Key Takeaways

  • Older adults may have to work harder than other age groups to maintain healthy appetites and balanced diet meal plans.

  • Find out how to increase your metabolism (and ultimately your appetite) by engaging in regular physical activity that’s tailored to your abilities. 

  • When food prices rise, many seniors can continue healthy eating at home by using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

We share meals with friends and family to strengthen bodies and bonds. We eat balanced diet meal plans to achieve nutritional goals and to refuel. We eat to live and sometimes, live to eat.

Yet with age, impediments to healthy eating may begin to appear. By learning to recognize these obstacles, you can triumph over them and eliminate the risks of not eating—or not eating enough.

Here are 5 things keeping your from eating well as you age, along with solutions to help you avoid them.

1. Are you just not hungry?

The reasons for appetite loss are as disparate as loneliness, chronic illness, the side effects of medication, and changing physiology. It’s a vitally important issue to discuss with your doctors, who can help identify the root cause and offer ideas for healthy meal plans that support your nutritional needs. They may even have some tricks to stimulate appetite in older adults.

What you can do:

  • Physical activity is a great way to kindle your appetite and boost your mood. While health experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, there is no one-size-fits-all plan but the benefits of exercise are there. Regular activity can positively impact our physical health as well as our mental and emotional wellbeing. It can help give us more energy (ultimately burning calories and increasing hunger) and the anti-inflammatory effects of physical activity enable better immune function. 
  • Make each bite count by focusing on quality rather than quantity. Boost healthy eating at home by choosing nutrient-rich foods, including protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and dairy. 

2. Have you lost your joy in cooking?

Arthritis and other physical conditions can make standing at the stove, bending or stretching to reach pots and bowls, and gripping cooking utensils uncomfortable, painful, or at times even impossible. When it’s difficult to cook, some older adults may eat less, or even stop eating.

What you can do:

  • One way to keep enjoying the benefits of healthy eating is through Meals on Wheels America, a nonprofit organization with local programs in 5,000 communities across the United States. Volunteers deliver nutritious meals so older adults can continue healthy eating at home. Plug in your ZIP code to see if there’s a provider in your area, and to learn more.  
  • Consider organizing a Meal Train if you’re sidelined from cooking duty. Family members, neighbors, and friends can sign up to provide healthy, home-cooked meals when you need them.

3. Do you feel like food has lost its flavor?

You haven’t changed an ingredient in a favorite dish, yet it doesn’t taste the way it used to. What you may be experiencing is aging’s effects on the senses. According to MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), sensitivity to tastes may decline after age 60.

What you can do:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about changes you are noticing, since nasal and sinus conditions and medications are other factors that may be hindering your enjoyment of food. With some minor tweaks, you may find food is tasting more flavorful.
  • Consider experimenting with the variety of spices and seasonings you find at your local market, and which you purchase with your SNAP benefits. You may have a knack in the kitchen, but A Beginner’s Guide to Cooking with Spices and Herbs, or a similar primer, might be a fun kitchen addition.

4. Does it hurt when you eat?

It’s hard to follow a balanced diet meal plan when tooth decay or loss, sore gums, or ill-fitting dentures are causing discomfort. In the dental care section of the National Poll on Healthy Aging, 20% of adults age 65-80 said they’d experienced problems with eating and chewing in the last two years.1 Milkshakes may seem a more appealing and expedient option, but it’s never recommended that older adults eat only sweets.

What you can do:

  • Make one call to your dentist’s office and book your cleanings and exams for the year. You’ll be a step ahead with the appointments on your calendar.
  • Consider reviewing dental insurance plans to see if there is one that meets your needs and budget. NCOA's BenefitsCheckUp.org can help you find dental services benefits that are available to you or other options for finding low-cost dental care.
  • Invest in an electric toothbrush or water flosser, two tools that can level up your dental hygiene.
  • Maintain healthy eating at home throughout any dental discomfort by enjoying nutritious, soft foods like oatmeal, yogurt, scrambled eggs, cooked vegetables, and soups.

5. Are food prices impact your ability to afford healthy food?

Food prices are rising, which is a top reason why older adults may not eat enough, ultimately leading to poor nutrition. In February 2022, the average weekly cost of food on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) was $53.40 for women 51-70 years old—$14 more than in February 2021. For men 51-70, the average weekly cost of food in February 2022 was $59.70, an $18.90 increase.

What you can do:

  • Use NCOA's BenefitsCheckUp.org to find out if you’re eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. An estimated 5 million older adults qualify for the federal government’s hunger safety net program but aren’t receiving benefits—and you may be one of them. The USDA adjusts annual benefit amounts based on the TFP averages each June and new benefits go into effect October 1. In October 2021, SNAP benefits increased an average of 25%, which has gone a long way to help offset the rising cost of food.
  • Consider food pantries when you’re in need. You’ll find them throughout most communities in the United States, operated by nonprofits and other organizations, serving diverse individuals from all walks of life who are experiencing food insecurity.

What other resources are available to help?

  • NCOA has more information on SNAP and how it can help seniors afford to eat healthy. Visit our SNAP hub to find out how you can maximize your SNAP benefits and other food dollars within your budget.
  • The National Institute on Aging (NIA) offers additional information in Overcoming Roadblocks to Healthy Eating.
  • If you or someone you love stops eating, it potentially can be life-threatening. Please seek medical help if that occurs.

Sources

1. Dental Care & Coverage After 65: Experiences & Perspectives, The National Poll on Healthy Aging (March 23, 2020). Found on the internet at https://www.healthyagingpoll.org/reports-more/report/dental-care-coverage-after-65-experiences-perspectives