienced fear, and that’s ok. We’re all going through a time of fear and confusion. But during times like these, when something negative like this happens, it’s important to ask yourself, “What is the value of this in my life? What lessons have I learned and how am I going to grow from this?”

TIPS: In the bathroom department, make sure they don’t ignore the urge to go. “Holding it” for a more convenient time to go only backs them up more. Make sure they’re drinking plenty of fluids (and yes, prune juice really does help), and make their time going a peaceful and comfortable time. Don’t rush them. Encourage them to be active as well. Walking is a great activity (and you know you’ve been meaning to walk more too!), but even activities like gardening get them off the couch and moving.

4. Eating the Wrong Things – Many seniors find it easier to grab junk food than to eat healthy. Remember, this is the mother who sent you to school with a Twinkie or Ho-ho in your lunch box every day. Sometimes it’s just easier to grab a few cookies or a handful of chips.

TIPS: Keep plenty of nutritious and convenient snacks on hand. Low-sodium cottage cheese, unsalted nuts, yogurt, and canned fruit (in juice, not syrup) are great, healthy, and super convenient.

5. Feeling Overwhelmed – It’s possible that your mother looks at her plate, and it’s just too much. A plate full of food can be overwhelming to someone whose appetite isn’t what it used to be.

TIPS: While I’m a firm believer that a dinner plate should be ½ veggies and fruits, ¼ protein, and ¼ (or less) starches, it’s also possible that that’s too much for Mom. Try several smaller meals and snacks throughout the day is better than three big meals. Having nutrient-filled smaller meals or snacks every 2 ½-3 hours may be a more realistic goal and does not highlight their “failure” to eat the same way they used to.

6. Textures – Textures of foods play a big part in a senior becoming a bit pickier about what they eat. Some have difficulty chewing now because they’ve perhaps lost a tooth or two. Others may be dealing with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). These and other factors may make it more difficult to eat the foods they normally like to. It also can cause issues with their getting proper nutrition.

TIPS: Certainly, include soft foods in their diet. You can also puree or mince their favorite foods and make them a little easier to eat so they can still enjoy those flavors. Also, consider adding pureed or high-protein foods to other common foods, like blending cottage cheese and adding it to the pasta sauce to create a delicious pink sauce for their spaghetti. Protein shakes are also a great way to add protein. And, while they may turn Dad’s fruit smoothie green, adding greens, like spinach and kale, will up the vitamins without changing the flavor.

One final tip: “Come on, Dad! If you’ll just try it, I know you’ll like it. Pleeease!” Be careful. Are you encouraging Dad, or are you nagging him? Yes, there is a fine line between the two, and no one likes to be nagged. I know it can be frustrating for you, but remember that, more than likely, your parents are not intentionally being difficult. Their needs have simply changed. Try not to pressure your parent(s), give them the ability to choose some of what they eat, and keep mealtimes positive and upbeat.

Wellness Warriors, next time I‘m going to share more about another challenge you may be experiencing with your live-in parents: their need/desire/compulsion to over-plan. Join me for it.

Until then, what challenges have you experienced with your senior parents and getting them to eat? Share your experiences and any tips you may have! Sharing is caring!

Live Well, Live Long

~Dwayne


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