In March 2011, I wrote an article called Role Reversal: Mom and Dad Coming to Live with You, which talked about readying your home for your parents to come live with you. This is a follow up to that article, which focuses on their health and nutritional needs.
You finally convinced your aged parents to move in with you and now they have settled down to a new lifestyle. You are no longer spending sleepless nights worrying about their comfort and health. You redesigned your home to make it “elder-friendly,” and your parents are comfortable in their living space. The bathrooms are easy to use with support bars and skid-proof bathtubs; the living area is clear of bulky furniture and rugs; and the kitchen is easy to navigate too. You have taken care of everything you possibly could think of to keep them happy and comfortable in their new home. They have led independent lives, raised a family, led successful careers, and now adapting to a new lifestyle requires some time and effort.
But the next step in making your parents as comfortable as possible is in addressing their nutritional needs, which are far more complicated than both your kids’ and yours combined.
There’s no doubt you were already dealing with a busy lifestyle and now you have added your parents to it. Whether you are working toward (or are already living off the grid), why not make this an opportunity to blend your parents’ lives seamlessly into yours? Easier said than done….but with a little planning you will be surprised at the outcome of how you and your parents can make the new arrangement work well.
Incorporating Mom and Dad’s Nutritional Needs with Your Lifestyle
Your parents’ nutritional needs are important for maintaining their general health. After all, you want them around as long as the good Lord will allow it. Certain health issues and the fact that their digestive system is weaker may make it difficult for them to get all the nutrients required for a balanced diet. Medications can cause lack of appetite and nausea. They may need supplemental nutrition to offset the inability to eat all foods that you cook for your family.
Their diets must be rich in fiber, calcium, protein, and vitamins. Older people secrete less saliva and some lose their ability to produce stomach acid. The slowing of the movement of food in the digestive system often results in constipation, which can be relieved with regular intake of fiber-rich foods, fruits, and vegetables. While commercial dietary fiber substitutes are convenient (psyllium or Metamucil for example), it is always best to increase fiber naturally. Depending upon your climate and growing zone, some of these suggestions might be difficult to grow for you, others a breeze. Some you could consider growing, if you don’t already, that can help mom and dad are:
- Bananas – 3.1 grams per banana (careful that too much raises their potassium intake)
- Pears and apples – each contains 5.5 and 4.4 grams respectively – don’t remove the skins, they are packed with nutrients and additional fiber
- Figs – 1.6 grams in two figs
- Raisins – 1.0 grams per 2 tablespoons
- Lentils (extremely high in fiber) – 15.6 grams per cup
- Beans (your climate may or may not be conducive to growing them, but they’re an excellent source of fiber and nutrients)
- Limas contain 13.2 grams, black beans have 15.0 grams (serving size for both is a cup)
- Nuts – various: Almonds have 3.5 grams, while pecans only contain 2.7 grams per 1 once serving
- Cooked peas – 16.30 grams in each cup! (oh that’s why mom always made split pea soup on Sunday nights)
- Turnip greens – 5.0 in each cup
- Brussels sprouts – 4.1 grams in a cup
- Artichokes – 10.3 grams each (approximately, depending upon size)
If you live in an area where you grow your own wheat or it is plentiful because your neighbor grows it, consider adding it to your parents’ diet (assuming that they haven’t already. Of course it can be purchased as well.
- Whole wheat bread contains 1.9 grams of fiber
- Whole wheat pasta has 6.2 grams
Healthy alternatives to wheat include:
- Brown rice – 3.5 grams per cup
- Oatmeal – 4.0 grams per cup. Oatmeal has many other benefits as well as cholesterol lowering goodness
- Barley – 6.0 grams per 1 cup (can be cooked or pearled)
Good eating habits will keep them healthy. You can get additional information on nutrition for seniors here.
In Addition to the Fiber Intake
Here are some tips for providing nutritious food to your parents:
- Provide nutritionally rich foods since they are eating smaller quantities than before. Unprocessed whole foods that are laden with calories and nutrients are ideal for them. Offering far more than just the benefit of fiber, provide that have healthy fats like nuts, seeds and olive oil; whole grains like brown rice, whole grain cereals; plenty of fruits and vegetables; legumes and beans that are rich in proteins and meat and dairy products. If your parents and you are lactose intolerant, substituting with soy is highly recommended.
- Reduce their intake of fats, sweets, and alcohol. Alcohol is slightly controversial however. In looking at both indigenous people and those who culturally continue living a far simpler life, alcohol appears to be a big part of their diets and in some cases increased for warmth. Use your judgment on this one. I am personally an advocate of the two glasses of wine per day advice offered by my doctor.
- Enhance flavor of their foods with herbs, light marinades and sauces and lemon juice. Try to combine textures like granola with yogurt. Whip up fresh smoothies with seasonal fruits and veggies. If you haven’t done so already, it is well worth the investment in a good juicer to make fresh fruit and vegetable juices at home as well as salsas and sauces.
- Attend to their dental problems to enhance appetite and nutrition. If they cannot eat firm foods, puree the foods and serve them in a semi-solid consistency. Remember that all tissues, both internal and external, become thinner with age. Their throats might not be able to tolerate big chunks the way it used to. They will find it easier to swallow while maintaining normal intake of food.
- Occasionally take them to the grocery store and let them pick their favorite foods.
- Make an extra batch of one-dish casseroles that can be heated for lunch or dinner.
- If you haven’t already embraced the wonders of canning, now is great time to start. Once canned and preserved, canned foods offer ease, convenience and independence for your parents to pop open for a snack.
- Vitamin supplements should be given to make up for nutritional deficiencies.
- Avoid serving foods with high cholesterol.
- Ensure that they increase their calcium intake.
- And please, last but not least, add plenty of exercise to your lifestyles. What’s all this wonderful nutrition if all they are going to do is sit around? Get out and walk, and by all means, include them in the gardening and canning process.
Part of Health Includes Mental and Emotional Well Being
Being a part of the sandwich generation can drain you emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. Take good care of yourself and do not feel guilty about doing so. It is critical that you make your well-being a priority in order to take care of your parents. Listen to your body and slow down if you feel overwhelmed. Look for resources in your community if you need help to care for your parents. Do not “parent” your parents and damage the relationship. Encourage communication between your parents and other family members and give everyone a chance to voice their thoughts and feelings.
Every care giving situation is unique but some factors bridge situations and families together. You can easily get lost in the care-giving situation, but you will be surprised to see that support can come in different forms, in support programs, from family, your church and online forums too. Useful tips are available in books, journals, magazines and on the web. Your decision to bring your parents into your home will be a blessing for you and your parents as they grow older and become weaker.