Breakfast is the first and most important meal to kick off the day. Despite it being the meal with the smallest portion as compared to lunch and dinner, it sets up as a starter to a nutritional diet that can provide sufficient energy for the rest of the morning.
Why do seniors need breakfast?
Breakfast is as crucial for seniors as it is for us, considering their tendency to dismiss breakfast is high due to lack of appetite and feeling nauseated. Skipping breakfast would only worsen their condition with gastric problems. Therefore, they should have their breakfast for the following reasons:
To restore energy
Most people may not know this—you burn calories even when you are sleeping or at rest. Although there are no physical activities involved, sleep still consumes energy for the following functions:
- to process food
- to circulate blood
- to repair cells
- to regulate breathing
- to support brain activities – adapting the body through stages until reaching deep sleep
This overnight without eating to regain the used up energy (also known as the fastened state) takes up approximately 8 to 10 hours. In addition, our ageing seniors often experience interrupted sleep as a result of frequent urination in the middle of the night, as well as sleep deprivation due to insomnia caused by daytime napping. All of the above contributes to the reasons why they feel drowsy and tired in the morning.
By starting the day with breakfast, their body is able to recharge from the lost energy, so that they can practise more physical and cognitive activities throughout the day.
To supply nutrients
Apart from serving as fuel for energy, breakfast also provides essential nutrients necessary for enriched well-being such as proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Keeping our loved ones nourished is vital as malnutrition is known to be more prevalent among older adults of 60 years old and above.
These nutrients bring many benefits:
- to ensure growth and healthy skin
- to protect the body from diseases
- to keep the body hydrated
- to regulate chemical processes such as digestion, cell repairment and production, hormone functioning
Both our mind and body have been working continuously without stopping, regardless if we are awake or asleep. Preparing a healthy breakfast for seniors is helpful to ensure their bodily and mental functions can continue to perform effectively long-term, thus increasing the chance for a longer life
To prevent health complications
According to the American Heart Association, those who skip breakfast tend to develop a higher risk of common age-related diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases and high cholesterol.
Skipping breakfast leads to higher insulin resistance—where the body is unable to convert glucose to energy well. As a result, this glucose content is accumulated in the bloodstream and clogs up arteries, hence contributing as a risk factor to cardiovascular or heart diseases. In chronic cases, an excessive amount of sugar in the bloodstream may result in type 2 diabetes.
When there is no food to absorb glucose from, sugar levels in the body will drop. Lack of sugar content can cause headaches and nausea as our brain depends heavily on glucose intake.
To boost mood
The elderly is more vulnerable to mental health decline, especially depression. By keeping their stomach fulfilled with a healthy breakfast, their mood can improve greatly and that helps to brighten up their day-to-day life. You know what they say, a full belly makes a happy heart!
To control weight
As older adults are more likely to practise a sedentary lifestyle with minimal physical activities, it is easier for them to suffer from obesity. If they choose not to eat in the morning, they will tend to overeat during lunch to compensate for the hunger—which may result in gaining unnecessary weight.
A nutritious breakfast can help to curb this problem by ensuring our seniors are satiated before the next meal.
As a reminder for medication time
Almost all prescribed medications for ageing seniors are required to be consumed with food, either before or after meals. This is because certain foods react negatively with medicines while others need food in order for the medicines to be more effective.
With such confusing timings, our loved ones might entirely forget about taking their medications on time. Therefore, having meals—including breakfast—in their daily routine can act as a clock to remind them each morning.
Healthy breakfast ideas for seniors
As Malaysians, breakfast taken with heavy meals such as nasi lemak, satay, and fried noodles is a normal sight. Unfortunately, while they might be satisfying for the stomach, these greasy foods are extremely unhealthy and fattening. For our loved ones, breakfast ought to be tailored accordingly to meet their nutritional requirements. When meal prepping, here are our suggestions for healthy breakfast ideas for seniors:
Eggs served to your likings
You can always get creative with eggs for breakfast—hard-boiled, soft-boiled, half-boiled, sunny-side-up, poached, omelette, or scrambled. For fried eggs, throw in some veggies such as cherry tomatoes, onions, zucchini, bell peppers, and spinach. Do not forget the popular sliced or mashed avocado at the side. A bonus tip: having hard-boiled eggs ready on the table is convenient for your loved one in case they are up for a quick bite.
Eggs are the most basic food in our kitchen yet are loaded with many nutrients such as protein, unsaturated omega-3 fats, vitamin D, antioxidants and the list goes on. Protein in eggs is categorised as a high protein because it holds all 9 essential amino acids that our body cannot produce. These amino acids are useful for muscle development, tissue growth, as well as transporting nutrients and preventing illnesses.
