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Caring for the Older Adults

Hit These 6 Nutrition Targets to Help Your Residents Gain Weight

Hit These 6 Nutrition Targets to Help Your Residents Gain Weight

By: Julie Stefanski MEd, RDN, LDN, CDCES

Poor appetite is sneaky. It starts with a few leftover bites of food at a meal or several skipped snacks. Before you know it, your resident has lost weight. Unplanned weight loss can contribute to a decline in immunity, increase muscle loss, and fall risk.

Fortunately, there are many strategies you can use as a caregiver or family member to develop a diet to help an older adult regain lost weight. Here are a few easy tips using real food options for weight gain.

How to Gain Weight and Maintain Muscle

Protein powder often comes to mind when people need to gain weight. However, it’s important to remember that boosting total calorie intake is the most crucial intervention, not just protein. Protein powder may add an off-taste or texture to beverages. This addition is not only costly, but it can also cause someone to drink less than before.

Focus on these easy ways to increase protein intake:

  • Encourage meat, beans, or dairy products with each meal.
  • Offer soft, flavorful meat salads made with mayonnaise such as egg or tuna salad.
  • Add powdered nonfat drink milk to milk products, hot cereal, and puddings.

Focus on Fats

It can often be difficult for individuals with a poor appetite to eat a larger quantity during meals and snacks. Adding fats to meals can help increase calorie intake without larger portions. Certain high-fat foods can be some of the best foods for weight gain.

Start by adding some of these options at each meal:

  • Add olive oil to sauces, dressings, pasta, and vegetables.
  • Mix soft avocado into meat salads, puddings, and dips.
  • Offer high-fat soups such as bisques and creamed soups.
  • Offer cooked vegetables with real butter and creamed vegetables such as creamed spinach rather than raw vegetables.

Make Sure to Boost Up Breakfast for Weight Gain

Breakfast is often the best meal of the day for many residents. Many breakfast dishes can be made into high-calorie breakfast items for weight gain.

Consider these options to turn ordinary morning meals into high-calorie food choices:

  • Super Cereal—add heavy cream, butter, scrambled eggs, and a preferred sweetener to any hot cereal such as oatmeal, cream of rice, or cream of wheat.
    • Make a delicious fall-flavored hot cereal by adding canned pumpkin, cinnamon, heavy cream, and nonfat dry milk powder to cream of rice or oatmeal.
  • Coffee—You probably have a resident who would choose to drink coffee all day. Coffee is an excellent vehicle for added calories. By adding half and half, high-protein milk, and sugar, you can make a calorie-free beverage into a weight gain intervention.

Keep an Eye on Digestion

Constipation can contribute to poor appetite. It’s essential to make sure that regular bowel movements occur, particularly if someone receives certain medications. Many medications may impact the frequency of elimination. Ensure that the resident is drinking well. Fiber won’t work unless there’s adequate fluid intake.

To increase fiber:

  • Offer high fiber soups such as split pea or lentil
  • Include beans in meat dishes such as tacos or chili
  • Experiment with dips such as hummus that clients may not be familiar with. This can be a great activity to do together since there’s no cooking involved.

Maximize Desserts for Weight Gain

Desserts can offer nutritional benefits, especially if they contain eggs or nut butter.

  • Consider making this easy egg custard recipe or homemade peanut butter fudge
  • Premium ice cream often has double the calories of comparable low-fat brands.
    • For residents who only are willing to consume a few bites of a treat, a premium ice cream may be a good investment. For weight gain, avoid light or fat-free ice cream, which are lower in calories and sugar. Instead, choose ice creams with real cream, whole fat milk, and sugar. Read the nutrition facts label before purchasing to ensure its ingredients offer the maximum nutritional value.

Ingredients for Weight Gain Shakes

While commercial shakes may be popular, they often contain added vitamins and minerals, making the taste less appealing. Instead, creating a shake in-house caters to resident preferences while eliminating any unwanted after-tastes.

  • Start by talking with your resident about what flavors they prefer.
  • The base of the shake should contain a high-fat milk or dairy alternative. Protein options can include tofu, peanut butter, or Greek yogurt.
  • Add fresh, frozen, or canned fruit based on resident taste preferences.
  • Add additional fats in the form of heavy cream, coconut milk, or oils.
  • Caution should be used if considering chia seeds as undissolved chia could be challenging for someone who has difficulty swallowing.

If you have any eggnog fans, this holiday treat can serve as a calorie booster with nearly 150 calories in only four ounces. If you make your own, be sure to use pasteurized liquid eggs to comply with food safety standards.

Monitoring Weights and More

It’s vital to add calorie boosters at each meal and snack and monitor weights regularly to avoid further weight loss. Getting creative with serving high-calorie options and encouraging resident appetites can help reduce instances of weight loss and even encourage weight gain. If you have questions about implementing weight gain interventions for your residents, reach out to Elderwise Inc.

Julie Stefanski MEd, RDN, LDN, CDCES is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and certified diabetes care and education specialist. Stefanski owns a private practice Stefanski Nutrition Services in York, PA.

Phone: (541)419-4036