Based on an interview with Carol Habercross, CEI’s Nutrition Services Manager.

Reading time:  3 1/2 minutes

Nutrition is ageless. Good nutrition puts gas in your gas tank and keeps you going.

At CEI, the registered dietitians do a lot of education. Our nutrition team helps people make the right food choices to reach their health goals. If you’re not enrolled in CEI, ask your doctor for advice and pamphlets. Good food choices can help your medical conditions.

Choosing the right foods and drinking enough water are central to good nutrition. Yet there can be external situations that get in the way of good nutrition. When we talk with seniors and new caregivers, we always review these 5 topics:

#1 – Make sure there is food in the house

Getting to the supermarket and shopping is difficult for some people. Call your local grocer to request a food delivery to your home. Safeway supermarkets has online food ordering and delivery. The larger supermarkets sell ready-made meals, and pre-cleaned and pre-cut vegetables. These make food preparation easier.

Family caregivers may work all day, and leave an older relative at home. Our advice for new caregivers is to create a structure and schedule for meals and medicines. This makes caregiving easier. Make a lunch and leave it in the refrigerator. A healthy sandwich and salad, or a dish that can be warmed up, are good options.

Many East Bay churches offer free community food programs. Alameda and Contra Costa county operate food banks that take the worry out of buying food.

Read: List of food banks and meals on wheels in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

#2 – Eat with friends and family

For someone living alone, it’s hard to prepare 3 meals, plus snacks, every day for one person.

Try to eat with a companion. Invite a neighbor to lunch or dinner. They may welcome your company.

In some apartment buildings, seniors get together to cook a meal. Some groups go shopping together. In other groups, one person buys the food and everyone chips in to pay. Then, they will cook together and eat together.

We talk with family members who are new to caregiving. I remind them to have dinner with their senior. Sharing food together makes us happier, and increases our appetite.

Eating together is central to meal time at CEI. We eat lunch together on our social outings, whether we go on a picnic or to a baseball game. Our nutrition team and the activities directors work together because food and socializing go together.

#3 – Try different plates and utensils

We encourage people to try utensils designed for older hands.

  • Big grips on forks, spoons and knives are helpful if your joints are stiff.
  • Weighted forks and spoons can steady shaking hands.
  • Bright  colors in a plate and bowl are easier to see.
  • Bowls with divided compartments are easier to get food out of with a spoon.
  • A sippy cup makes drinking water easier.

An attractive table setting also tells our minds ‘it’s time to eat’ and helps our appetite. Create a welcoming place to eat. Put a flower vase on the table.

#4 – Spice up food with salt-free herbs

Your taste buds change as you get older. Seniors tell me that now, food tastes different to them. People crave things they never craved before. A lot of people like their foods a lot spicier, so we use more natural seasoning like herbs, garlic and ginger.

Some people love their food without any spice. So go with what you like, spicy or bland. But, avoid condiments loaded with salt and sugar. We put Mrs. Dash, hot sauce and vinegar on the table. Mrs. Dash seasonings are salt-free, so they’re a favorite at CEI.

#5 – Ask your doctor about chewing and swallowing

There are medical conditions that can make chewing or swallowing difficult or uncomfortable. Always mention these to your doctor, because your doctor can help.

Older adults sometimes avoid the dentist, because of the high expense. A lot of insurance plans don’t include dental care. Sometimes even a little discomfort in the mouth can lead people to chew their food less. A trip to the dentist can improve mouth health and nutrition.

Cut food into many small pieces to make it easier to chew. And prepare foods that are soft and easier to swallow.

Dietitians in your community

When someone first comes to CEI, we ask about their health goals. Our nutrition team works with the doctors, speech therapists, occupational therapists, nurses and social workers.  We’re very lucky to have daily access to this team at CEI.

Seeing  participants regularly lets us make a real difference in people’s lives. Good nutrition gives people better energy for their daily lives and helps them stay strong.

Older adults sometimes avoid the dentist, because of the high expense. A lot of insurance plans don’t include dental care. Sometimes even a little discomfort in the mouth can lead people to chew their food less. A trip to the dentist can improve mouth health and nutrition.

Cut food into many small pieces to make it easier to chew. And prepare foods that are soft and easier to swallow.

Carol Habercoss is the Nutrition Services Manager at CEI in Oakland.

Carol and CEI’s registered dietitians help participants reach their personal goals with education and nutrition plans.