Jenn had been looking after her aging father, Alastor, ever since he suffered a stroke a year ago. When she quit her full-time job as a librarian to be his full-time caregiver, she never could have imagined just how challenging she would find it.
Between driving her father to his many medical appointments, helping him with his exercises, filing and sorting his prescriptions, doing his laundry, and keeping his house clean and tidy, Jenn barely had time or energy for anything else. In fact, she didn’t even have time to cook for her father.
When she’d first started caring for Alastor, she had the best of intentions to plan and prepare nutritious meals for him to enjoy, but when she realized there wasn’t enough time in a day to do so, she began relying on frozen TV dinners, food from the deli counter, and take-out to feed her father. Sure enough, within a few months, she noticed that her father had put on about 15 extra pounds and seemed to be more fatigued than normal.
That’s when Jenn knew something had to change. So, she went online and found a meal planning and preparation service that sent professionals out to do the cooking for seniors in their home. After the first session, she wondered why she hadn’t thought of this sooner.
If you or your aging loved one has difficulty preparing meals to maintain a healthy diet, it might be time for you to consider hiring a service like Jenn did. Let’s take a look at all the benefits of hiring a pro to cook healthy meals for your loved one in the comfort of their own home, and the organizations and individuals that offer such services.
Benefits of Hiring a Professional to Meal Plan and Prep for your Aging Loved One
As Jenn saw with Alastor, his health and well-being really started to deteriorate with a diet high in processed, pre-made, and frozen food. This is because the food he was eating wasn’t providing him with the necessary amount or type of vitamins needed by his aging body. Plus, the high levels of poor quality fats and refined sugar in his meals were resulting in unhealthy weight gain that was contributing to his fatigue.
When he transitioned to eating the food that had been prepared in his home especially for him by his personal meal planning and prep professional, both Alastor and Jenn began reaping the rewards.
Here are some of the benefits of hiring a professional to do the meal planning and preparation for your aging loved one:
- Increased nutrition: Freshly prepared meals using whole food ingredients are rich in vitamins and minerals, which are essential to our overall health, energy levels, and vitality. These meals also tend to be high in fiber, which stabilizes blood sugar and plays an essential role in proper digestion and elimination—something that is especially critical in older adults.
- Tailored meals: The professionals who cook in your loved one’s home will be cooking especially for them, meaning the professional will make meals according to your loved one’s preferences and dietary needs. This will allow your loved one to truly enjoy the meals. After all, we derive so much pleasure from food, and keeping that pleasure alive is very important—especially in old age.
- Weight maintenance: While some may struggle to keep weight off, others may struggle to put it on. It’s common for aging adults to lose interest in food—whether it’s because they don’t have the mobility to cook it anymore or because their taste buds have lost sensitivity—but over time, it can result in severe and unhealthy weight loss. Having someone prepare flavorful, nutrient-dense meals for your loved one can help them put on healthy weight.
- Weight loss: As we saw with Alastor, some people are more prone to becoming overweight. Replacing unhealthy, processed meals with fresh, nutrient-dense foods can be a very effective way of helping aging adults lose weight. Of course, losing weight comes with many benefits, such as increased mobility, increased energy, decreased risk of heart disease and stroke, and a decreased physical burden for caregivers.
- More time for caregivers: Your aging loved one won’t be the only one to benefit from hiring a professional to do their meal planning and preparation—you will too! It’s amazing how much time opens up in a day when you don’t have to worry about food. You have so many other things to do, and handing over meal prep will give you more time to do what you feel comfortable, confident, and qualified to do.
Organizations and Individuals That Offer Cooking for Seniors in Their Home
Now that you know the benefits of hiring a professional to do the meal planning and preparation for your aging loved one, it’s time to start looking for one. While there are a number of options, some may be better than others, so choose carefully.
Here are some of the individuals and organizations that offer cooking for aging adults in their home, as well as the pros and cons of each:
- Personal chefs: Personal chefs usually cook a week’s worth of meals for your loved one in one session. They will package, label, and store everything in the fridge and freeze the meals that are more perishable. Hiring a personal chef can be great, but it can be difficult to find the right fit. Many personal chefs specialize in a particular type of cuisine or food and may not be open to cooking exactly what your loved one wants. They also may not have much nutrition training, so if certain levels of micro and macro nutrients are needed in your aging loved one’s food, a personal chef may not be able to accommodate. The cost of a personal chef can be extremely prohibitive, too, so if budget is a concern, this likely won’t be your best option.
- Private nutritionists: Private nutritionists are similar to personal chefs, but they have the expertise to assess the nutritional needs of your aging loved one and make meals that address these needs. If your loved one has health conditions that are diet related, hiring a private nutritionist can be a good idea. Of course, nutritionists tend to be quite expensive too—especially if they charge by the hour. And since they likely don’t have the professional cooking skills that a personal chef would, the cooking session might take them longer.
- Meals on Wheels: While this service doesn’t involve having someone cook for your loved one in their home, it does provide them with warm meals that involve no effort on their part to prepare. While Meals on Wheels can be great for some aging adults, it isn’t great if your loved one is following a specific diet or is a selective eater. While the program will accommodate certain requests, it isn’t quite as tailored as having someone meal plan and prep specifically for your loved one.
- Non-profit organizations: Local non-profit organizations serving seniors are a great place to find meal prep and planning services. Institute on Aging, for instance, offers such services through our Home Care and Support Services program. Programs like this can be a great option because they can be covered by long-term care insurance, which helps remove financial barriers.
The professionals that do the meal planning and prep for these programs have plenty of experience working specifically with aging adults, and they will be able to address nutritional needs, personal preferences, and special requests (such as meals for older adults with no teeth) with ease. Another benefit is that these professionals are trained to work in aging adults’ homes and thus are comfortable dealing with any unexpected situations or emergencies that may arise.
Ultimately, finding the best meal planning and prep service for your aging loved one comes down to what you can afford and what service is going to accommodate any dietary needs best. While we, as caregivers, all wish we could be the ones to do everything for our aging loved ones, the reality is that we simply can’t, so we need to learn to ask for help. And once they’ve had their first bite of a specially prepared meal, your loved one will most definitely be thankful that you did.
At Institute on Aging, we offer a variety of services that help aging adults live independently and comfortably in their homes. For more information on how we can help your aging loved one, contact us today.