You may require fewer calories as you age, but you might be surprised to learn that even though you don’t need to eat quite as much as you used to, your protein needs increase. Protein is a vital nutrient that helps build and maintain muscle, and also helps you heal faster after surgery or an injury. But if you find that your appetite is waning and you don’t eat as much as you used to, you may need a bit of a healthy food boost to get enough protein.
Here are a few tips that may help.
1. Spread It Out
When planning your meals and snacks, include protein throughout the day rather than trying to get it all in one meal. This way, if you’re not hungry and eat less for one meal, you will still get enough protein.
2. Eat Small Meals and Snacks
As appetites wane, the thought of eating a large meal can seem daunting. But if you eat more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day, you are more likely to get the nutrients you need—including protein.
3. Make Meals and Snacks Ahead of Time
Sometimes you may not feel like hauling out all the ingredients and cookware required to prepare something to eat. And when you’re hungry, it’s easier to reach for less healthy food choices than cook something nutritious.
If you’ve planned ahead, though, you may be able to reach into your fridge or pantry and pull out nutrient- and protein-rich foods instead. For example, a couple of hard-boiled eggs can be a satisfying meal, along with a salad. Pre-cooked chicken is always good to have on hand, either to eat as-is or slice up for a sandwich. Even a couple tablespoons of peanut butter can help satisfy a craving and keep you sustained until your next meal, and is helpful for those on a low-cholesterol diet.
4. Drink Your Protein
A glass of milk has about 8 grams of protein, but many non-dairy kinds of milks are also rich in protein and other essential nutrients. Soy milk, flax milk, almond milk and cashew milk all offer a creamy texture and pack a protein punch.
There are also many tasty protein powders you can mix into a glass of milk, water or whip up into a smoothie. But be careful: Many sports drinks and smoothie mixes also contain high levels of sugar. Talk to your doctor before you select one of these supplement drinks.
If homemade smoothies sound good to you, Greek yogurt and peanut butter are great protein additions.
5. Make Mealtime a Social Time
Mealtime is often more than just a time to eat—it’s also a way to spend time with friends and family. If you can plan meals with others, you can share the meal preparation work (and decisions), and you have some fun and companionship at the same time. The best senior living communities offer on-site fine dining where you can get well-rounded, protein-rich meals to keep you feeling great all day.
If you feel that you still might not be consuming enough protein, speak with your healthcare provider or ask for a consultation with a dietitian. They may give you ideas and advise you about other possible options, such as diet supplements.
Looking for more tips to improve your health and feel your best? Check out our free eBook, The Vitality Guide: Nutrition, Exercise and Health Care for Seniors!