Learn why healthy eating is important for seniors.

Why healthy eating matters

Healthy eating is a key part of aging well. It is a way for you to stay healthy and strong, which is important to maintain your independence and quality of life.

Healthy eating can help:

  • promote and protect health and well-being
  • provide energy and essential nutrients to maintain health
  • prevent or lower the risk of chronic diseases like:
    • heart disease
    • type 2 diabetes
  • prevent muscle and bone loss to reduce your risk of falling or breaking your bones

As you age, you face different changes that may make:

  • healthy eating seem more challenging
  • you not feel as hungry or interested in food

These changes may include:

  • changes to your body that:
    • impact your appetite
    • decrease your sense of taste or smell
    • impact your digestion, ability to chew or swallow
    • make it more difficult for you to get to the grocery store
    • make it more difficult for you to spend a lot of time preparing food
    • impact your ability to shop for or cook your own food or do tasks like open jars
  • changes in lifestyle that mean you may:
    • have less income
    • eat alone more often
    • be caring for a loved one
    • have someone cooking for you
    • live in a new home with a different kitchen
    • be cooking for just 1 or 2 people instead of a large family
  • changes to your health that require medication that has side effects on taste and appetite

Healthy eating habits

Cooking and eating healthy food does not have to be difficult, time consuming or expensive. Consider these ideas to help you maintain healthy eating habits as you age.

Enjoy a variety of healthy foods

As you age, it is important to eat a variety of healthy foods to make sure you get enough of the different nutrients you need.

Choose a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods that you enjoy.

Every day, choose a variety of:

  • vegetables and fruit, including:
    • dark green vegetables such as kale and bok choy each day
    • orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potato most days
  • whole grain foods, such as:
    • oats
    • wild rice
    • whole wheat pasta
  • protein foods such as:
    • eggs
    • nuts and seeds
    • fish and shellfish
    • beans, peas, and lentils
    • lean red meats, including wild game
    • lower fat dairy products such as milk and yogurt
    • fortified soy beverages, tofu, soybeans and other soy products

If you are 51 years of age or older, take a supplement with 400 IU (10 µg) of vitamin D every day.

If your sense of taste or smell has changed, try different spices and herbs to add more flavour, instead of salt. You can also switch up the texture and temperature of foods to make them more interesting.

If some foods have become more difficult to eat, try choosing and preparing foods differently. For example, for a softer texture, try cooking vegetables instead of eating them raw.

Drink water

As you age, your sense of thirst may decline, but you still need to drink regularly whether you feel thirsty or not. To stay hydrated, drink throughout the day and with each meal and snack. Satisfy your thirst with water instead of sugary drinks.

Other foods and drinks that can help keep you hydrated include:

  • lower fat white milk
  • low sodium soups
  • vegetables and fruits
  • unsweetened fortified plant-based beverages

Shopping for 1 or 2

It can be challenging to grocery shop for just 1 or 2 people.

Think about meals and snacks you would like to eat and plan your meals around your ideas.

Make a grocery list to help you remember what foods you need.

Choose affordable healthy options if you are grocery shopping on a budget. Some grocery stores offer discount days for seniors.

Make it easy on yourself. Try shopping:

  • online
  • with a friend
    • you can split larger quantities of foods
  • using a delivery service
  • using grocery buses organized by seniors’ or community centres

Cooking for 1 or 2

You may find it hard to cook healthy meals for 1 or 2 people, especially if you:

  • used to cook for a larger family
  • have never been the main cook

Prepare meals and snacks on days when you have the most energy. On days when you are too tired to cook, choose recipes that only use a few ingredients and require little to no cooking.

Cook once, eat twice. Make meals that are great as leftovers or make a larger amount and freeze the extras.

Alternate a cooking day with a friend. This allows you to share the task of making meals and gives you the chance to try each other’s recipes and food traditions.

Eat with others

Eating with others is great for the company and it can also be good for your health. It may encourage you to eat more of the foods that you need to stay healthy.

Eat with others as much as you can. Try:

  • joining a lunch group
  • eating with a neighbour
  • inviting a family member over
  • planning a potluck with friends

Check local seniors’ community centres and ask about monthly lunches or community kitchens you could join.

If you live alone, sitting down to eat a meal by yourself can feel lonely. Try these ideas to keep it enjoyable:

  • try a new recipe
  • choose a comfortable place to eat
  • play music you enjoy during mealtimes

Create an emergency food supply

It is a good idea to stock your pantry with a variety of non-perishable food items. You can use these items to make a few meals for times you are not able to get to the store.

Ideas of foods to keep on hand include:

  • peanut butter
  • skim milk powder
  • canned vegetables and fruits
  • canned or jarred pasta sauce
  • canned fish, beans and lentils
  • whole grain pasta, rice and oatmeal

You can keep a variety of foods in your freezer, including:

  • whole grain bread
  • lean meats or poultry
  • vegetables and fruits

Check out resources in your community

Your neighbourhood may have different options and services available to you. Explore resources such as:

  • grocery store trips and delivery
  • meal and food delivery services
  • lunch clubs and group meal programs
  • cooking classes and community kitchens
  • volunteer service centres to support you with shopping

Make a healthy choice

What you eat on a regular basis matters for your health.

  • Choose foods that have little to no added sodium, sugars or saturated fat.
  • Compare the nutrition facts table on foods to choose products that are lower in sodium, sugars or saturated fat.