Nutrition for Seniors: Tips on Healthy Holiday Dining

Maintaining healthy eating habits during the holiday season is important for everyone, including older adults. It's easy to get carried away with the festivities and overindulge in food and drink. However, making wise nutritional choices while allowing yourself the occasional indulgence will help you enjoy this joyous time of year with family and friends.

Key takeaways:

Older adults may have some unique challenges regarding nutritional eating over the holidays. Chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease factor into the choices someone needs to make when eating a festive meal. Many sweet treats and foods rich in sodium are often on the table. Planning ahead and making mindful choices is essential to fully enjoy this season of food, family, and friends.

10 nutrition tips for seniors during the holiday

Here are some tips to help older adults enjoy the holidays while making nutritious choices.

1. Eat mindfully

The thing you need to pay attention to is being mindful of what you are eating. It is so tempting to load up on all that delicious food, but you end up feeling overfilled and uncomfortable. This means looking at your portion sizes and taking only enough to satisfy your appetite. Take the time to chew each mouthful and savor the flavor. Pay attention to the taste and the texture. Enjoy every bite and eat slowly. When you get the first sense of fullness, push the plate away.

2. Stay hydrated

While the holiday festivities may center around drinking, it's often not the type of drinking that will keep you hydrated. Dehydration in older adults can increase the risk of falls, confusion, or other adverse reactions. Aiming to drink 6–8 glasses of water daily, no matter the occasion, is crucial to good health and wellness. Drinking water will help your food to digest and increase your energy and alertness levels. Water before and with a meal can also make you feel full. If you do consume alcohol, drink extra water before an alcoholic beverage.

3. Make balanced choices

Maintaining balanced choices when eating your celebratory meals during the holiday season is important. Start by adding lean proteins, such as turkey, a traditional meat choice of the season. It is a great lean protein and tastes so good, too. Next, add some whole-grain options, and top it off with abundant colorful vegetables. Ease up on the butter and gravy if you can.

4. Practice portion control

It is tough to practice restraint during the festivities when all kinds of delectable treats are available. Start by using a smaller plate for your meal. This will give you the illusion that you have more than you really do. Opt for one instead of two big spoonfuls of mashed potatoes or stuffing. You may surprise yourself that you still feel full with smaller portions.

5. Limit sweets

While it's okay to indulge occasionally, limit your intake of sugary treats. Choose healthier options, such as fresh fruit. Opt for smaller dessert portions if you cannot resist the temptation. Cut that slice of pie in half. If tempted by two big spoonfuls of another sweet dessert, opt for one. There is a payoff in the power of resistance.

6. Increase fiber

Choose more fiber for your meal, including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Since older adults may be on medications with side effects, such as constipation, eating fiber-rich foods will aid in smoother digestion. Additionally, increasing your fiber during your holiday meal will make you full faster.

7. Mind the sodium

With chronic conditions, such as hypertension or heart disease, keeping an eye on your sodium intake is vital, especially if you are on certain medications for those conditions. Avoid adding salt to your meals and watch foods with a higher sodium content, such as ham, or snack foods, like potato chips or pretzels. If you are hosting a meal, try to use less salt in your cooking and avoid or limit the use of processed foods.

8. Make healthy substitutions

If you are preparing a holiday meal, you have the advantage of cooking with healthy ingredients. If you are a guest, offer to bring a healthy dish or snack food to provide variety and at least one nourishing option for your gathering. This way, you can decrease the amount of salt, sugar, or fat in recipes. You can also use substitutions such as plain Greek yogurt for sour cream. Additionally, you can use whole-wheat flour as a healthy alternative to white, refined flour. You could also try natural sugar options like honey or maple syrup to sweeten your recipes instead of refined sugar.

9. Stay active

While many gatherings over the holidays may lead to sedentary activity, you can choose to add activities that will expend some energy. If weather permits, sometimes it's enjoyable to go for a walk with a family member after your meal. This, of course, will aid digestion and offer some one-on-one time with a loved one. Even walking with a group can be a wonderful social outing to reconnect.

10. Limit alcohol

If you have some wine with dinner or other holiday-inspired drinks, limit your intake and drink in moderation. As we age, the effects of alcohol change on our bodies. Some older adults may feel the effects sooner than they did just a few years earlier. Offer options, such as non-alcoholic wine or beer, as an alternative.

If you drink too much and have a medical condition or are on medications, you could have a dangerous reaction. Drinking can also increase your risk of dehydration, falls, and fractures. Plus, excessive alcohol intake during the holidays has been a contributing factor to more than one family altercation. Therefore, keeping the peace is vital to enjoying your holiday gathering.

Enjoy yourself

Above all, make this holiday season a memorable one where you connect with your loved ones beyond the meal. Sometimes, it's been months since seeing some family members, so enjoying each other's company and catching up on life events adds to the season's spirit

We often put so much time and effort into preparing a holiday event that it's here and gone before we know it. Planning 'how' you will eat will help you be more mindful and continue making healthy choices. Don't worry about the odd indulgence; it's the holidays! Just remember that your holiday mealtime can be enjoyable if you engage in these healthy practices.

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