Oats are rich in fibre which helps to improve digestion and ensure smooth flow of waste out of the body. As seniors often struggle with constipation, having a bowl of oats in the morning can be a great solution. Apart from that, fibre also allows slow digestion which makes you feel full for a longer period of time.
We can use either of the 3 common types of oats—rolled or old-fashioned oats, steel-cut oats, or instant oats—depending on what our loved one favours. On a stovetop, bring the saucepan of oats to a boil mixed with milk of their choice, mashed bananas, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt to enhance the taste until it gets thickened. Customise it with common toppings like berries, banana coins, flax seeds, dried fruits, coconut flakes, and crushed nuts but you can never go wrong with any other options. As a final garnish, drizzle peanut butter or honey on top for a bit of sweetness.
Keep in mind that some seniors prefer thick, creamy texture while others like it with excess milk in the bowl. Hence, tailor the thickness accordingly to avoid your loved one from feeling nauseated.
Carrying out caregiving duties on weekday mornings can be stressful, between rushing for work and preparing breakfast for your elderly. This is where overnight oats come in handy.
As oats can get extremely thickened overnight, you may want to be generous when adding milk to the stovetop to reduce the concentration. Then, simply store your oatmeal in the fridge the night before, preferably in a jar, and you won’t have to worry about making breakfast the next morning!
Overnight oats are usually served chilled but if your loved one prefers it warm, they can easily transfer it into a microwavable container to reheat but only for about a few seconds.
If you are out of ideas on overnight oats recipes, check out this tutorial video for inspiration.
Smoothies are the perfect choice for a nutrient-packed and delicious morning drink, particularly for our ageing seniors who have problems with chewing and swallowing.
Making a smoothie is quite similar to how you make oatmeal, only without the oats. Main ingredients include milk of choice as the base, ice cubes, frozen fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as protein-rich seeds like flax or chia seeds. All of these will then be blended together until it forms a thick and creamy texture.
As the mixed fruits are already sweet enough for the elderly, it is advisable not to add an extra sweetener such as honey or syrup and therefore, better to serve smoothies in small portions. If your loved one is diabetic, a fruit-only smoothie should be avoided as it can cause an increase in blood sugar level due to an imbalance in the ratio of vegetables and protein.
Potatoes used to be a staple food for our seniors back in the old days before the rice was popularised and has grown to become their all-time favourite. Both white and sweet potatoes are a good source of potassium among other nutrients which help to maintain their bone strength.
Roasted potatoes is one of the easiest potato recipes for breakfast. Simply toss a bowl of diced potatoes with olive oil, cherry tomatoes, and rosemary. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and ground pepper before laying them on a baking tray to bake till golden. You may also include steamed broccoli to the bowl later and voilà, a hearty breakfast ready to serve!
A healthy way to kickstart the day, this well-balanced meal offers endless choices of additions. What is simple as lettuce can be modified into a colourful bowl of a nutrient-dense meal with a mix of greens, fruits, chicken, and eggs.
To a bowl, add grilled chicken breast (has less fat than fried chicken), corn kernels, cherry tomatoes, avocado slices, roasted potatoes with sunny-side-up or boiled eggs on the side. As these ingredients can be too dry for your loved one to munch on, you can combine them with dressings such as roasted sesame, or mix 3 spoons of olive oil and 1 spoon of lemon juice as a vinaigrette.
The keyword here is whole-grain. This type of toast may seem bland as a breakfast choice for most of us, but it can prove to be quite beneficial for our seniors. Whole-grain toast provides a mix of vital nutrients—fibre, protein, vitamin B, antioxidants, and minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium.
Of course, just toast on its own is not enough for a filling breakfast, so you can definitely add various healthy ingredient options to go with it. Peanut butter, mashed avocados, spinach, tomatoes, and fresh fruits are among the many choices that can complement whole-grain toasts.
Oftentimes, as is the case with senior citizens, they cannot easily chew food. Other times, the food cannot be easily digested. This is where tofu comes into play. The soy plant-based ingredient in its tofu variation can not only help our loved ones in easily consuming it but can also provide plenty of protein.
Keeping this in mind, tofu is a good alternative to an egg when it comes to food digestion. Egg yolk also has cholesterol, while tofu has close to none.
You can use tofu instead of eggs in a traditional scramble and it still tastes delicious! Alternatively, you can also make an omelette out of tofu and add in nutrient-rich vegetables such as mushrooms, spinach, and onions along with it.
Burritos are full hearty meals that usually contain meat or chicken along with a variety of assorted ingredients enclosed in a tortilla wrap. While usually had as a dinner option, and occasionally lunch, you can always make your own breakfast variation specifically catered to your loved one.
