In the past, dinnertime provided an opportunity for families to gather together, to discuss the events of the day while enjoying a home-cooked meal. However, today studies reveal that the average American family rarely eats together, and this lack of regular togetherness could be responsible for children having trouble in school, or lead to poor nutrition and obesity.
Eating together could provide benefits for those of all ages, but for seniors, it can be even more vital. Seniors who regularly eat alone are often at higher risk for a variety of health issues, especially malnutrition. Malnutrition leads to a variety of problems, like unintentional weight loss, weakness or dizziness that can lead to a fall and broken bones, and even depression.
As you age, your body does go through changes that also change the way you eat. Your metabolism slows down, so your activity levels also slow down. You don’t need as many calories as you previously did, so your appetite decreases. Medication side effects can also lead to a lack of appetite, making food seem unappealing. Plus, many seniors have oral issues, with dentures or trouble swallowing that can make eating difficult. However, it’s still important to get three healthy meals each day to ensure optimal health and ward off malnutrition.
Why Social Eating = Healthy Eating for Seniors
Eating together promotes healthy eating for seniors, especially for those living alone. This is because we naturally eat more around others and make better food choices. Often, seniors feel like cooking a big, healthy meal just for one is too difficult and pointless, so they turn to pre-packaged or frozen foods. Or, worse, they skip meals altogether. Another study revealed that one in five seniors report that they feel loneliest when eating by themselves. Their friends or family live too far away to join them for meals, or perhaps they can no longer drive to go enjoy a dinner out with others. When mealtimes are shared with others, they will last as much as twice as long as when a senior eats alone. Plus, an overwhelming majority of the seniors in this study, around 85 percent, say having someone to share their meals with makes mealtimes more satisfying. While the taste and nutritional value of the food itself is important, seniors report that sharing stimulating conversation during the meal is almost equally as important.
Senior living communities recognize the importance of eating together, and many offer restaurant-style dining with a variety of well-balanced, healthy meals to residents. These residents who eat together are provided a chance to talk about the events of the day, bringing back memories of eating with their families. Often, new friendships are made and relationships with others grow while sitting around the table together.