Mom Eats Only Junk Food
"My mother was a wonderful cook. She could make a meal out of anything, and it was always delicious. Now, she’s 85 years old, a widow, and it seems like she eats junk food for every snack and meal. Granted, she has no one to cook for except herself, but it’s rather distressing to watch her eat cookies, chips, packaged foods and very limited fruits, vegetables, and healthy meal options—if any.
I live nearby but am not at my mother’s home for too many meals. I do notice what she eats, though, when I take her shopping, or empty her trash. There must be ways to encourage better eating." - READER
The poor eating habits of an elderly parent living alone are a frequent concern of children. The situation is quite common.
The reasoning for deteriorating eating habits like your mother’s is multifaceted. She lives alone, with no one to cook for or take into consideration. That leaves quite a bit of freedom in the situation, much like a student who has gone off to college. Now add the possibility of tooth loss or gum issues, which make certain foods more difficult to eat, and consider any visual problems that may limit reading her favorite go-to recipes. Note arthritic hands, a stiff back, trouble standing or balance issues. When you combine all of the chronic ailments of someone who is aging, it’s a lot easier to see why meal preparation may take a backseat to simple things that taste good and require little time.
Also consider the loneliness of eating as a single. Even if she has been eating alone for a while, it does not mean she’s used to it or will magically become motivated to prepare a family-type meal anytime soon. Some lose the desire to eat healthily or the will to extend life when they feel there is less for which to live. Her mental health is something to consider along with her physical capability to prepare food.
What You Can Do
I recommend that you start making a point to share more meals with mom.
- Bring the meal to her house. Will she eat leftovers, or toss them?
- Invite her to your house. Let her help with preparation and clean-up, and notice how she performs. Does the activity exhaust her for hours, or even a day?
- Take her to a restaurant if she’s up for it. Can she see the menu well enough to read it?
No matter where you dine, order/prepare a variety of meals and note what she eats, along with the quantity. Then watch her chewing and swallowing. And without being too obvious, discuss what food items peak her interest these days. Is she only eating soft food, spicy food, bland food, or something else?
Once you collect this information, you’ll be better prepared to help your mother locate better food. Some families choose Meals On Wheels to provide at least one balanced meal a day. Many grocery stores offer meats, salads, and prepared fruits and vegetables that only require opening a container or turning on the oven. Since she is eating for just one, these are wonderful options for her. Consider shopping more with her and steering her towards these good choices.
Again, if depression is a factor in this situation, a good mental health provider is a worthwhile consideration.
You’re not going to tell your mother what to do at this point in her life. What you can do is help make good choices available, once you know her capabilities. It will require more one-on-one time, and that could be a good thing.
I wish you success on this journey with mom.
Family Caregiving Advice Column
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