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Eating Well on a Budget

Senior Life Advisor

Eating a balanced, nutrient-rich diet is hard work. Rounding up the right ingredients and sweating over recipes can exhaust even the most health-conscious consumer. That’s not to mention the costs associated with eating right.

Seniors need the right mix of nutrients to maintain their health and wellbeing, but how can they do it without overwhelming their budgets or themselves? We spoke to senior nutrition experts to get their input. These guidelines should help even fixed-income seniors prepare delicious, healthful means without unnecessary hassle. Expert tips for eating a balanced diet on a fixed budget.

Load Up on Protein and Fiber

Protein and fiber are essential nutrients at any age. Even healthy seniors need more of them than they did when they were younger. Protein promotes strong bones and helps maintain muscle mass while fiber-rich foods can lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of diseases like colorectal cancer. For fixed-income seniors, fiber and protein have another vital benefit — they’re filling.

Claudia Hleap, a registered dietitian, advises seniors to eat high-protein foods with every meal and snack. This will keep seniors from losing muscle mass and potentially losing their mobility. She reminds seniors that getting enough protein doesn’t have to mean splurging on expensive cuts of meat. “Some easy and affordable protein options,” she writes, “are eggs, peanut butter, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and hemp seeds.” Beans and lentils provide a great source of both fiber and protein. Better still, they’re cost effective when purchased in bulk. AlgaeCal’s Meagan Wong singles them out as especially crucial pantry staples. Not used to cooking with lentils or beans? Wong encourages seniors to “experiment with a different recipe once every week or every other week to start.”

Don’t Be Afraid of Canned and Frozen Foods

All canned and frozen foods are convenient, most are cost-effective, and many are just as nutritious (if not more so) than their perishable counterparts.

Wellness writer Kalev Rudolph elaborates on the surprising nutritional benefits of frozen fruits and vegetables, noting that “frozen vegetables are flash frozen almost immediately after picking, and are at the height of their nutritional richness.” What about fresh produce? Most of it “usually spends at least several hours (or days) in transit off the vine before you can eat it.” Unless you’re making a point to eat local, you might be missing out on key nutrients (and wasting money) by opting for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Canned foods boast both affordability and convenience, but Wong warns seniors to watch out for added ingredients. Seniors should “Choose fruits in their own juices (not in syrup)” and opt for low or no-sodium canned vegetables. Can’t find reduced-sodium options? Give your veggies a quick rinse after you open them.

Understand Your Benefits

Kristian Morey, a dietician with Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, urges seniors to research nutrition assistance programs to see which ones they may qualify for. There are a number of both senior-specific and general programs that offer assistance to fixed-income seniors across the nation.

Senior-centric programs include the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. Some broader programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. “Finally,” Morey writes, “consider enrolling in Older Americans Act nutrition programs, such as Meals on Wheels or the Congregate Meal Program.” These programs provide seniors with meals that meet dietary guidelines and provide at least one-third of daily nutrient requirements. Hleap notes that many smaller local programs can also help with both affordability and accessibility.

Start Eating Better Today

Boosting your immune system, improving your mood, and reducing your risk of disease is easier than you think. Keep these tips in mind the next time you head to the supermarket and start eating (and feeling) better today.

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