After my aging grandmother lost all of her teeth, she seemed to lose some of her spark. Food was her one true love and she used to eat with the enthusiasm of a hungry child. It was heartbreaking to see that one of her greatest sources of enjoyment became a chore when she lost the ability to chew.
When food loses its pleasure, appetite dwindles—often for food and for life. Older adults are not only at a greater risk of depression, but their likelihood of malnutrition also increases. All too often, older adults with no teeth have diets that are reduced to the same bland, nutrient-poor foods, resulting in a decline in health, energy levels, and overall vitality.
The first thing we often think to do when a loved one loses their teeth is to simply blend their regular food. The trouble is, texture is a huge part of what we enjoy about our favorite meals. Steak just isn’t the same in liquid form as it is when we cut it with a knife and feel its meaty, firm texture between our teeth. Often, blending familiar foods creates a longing for an experience of a dish that can’t truly be enjoyed anymore.
Rather than blending the old favorites, consider taking the opportunity to introduce new, exciting, nutritious ingredients and flavors into your loved one’s diet. The key is to think about foods that you would blend anyway so that textures won’t be missed. Smoothies and soups are two great options that can be made in a variety of delicious flavors and enticing colors without compromising texture. With the right mindset and method, you can whip up nutrient dense, flavorful meals that an aging adult with no teeth will surely enjoy.
Satisfying, Nutrient Dense Smoothie Ideas for Older Adults with No Teeth
Smoothies make for a wonderful meal or snack for those who lack the ability to chew because they are packed with easily accessible nutrients. Blending takes care of the first step of digestion for us—mechanical digestion or chewing. When this is done for us, our digestive systems don’t need to work as hard to access the nutrients in food. This is incredibly advantageous for older adults, whose digestive systems have naturally weakened and therefore may not optimally absorb nutrients.
There are endless options when it comes to ingredient combinations, but the key to making a satisfying, nutrient dense smoothie is to include all of the components of a balanced meal in the mix—fruit, vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. Of course, because we eat with our eyes first, be mindful of the colors when combining ingredients.
Here are some basic guidelines for creating a healthy, delicious smoothies for your aging loved one:
- Fruit: Low-sugar, antioxidant-rich berries are a great choice for aging adults. Blueberries, in particular, are brain food that has been shown to improve memory in aging adults. Bananas add a creamy, thick texture, while mangoes and pineapple add a tropical twist.
- Vegetables: Leafy greens like spinach and kale tend to be hard to chew, but they blend well into smoothies without adding much flavor. Greens are also high in folate and calcium, two essential nutrients for aging adults. You could also sneak in some mild-flavored vegetables, like hydrating cucumber or fiber-rich celery, for even more of a nutrient boost.
- Protein: Protein deficiency is common among aging adults, so a high-quality protein powder may be a good addition to a smoothie. Look for a plant-based option (like pea or hemp protein) with a broad vitamin and mineral spectrum for added nutrition. Plain yogurt is an affordable calcium-rich option that also packs a punch of probiotics to aid in digestion.
- Healthy fat: Believe it or not, adding a quarter of an avocado to a smoothie can give it the texture of a thick, creamy milkshake and a dose of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Nuts and seeds also offer a dose of essential fatty acids
- Flavor boosters: Smoothies may be nutritious, but they also have to be delicious to be truly enjoyed. Adding flavorful ingredients like vanilla extract, fresh mint leaves, or cinnamon can make a smoothie extra decadent. Cocoa powder is another good addition for aging adults, as it has been shown to improve cognitive function.
For easy smoothie prep, fill freezer bags with pre-measured ingredients and store in the freezer. When it’s time to make one, simply empty the contents in the blender, add some liquid (milk, water, juice), and blend until very smooth.
Recipe: Chocolate Strawberry Smoothie
- 1 handful of frozen strawberries
- 1 handful of baby spinach
- ½ cup plain yogurt
- ¼ ripe avocado
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 1 ½ cups milk or nondairy milk
Place all the ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend until very smooth.
Hearty, Blended Soup Ideas
Flavorful, warming, and aromatic, soups make for wonderful meals for older adults with no teeth. As with smoothies, there are endless flavor and ingredient combinations when it comes to soups, so don’t be afraid to experiment with new recipes and get creative. Getting the thickness right is key to achieving that velvety, rich, satisfying mouthfeel so start with less water than you think you need and add it as you blend to achieve the perfect consistency.
Here are a few key ingredients for nutrient dense blended soups for aging adults:
- Split peas, lentils, beans, and legumes: Not only do these add thickness to blended soups, they also add a dose of protein, fiber, and folate (Vitamin B12), which many aging adults are deficient in. Sufficient amounts of folate have been shown to decrease the risk of vascular disease in aging adults.
- Garlic and onions: Blended soups don’t have to be bland. Adding more strong, savory flavors with plenty of onions and garlic will make the soup all the more satisfying and enjoyable, especially for those older adults that suffer from loss of smell and taste.
- Broths: Chicken, beef, or vegetable broth can add incredible flavor and nutrition to soups. Bone broths are high in minerals and collagen that are essential for bone health, which is important for aging adults.
- Fresh herbs: Herbs add another layer of flavor and aroma to blended soups. They also add an elegant finish and a touch of color for visual appeal.
The best part about blended soups is that they freeze incredibly well. Always be sure to make a large batch and freeze individual portions. This way you can fill your loved one’s freezer with a variety of flavorful, nutritious soups that will be easy and enjoyable for them to reheat and eat.
Focus on Flavor and Variety
While it may at first seem challenging to make healthy meals for your aging loved one with no teeth, flavorful, nutrient-dense soups and smoothies are a great place to start. Flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, and color are all important characteristics of food that greatly contribute to our experience of food. The key to making delicious and nutritious meals for older adults who have lost the ability to chew is to focus on these other enjoyable aspects of a meal so that your loved one can still take pleasure in the ritual and necessity that is eating.
If you’re looking for ways to help your aging loved one to eat healthy and feel their best, Institute on Aging offers many services, programs, and resources. Get in touch with us today to learn more.