Friday, 1 February 2019

Eating Alone

I wonder if anyone has ever researched how many people actually make healthy, tasty, well-presented meals, when they  live alone and are only preparing food for themselves. I would venture to guess that cooking a gourmet meal for oneself when eating alone, doesn't happen very often, regardless of the age group we are talking about. I know when I lived alone, I would usually grab something quick and easy rather than taking the time to prepare and present a meal as I do for my family. And so, it comes as no surprise, that seniors living alone, may not eat very well; in some cases, they may even be malnourished.  

Its a simple fact that eating is more enjoyable when the experience is shared with others. Mealtime for many is a social event - a time to catch up with others, share conversation and enjoy company.  For a senior who is either used to preparing a meal to share with another or used to having a spouse prepare their meals for them, having to eat alone, especially if they have spent a lifetime sharing a meal with someone else, can impact nutrition in a significant, negative way. 

The perception by many is that as we get older and less active we eat less - which may be true - but it's important to still ensure that what we do eat is nutritious and a balanced diet. 

So what can we do to encourage seniors we know, who live alone, to eat well? As a first step, invite them to eat with you regularly. If you can, have a set day of the week where you see them over lunch or dinner. Look into local community agencies or seniors centres that have occasional communal dining. Suggest they create a friend group that visits over meals and perhaps rotates hosting a meal or does a weekly potluck dinner so everyone shares in the preparation. Even if there is only one other person they know in a similar situation, it would benefit both of them to share a meal once a week whether it's out in a restaurant or in one of their homes. Failing all of that, find out about their local meals on wheels agency where hot inexpensive meals are delivered daily or ,look into frozen meal delivery services (many are online allowing for easy ordering and delivery). While these last two options can ensure healthy eating for one, don't underestimate the importance of eating with others for one's social, mental and emotional health. In fact, many housing options for seniors also include a component of communal dining for this very purpose; new and innovative seniors housing solutions that are in their infancy like the co-housing model, also include a shared dining and kitchen space so no one eats alone. As housing options grow and change, I'm sure we will see even more acknowledgement of the importance of not eating alone.