Anytime is a good time to think about how to improve our diets, but summer is an especially appropriate season to focus on how we can incorporate healthy snacking into our food plan.
Why? For one thing we have a plethora of delicious, fresh fruits and vegetables available at bargain prices. Secondly, in the summer it’s more fun to be outside gardening or walking than cooking over a hot stove (who does that anymore, anyway?)
But mostly I want to return to the subject of healthy eating I discussed in a recent column I wrote for City Living Seattle called “Aging with Care: Diet and Health for the Aging.” I want to go beyond the general theme of the benefits of healthy eating to focus on how to incorporate healthy snacking into our diets.
Why snacking? Because according to an article in IDEA Food and Nutrition Tips, government data shows 82% of American adults snack twice or more per day. More than half snack three or more times per day. Also, snacking doesn’t have to be all about donuts and potato chips. If we keep better choices at hand, we can use snacking to positively influence calorie and nutrient intake.
What is snacking all about?
According to Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, snacking is a complex situation. We snack for all sorts of reasons depending on the time of day. For example, the most popular morning snacks are portable items like yogurt, bakery goods and snack bars. Chips and fruit are the most popular afternoon snack and candy and ice cream are evening favorites.
She suggests we take a look at why we are snacking and make choices that satisfy those needs, not just fill us with empty calories. For example, if your senior is hungry, focus on snacks that satisfy hunger with protein, fiber and water. Good foods include hummus with vegetables, Greek yogurt with berries and whole-grain cereal with milk. If convenience is the issue, try to load up the cupboards with grab-and-go options that need little prep like bananas, fruit or an energy drink.
Think about what works for your senior
We need to remember that many of our seniors have difficulty not only with getting to the store but problems with chewing and swallowing. They may not be strong enough to wrestle heavy cooking pans around or have a diminished appetite. As we know, too, many seniors lose interest in eating due to decreased taste, the effects of medications and lack of exercise or socializing.
As a result, we need to think about snacks as possible mini-meals. If that is the case, it is even more important that they are attractive, easy to eat and nutritious.
Taking a cue from the “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans” nutritional strategies, we need to be ever-more aware of urging elders to eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and healthy fats, while lowering the intake of salt and sugar. In addition, exercise is cited as a means of helping our bodies do a better job of processing the foods we eat.
The good news is multifold: a balanced, healthy diet consists of the same foods no matter your age. Also, by replacing less-healthy food with healthier ones, seniors can lower the chances of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, some cancers and even dementia.
Easy Snack Ideas
Making wise snack choices helps to ensure that older adults meet their nutrient needs. Here are some simple, nutritious snacks that are easy to chew and swallow as well as easy to prepare, and they taste good!
Deviled eggs: Deviled eggs are a great source of protein.
Cottage cheese with canned fruit: Cottage cheese is a snack that is very soft and easy to eat. It also provides a good source of protein. Canned pears or peaches with light syrup are tasty and give the cottage cheese some extra flavor.
Flavored milk: Flavored milks, such as chocolate or strawberry, provide protein, calcium, vitamin D, and energy and are a quick, easy, and tasty snack. Shelf-stable, single-serving versions are particularly convenient.
Yogurt with fruit: Yogurt is a good snack option for the older adult and provides a source of protein and calcium. Serve half a cup of plain or flavored yogurt topped with fresh berries
Milk pudding: Pudding is a tasty and convenient snack to keep on hand. Pudding can be bought as shelf-stable, individual servings or as fresh options that require refrigeration. In addition to the commonly available flavors, such as vanilla, chocolate, and butterscotch, traditional favorites of the older adult, rice and tapioca, are available.
Blended smoothies: Smoothies are simple to prepare with lots of flavors and ingredients to choose from. A basic smoothie starts by pouring a cup of milk into a blender. Add ½ cup of yogurt or ice cream and fresh fruit. You can add any fruit you’d like, but try to choose fruits that blend well, like bananas or berries. Drizzle honey on top to add some sweetness.
Cheese: Cheese is tasty and simple to prepare. Block cheddar, Swiss, and mozzarella cheese are good options, but also try the many varieties of specialty cheeses. Cut the cheese into bite-sized cubes or purchase packaged cheeses that are already cubed.
Ice cream with strawberry drizzle: Ice cream is a delicious treat that most people simply cannot resist. Try serving puréed strawberries drizzled over ice cream.
Tuna salad: Tuna in a can is inexpensive and simple to prepare. If sodium is an issue, the tuna can be rinsed. For a quick tuna salad, just open the can, drain, rinse, and mix with mayonnaise and seasonings. Tuna salad can be served with soft crackers.