The dinner table during the second half of your life should look and taste a lot like that of the first half: a well-balanced plate with lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy grains and low-fat dairy products.
For seniors, who may have limited energy and resources, it's all too easy to fall into the trap of eating processed foods and frozen dinners loaded with salt and additives.
"The message doesn't change," said Jane Doroff, director of senior nutrition at the Council on Aging. "Stay away from as much processed food as you can and utilize your farmers market, buying produce from them rather than just opening a can."
According to the Tufts University's Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults, seniors need fewer calories, but they still require a high level of nutrients from whole grains, protein and brightly colored veggies and fruit, along with adequate water. But because appetite and thirst diminishes with age, seniors often forget to eat and drink on a regular basis throughout the day. That can lead to weight loss and infections, and exacerbate chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
"The biggest problem we see is dehydration," said Genevieve Ladha, who provides meals for seniors in their homes as the owner of Sonoma Homecare. "Because their thirst diminishes, they're not interested ... But you have to drink your water. It's a chore, but a really important one."
To help boost water intake, Ladha suggests purchasing a Brita water filter, available at Safeway and other stores. The pitcher holds six glasses of water and is easy for seniors to lift.
"You can make water taste better by being filtered," she said. "You have to help them remember or give them a benefit."
Ladha, who is a certified senior advisor, or CSA, provides nutrition advice for seniors through a series of "Food After 50" workshops held at various senior living complexes throughout Sonoma County.
"We have such a bright, active senior community in Sonoma County," she said. "The goal is to make food that they like ... A lot of the seniors have a very sophisticated palate."
As part of the workshop, Ladha provides recipes that are easy to fix, inexpensive and can be eaten any time during the day. The dishes are also well-seasoned, so that they appeal to folks with low appetites.
"I make a lentil-quinoa salad, which can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner," she said. "It's got lots of calcium, and it's easy to digest for seniors."
Her clients also enjoy the boosted flavor and smooth texture of hummus and carrots, caramelized roasted vegetables and whole-grain breads from Alvarado Street Bakery, which can be toasted for breakfast. Instead of white rice, Ladham suggests that seniors choose corn tortillas and whole-grain tortillas as the starch component of their meal.
While it's easy to slice carrots, colorful vegetables such as squash and pumpkin can be unwieldy for seniors to chop. Instead, Ladma recommends buying frozen squash from the grocery store, then mixing it with black beans and sauteed spinach for a nutritious meal.
If you use canned beans, however, she suggests rinsing the beans several times to remove the excess salt.
For clients who have high cholesterol, she likes to cook with two fresh eggs — but only one yolk — for a simple frittata breakfast or lunch. Another high-protein breakfast is yogurt mixed with a small amount of fruit.