A free community program aims to help seniors and their loved ones get back to the table at mealtimes to eat healthy and enjoy each other’s company.
Companionship Diet: A Recipe for Healthy Aging is part of Home Instead Senior Care’s goal of helping lonely and isolated seniors make better food choices.
“It seems as though a new diet debuts every year or so, complete with menus and tips that promise a swift path to a healthier life,” the Home Instead website says at homeinstead.com/care-resources/wellness-lifestyle/companionship-diet.
“But for lonely older adults,” it says, “few food plans focus on the one ingredient most miss: companionship.”
A recent survey from Home Instead Inc. found that “eating alone often leads to a poorer diet compared to those who enjoy meals in the company of others,” a Home Instead news release explains.
“[M]ore than 35% of older adults experiencing loneliness and isolation graded their diet as a C or below,” the release says.
“In turn, 29% described their health as fair or poor,” it says. “As we return to a more familiar way of life and begin to gather again in person, Home Instead encourages family and friends to share a meal with older loved ones. Not only will it strengthen relationships, it likely will positively impact the quality of food the aging adults consume.”
Allyson Starling and Kristi Piotter, co-managers with Home Instead’s area offices in Winchester and Martinsburg, West Virginia, said the shared effort of providing family meals can bring healthier choices to the table.
“A lot of seniors, they want something quick and easy,” Starling said.
Unfortunately, she said, that can often mean opting for unhealthy choices or incomplete meals that don’t provide enough nutrition, as well as skipping meals altogether.
Referencing her father, who has had a longtime love for potatoes and still prefers starches and fried foods, Starling said that lonely older people who live alone are more inclined to reach for comfort foods than they would if they were sharing a meal with others.
The concept of the companion diet helps them both eat healthier and view food in a healthier way, Starling said.
Though eating together as a family isn’t always possible, whether because of distance or health concerns, Piotter said that phone calls and video conferencing apps can provide a compromise, offering community and accountability during meal times as well as food prep.
“Even if they were to do something virtually such as FaceTime, they would be able to just kind of share some memories and talk about the recipes they’re doing,” Piotter said. “It has multiple different benefits.”
These benefits include lessening boredom and apathy while encouraging people to think more about their food choices and enjoy trying new recipes together.
“My favorite part of this program is it gets them back involved in [meal-planning],” Starling said.
“I think that it has a lot of good information on a lot of different situations,” she said, such as “the companionship, the loneliness, the recipes.”
Another concern that Starling and Piotter have noticed is that older adults might fail to ask for help with food-prep struggles, not allowing a caregiver to help because they’re used to being on their own and doing things themselves.
“It’s hard for them to allow someone to help,” Starling said.
Offering help through the practice of recurring or frequent family meals can provide a way for families to help their loved ones who otherwise might not ask for or accept help, she said.
Instead of a nightly stressor, Starling said, mealtime becomes “a relaxing setting.”
For more information on the Home Instead Companionship Diet and other senior care resources, including recipes to connect families, visit homeinstead.com/care-resources/wellness-lifestyle/companionship-diet.