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We’ve all heard the old adage, ‘You are what you eat,’ and in a way that is certainly true. What kind of fuel (food) we put into our bodies helps determine how our bodies will respond and perform. Sometimes we don’t see the negative effects of poor dietary choices until later in life, but not to worry; it’s never too late to make some changes. As people age, it’s especially hard to maintain a healthy diet, mostly because of physical or mental limitations.

Whether you are in charge of helping your aging loved one grocery shop and cook, or you yourself are currently living in the golden years, making healthy food choices and meal prepping can seem like a task no one has time for. Here are a few tips and ideas to help you save time and money on meals while still enjoying them.

Plan Ahead

As is true for most things, if you make a plan ahead of time you will most likely save time, money, and make better choices in the moment. Going grocery shopping while hungry and without a list is setting yourself up for overeating and overspending.  Plan out a week or two worth of meals and make a list of ingredients based on those plans.

Pinterest is a great place to look for inspiration for easy and healthy meals. Make sure to have your calendar next to you so you can see what your schedule looks like so you have enough food to last the week or two. If the senior is still living at home you can assist them by putting groceries away, washing and cutting fruits, vegetables, and meat, and leaving a menu of the week in an easy-to-see spot in the kitchen.

Need some help meal planning? Check out the National Institute on Aging’s helpful lists and sample plans.

Know Where To Go

Sometimes making healthy grocery choices can mean a more expensive bill, so it’s important to know where to shop to get the best deals, especially since most seniors are on a fixed income. Chain grocery stores are notorious for being overpriced because they are usually very convenient. You can buy soap, lettuce, chicken, your favorite candy, and a birthday card all at one stop!

In recent years dollar stores, Aldi, and WalMart have become the home to many a family trying to save on the ever-rising cost of food and household items, and it’s for good reason. These stores typically have much lower prices, offer a variety of food choices, and still offer the convenience of getting everything you need in one place.

For more money-saving tips read this interesting article about grocery store money traps and how to avoid them.

Keep It Fresh

When making actual food purchases it’s best to stick to the 80/20 rule. 80% of what goes in your cart should be real fruits and vegetables (not canned or pickled, although frozen is usually okay), fresh meat and dairy, whole grains, and raw nuts and beans. The other 20% can be prepared foods (like a frozen pizza), or a snack or indulgent food (like salty crackers, ice cream, or chips).

Making and eating recipes from scratch (or almost from scratch) usually tastes better and is more satisfying than popping a frozen dish in the microwave. If you have access to a local farmers market or a store like Sprouts, you can usually find local produce at reasonable prices.

Balance

Managing life and food choices is all about balance, and tipping too far one way or the other isn’t enjoyable for anyone. Eating out is another area that requires self-discipline and balance, as it is much harder to control what food goes into your body when someone else prepares it. As food costs and minimum wage in the US continue to rise at an alarming rate, eating out is quickly becoming very expensive as establishments pass the rising costs onto the customer. Make sure to limit eating out to special occasions, Sunday brunch, or one dinner a week to maintain a healthy balance in your budget and in your body.

If you are currently researching assisted living communities for the senior in your life make sure to include a tour of the kitchen, look at the menus, and observe (and taste) a few meal services to ensure that what they are cooking up is healthy and delicious. Too much salt, fat, or convenience foods will do nothing to aid in a healthy body for your aging loved one.

If your aging loved one is suffering from an illness or injury it is especially important to maintain a healthy diet. Food is fuel and we all want to be giving our bodies the best so that they can perform as they are meant to. Having a happy mind and body leads to a happy life.