Most of us have deep-seated memories of time spent in the kitchen. Whether it’s sneaking late-night snacks with our siblings, enjoying an early morning cup of coffee with our mothers, or spending holidays around the dinner table, these memories often last a lifetime. For seniors living alone, their kitchens can continue to help them build memories for themselves and their loved ones while supporting their health today.
Cooking and the Brain
One of the greatest benefits of cooking for seniors comes from meal planning. This is an opportunity to decide what meals they will have for the next few days, and then plan out the ingredients needed for them. Although this may seem like a small task, it’s a mentally-stimulating one. Research suggests that keeping the brain active can protect it against future degradation, and for some, may even stimulate cell growth.
Similar to meal planning, the shopping process is also good for the brain (and body). Venturing out to collect needed ingredients is not only a great form of exercise, but it also presents problem-solving opportunities. For example, if a recipe calls for mozzarella cheese, a lactose-intolerant senior can use their brain power to determine a suitable substitute. There’s even evidence to suggest that heading out to the grocery store for a day of shopping may extend a senior’s healthy years.
Enhanced Nutrition for a Healthy Body
Many health experts recommend that seniors consume around 4 ½ servings of fruits and vegetables each day. They should also eat plenty of whole grains and at least three servings of quality dairy products, which comes out to about one each meal. Protein is also important, and ensuring a healthy balance of these nutritious foods helps protect against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions closely linked with age.
For seniors — especially those who live alone — time spent cooking can seem like a waste. After all, they can simply head to the closest restaurant and get their favorite fare, no cleanup required. While convenient, dining out often leads to consuming excessive calories, sodium, and saturated fat compared to preparing food at home, even when making similar dishes to your favorite restaurants. For example, a bacon ranch chicken quesadilla made at home can have 70 percent fewer calories, 82 percent less saturated fat, and less than half the sodium than one from a popular chain restaurant.
Cooking Strengthens Bonds
Seniors who live alone and are supported by a caregiver may find that cooking with their care provider and loved ones strengthens family and social bonds. Those who are in the early stages of dementia can reap even more rewards at the stovetop, because it encourages self-expression, activates many senses, and triggers happy memories.
Get the Most Out of the Kitchen
Time in the kitchen is well spent, but there are many ways to get the most out of planning, preparing, and cooking breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Here are some tips:
- Pay attention to leftover storage times. Seniors should review current food safety standards. While packing leftovers is an excellent way to ensure access to healthy fare for the week, most foods are only safe in the refrigerator for around three to four days.
- Practice kitchen safety. Safety in the kitchen is a senior’s first priority. Most senior living experts caution that food should never be left unattended while cooking. Similarly, it’s a good idea to set kitchen devices, such as coffee makers, to automatic. To prevent falling accidents, the kitchen should be cleaned up immediately after cooking, and seniors should prioritize cleaning up any spills on the floor.
- Measure the cost savings. It’s not enough simply to understand the mental and physical health benefits of cooking. Seniors, particularly those on a budget, should look at the financial aspect as well. Cooking at home, whether through a meal kit delivery service or by shopping and gathering ingredients independently, is three to five times less expensive than having restaurant meals.
Cooking has many benefits for people of every age. For seniors, it enhances physical and mental health while providing access to bonding opportunities with the family. When cost savings are factored in, it’s even clearer that grabbing an apron is a much better choice than ordering from a take-out menu.