In a breakfast burrito, just add lean chicken (which are low in fat) or tofu scramble (see above) along with some legumes, such as black beans, lentils, peas, etc, for the fiber. You can use whole wheat wrap instead of the traditional flour tortilla to close up the scrumptious and healthy meal.
Pancakes are a go-to option for many adults, and seniors too can take part in a healthier manner. Instead of using flour batter, you can opt for whole-grain flour for the optimum nutritional intake. On the other hand, if you are looking to experiment, you can use chickpea flour to make chickpea pancakes. Additionally, you can also try making spinach pancakes—just mix spinach, oats, banana, and water for the batter – for a lighter meal.
Both whole-grain and chickpea pancakes are a good source of protein and fibre, which means the meals are filling for a long time.
Yoghurt provides a big boost of protein along with every nutrient that our body needs, such as B vitamins and calcium. Additionally, it may help reduce the risks of some diseases, at the same time aid in digestion as well as weight control. Yoghurts also provide a probiotic boost, which keeps the digestive system balanced.
Most of the yoghurt found in stores are loaded with sugar, therefore cannot be used for senior citizens, especially those who have diabetes. In order to curb this, you can either opt for low-sugar, low-fat yoghurt or just buy plain yoghurt and add your own sweeteners in the form of honey or fruits.
This brings us to our breakfast meal—a yoghurt parfait. A parfait is basically layers of yoghurt and fresh or frozen fruits, with granola or other nuts on top. There are many variations, of course, so you can mix and match whichever suits your loved one’s taste (and health).
Stew and soups
Stew and soups are regarded as comfort food for the majority of ageing seniors because of their warmth and soft soaked ingredients. Aside from the liquids providing hydration, the mixed vegetables and spices in the broth contain many vitamins as well as minerals which make up for a highly nutritious meal.
In order to maximise the nutritional value of soup, you may throw in some chopped garlic when serving (ginger loses some of its nutritional contents when heated) to boost the immune system of your loved one and reduce inflammation in their body. Other than that, do ensure that veggies like carrots and broccoli are cooked until they are soft for ease of chewing.
In Western countries, porridge is typically made out of oats instead of rice. What we Malaysians call ‘bubur’ is referring to congee—the usual rice porridge made in our household when we are down with fever. As a common Asian dish, congee is available at any local stall and fast food outlets such as McD and KFC. However, it is always a better option to cook it at home where you can adjust how much salt and seasonings are needed.
Congee is the simplest homemade dish anyone can make, but estimating the water ratio can get tricky. Less water means it won’t get watery but it might be too dry and starchy for your loved one. The recommended type of rice is jasmine rice or long-grain rice, but white rice or brown rice is just as fine.
To prepare it as a complete meal, toss in fish or shredded chicken as protein sources, diced carrots or edamame as vitamin sources, and chopped ginger as carbohydrate (and for that appetising smell!). Infusing chicken stock can make it more savoury. When served, top it off with spring onions and fried onions, as well as a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil. If you are adding salted radish, there is no need to sprinkle salt into the pot as the goal is to reduce sodium intake.
This cosy breakfast will certainly make your loved one drool in no time!
Quinoa is edible seeds that are commonly placed under “grain food” or known as “pseudo-cereal” due to it being consumed like grains. Quinoa is rich in nutrients, with not only a high protein count but also containing sufficient amounts of all 9 amino acids that we require. Moreover, it contains multiple minerals and vitamins, as well as fibre. Thus, it can be a beneficial addition to a senior citizen’s diet intake.
Quinoa is super versatile, and can be consumed as, or added to, any dish depending on the occasion: as breakfast cereal, as grain in salads, as a side dish, used in baked goods, or even made into a pasta.
A simple, yet effective breakfast option is often just a plain bowl of fruit salad. Provided the right fruits and quantities are chosen, these fruit salads can be packed with vitamins, fibre, and antioxidants. These in turn provide health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, weight management, and improved digestive system.
Some fruits you might want to always include are apples, oranges, pomegranates, berries, and bananas, as they are rich in the above-mentioned nutrients.
Plant-based diet as a guide
Preparing healthy meals can feel restrictive as we are not familiar with low-calorie foods. A useful tip is to refer to a plant-based diet. There are plenty versions of such a diet and one that is suitable for your ageing loved one would be a semi-vegetarian diet that places a bigger emphasis on foods from plants—mainly vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Meat, dairy, seafood, and poultry are served merely as a complementary addition in a smaller amount, instead of being the main ingredients.
If you are in need of assistance with your loved one’s activities of daily living including eating, Homage can be at your service to provide home care and companionship when your caregiving duties start to feel beyond capability.
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