There are horror stories about seniors struggling with their food budgets and dietary needs. Even canned cat food isn't so cheap anymore. These days, many senior citizens find that they are not adequately financially prepared to head into retirement; one of the biggest common concerns is having enough money to afford a healthy and nutritionally complete diet. When the budget is hardly enough to cover the necessities, any available food money left over is stretched to buy quantity and not quality.
Aging normally brings its own health risks and problems. Malnutrition is not uncommon as people age, due to a combination of physiological and social reasons. Bones lose density, activity decreases, dental hygiene suffers as teeth fall out, loneliness or bereavement can cause depression and gastrointestinal changes may cause loss of appetite. Metabolism slows, there is more strain on the kidneys and heart, years of hearty living wears down the body and vitamin deficiencies take their toll. Even a lack of transportation can reduce the opportunity to go shopping in a store with decent pricing and selection. Proper nutrition is necessary to help keep the senior years golden.
Loading the food pantry and dinner plates with nutrient-rich, low-calorie foods is vital to healthy eating. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that people ages 50 and older concentrate on fruits -- 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables -- 2 to 3 1/2 cups of grains -- 5 to 10 ounces of protein foods -- 5 to 7 ounces of dairy foods -- 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk, oils -- 5 to 8 teaspoons, and small amounts of solid fats and added sugars. Staying fit and eating right can add productive years to an adult's life. Seniors need to stay active with regular physical activities such as walking and keeping busy with work, hobbies or socializing with others. They should also stay active mentally, doing things like reading, card games and puzzles.
Everyone can stretch their shopping dollars by checking grocery fliers for prices and special offers, as well as cutting and using coupons. Write up a weekly menu based on sale prices and seasonal specials, then make a detailed list AND stick to it in the store. Buy only the quantities that can be safely used and stored before going bad. Read the nutrition labels; sometimes the cheaper product is stingy with the nutrients you should be eating. Compare store brands against name brands; many are just as good, but cost a lot less. Use common sense about the cost of transportation versus store location and shop where you get the best prices. Some communities will provide shuttles to shopping centers for seniors and other select groups; inquire if your community does that and know what shopping would be available to you.
If you are able to treat yourself and dine out once in a while, check out early bird and senior specials. Concentrate on ordering low-fat and low-sodium dishes, read the nutrition guides that are sometimes included in menus and make healthier selections. Don't be shy about asking for take-out containers to bring home any leftovers for lunch the next day. You can reduce your dining entertainment expenses if you can organize a small group to participate in a dine-a-round -- each person cooks a healthy portion of the meal and you go from kitchen to kitchen or take turns hosting the shared dishes in one other's homes for an inexpensive evening out with dinner and friends.
Several senior centers host free or reduced rate meals for low-income seniors. There are also food delivery programs available that will bring groceries or meals to your door, sometimes for free. Call your local municipalities, senior centers, or local houses of worship to find out what is available in the area. To help maintain a healthy level of physical activity, contact local shopping malls, community centers, libraries and local YMCAs to find out about walker programs, swimming sessions and low impact exercise programs.
Don't just live. Live life well.