As we age, the types and amounts of vitamins, minerals and nutrients our body requires to maintain a healthy lifestyle change. For older adults, that means adapting dietary choices to meet these changes. Most seniors require more vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium and iron, but fewer overall calories. Experts agree that one of the keys to aging well is for older adults to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. To accomplish that, seniors need to learn how to be smart food shoppers. That includes:
• Planning meals ahead of time
• Creating a shopping list
• Understanding how to read food labels
For older adults, especially those living on a budget, planning a week’s worth of menus will allow you to make the most of your time and money. Tufts University's “My Pyramid for Older Adults” may be a helpful resource as you are planning. It incorporates recommendations for fresh foods, as well as the best choices of canned and frozen foods. You can use the pyramid to plan meals and snacks for each day of the week.
Your goal should be to focus your weekly meal plans on vegetables, fruits, whole-grain breads, lean meats and low fat dairy. Limiting snack foods and desserts will help you to consume fewer calories and save money. Also try to avoid lunch meats and canned soups unless you choose the low-sodium or low-fat versions. If you are on a special diet, ask your physician for daily guidelines to follow. One hint is to be sure to check the store’s weekly specials before you begin mapping out your menus. You can save money if you plan your menus around what deals are available that week.
Once you have a full week of menus planned, use them to create your shopping list. Don’t forget to check your stock for the staples you need for each recipe (flour, olive oil, seasonings, spices, etc.).
Here are a few tips to help you maximize your weekly grocery shopping trip:
- Buying in larger quantities is typically cheaper and will allow you to prepare extra meals to freeze.
- Frozen fruits and vegetables are typically healthier than canned ones and are good to keep on hand for when you don’t have access to fresh.
- The store’s private label foods may be just as good as name brands at a significantly lower cost.
- Some grocery stores have a weekly “Senior Day” when they offer as much as a 10% discount.
- Many stores have a brochure or flyer with a map of the products on each of their aisles. Ask for one at Customer Service and use it to group the items on your shopping list by aisle.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been working to make the Nutrition Fact Labels you find on foods more consistent and easier to read. For older adults, correctly reading the labels is vital. Knowing how big a serving size is and how much sugar or sodium it contains is important when managing chronic health conditions like diabetes or congestive heart failure (CHF). The FDA has information on their website that can help you learn how to interpret these sometimes confusing labels.
Other Issues to Consider
Older adults often face different challenges than younger ones when it comes to grocery shopping. Transportation is sometimes unavailable or limited. That makes frequent trips to the store to buy fresh foods harder. The sheer size of many grocery stores can also be tough for those living with physical impairments or disabilities.
Here are a couple of suggestions to help overcome those struggles:
Transportation to the Grocery Store
If you are no longer driving and have a difficult time finding transportation, check with your local Agency on Aging to find out if they have volunteers who can help. Many maintain a list of people who donate their time to assist older adults with a variety of tasks including grocery shopping. You can also talk with in-home care agencies to see what their charge would be to provide this type of weekly support. Most have aides or companions that will not only take you grocery shopping, but also help you unload the groceries and prepare meals.
Depending upon where you live, one of your local grocery stores may offer home delivery services. Shoppers can email or fax their order to the store and they take it from there. A drawback is that you can’t hand select your own fresh produce and meats.
Mobility Problems and Other Physical Impairments
Osteoarthritis, vision impairments, Parkinson’s disease and other chronic diseases or illnesses may make it hard for older adults to shop for groceries. Check with your local grocery stories to see what accommodations they can make. Some have employees who can assist with shopping, while others offer free electric scooters with shopping baskets for use by those living with a disability. Almost all stores will provide assistance with taking the groceries out to the car and loading them.