Meal prep, or the practice of cooking several day’s worth of meals ahead of schedule and storing them for later, has gained popularity over the last several years. Though it’s often associated with working adults on the go, seniors can reap the same benefits (and many additional ones) from pre-planning and batch-cooking healthy meals and snacks.
Here are several ways that meal prep can contribute to seniors’ health and quality of life.
Meal prep makes it easier for seniors to meet health goals.
People of all ages report that planning ahead makes it easier to eat the right amounts of nutritious foods. It makes perfect sense – preparing several days’ worth of healthy food at once means a good meal is already on hand, which reduces decision fatigue when we’re hungry and tired.
Preparing meals early forces us to think ahead and consider what choices we would like to make in the coming week. Most people find that they make better decisions under these conditions than they do in the moment when the pressure is on. This can be particularly true for older adults who find the tasks of cooking and cleaning to be physically taxing.
Seniors who are eating to manage diabetes, prevent heart disease, or achieve a healthy weight often find that having healthy ready-to-eat options keeps them on track by removing the temptation to reach for processed snacks that are often high in salt, sugar, and fat.
Meal prep encourages seniors’ independence.
Cooking up a delicious meal can be very rewarding. Many seniors want more control over what and when they eat, but confronting the tasks of cooking and cleaning the kitchen multiple times each day can be daunting. This is particularly true for seniors with mobility issues or those who have part-time in-home assistance.
Preparing larger quantities of food and portioning them out for later can reduce the amount of time that older adults spend in the kitchen while allowing them more independence around meals throughout the week. For the as they age, the habit of meal prepping can be tremendously freeing.
Meal prep helps seniors stick to medication schedules.
Without hearty, nutritious meals on hand, it’s easy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to turn into one all-day snack. While it’s certainly less healthy to skip meals or graze non-stop, for seniors who have been instructed to time medications with food, unstructured eating can be unhealthy, even deadly.
Medication errors are one of the most frequently reported safety incidents for older adults, and without an established routine around mealtimes, it’s easy for seniors to miss doses, double them, or take their medicines improperly.
Beyond helping seniors stay oriented and on schedule with their prescriptions, many medications specify that they should be taken with food or on an empty stomach. A predictable schedule of meals helps ensure that seniors take their medicines safely and on time.
Meal prep saves money.
Takeout is convenient, but the costs add up quickly. For older adults living on a fixed income, daily meal deliveries are simply out of budget. Fortunately, many of their favorite foods can be prepared at home for a fraction of the cost.
Meal prep saves seniors money by allowing them to plan the coming week’s meals and snacks in a way that maximizes each ingredient. Making a detailed grocery list and sticking to it pays off – shopping from a list can save a two-person household up to $100 on food each week.
Meal prep makes cooking a social activity.
Loneliness is more than a state of mind; it’s a substantial threat to seniors’ health. Meal prep is an opportunity to turn the task of cooking into a chance to connect.
Older adults who need assistance in the kitchen often enjoy companionship as much as the meal. In-home nutrition professionals can bring weekly menus to life, assist with grocery shopping, and offer guidance on food choices. Better still, nutrition services provide a friendly face and a sounding board for seniors’ health goals.
Food is meant to be enjoyed! What we eat is a reflection of our culture, preference, heritage, and life experiences. By simplifying the work of grocery shopping and cooking through meal prep, we can help seniors live more independent, safer, and happier lives.