December … a time of celebrations, gatherings, and ‘holiday cheer’. A time when many people feel like they’re struggling to find balance with holiday eating and thinking about how to avoid gaining too much come January.
But this isn’t the case for everyone. During my time working with older adults in long-term care, December marked the time of year when we started kicking up our monitoring of how much (or little) was being eaten. It was the time for planning how to add in extra calories so people did not have unplanned weight loss.
It can feel distressing when someone isn’t eating well. We may even say or think, ‘why can’t you just eat, you know you need to?!’.
This goes for anyone, not only seniors. Anyone going through medical treatment or a time of illness can have a lower appetite. During these times, the goal may change from optimizing nutritional wellbeing to decreasing risks, including unplanned weight loss. There can be so many reasons for unplanned weight loss: winter illnesses, emotions about the holiday season, decreased ability to get out for groceries, loneliness, all of the above and more.
Often when someone is not eating well, people go straight to nutritional supplements such as Boost, Ensure, Glucerna, Carnation Instant Breakfast, etc. This could be from a Doctor’s recommendation, a suggestion from a friend or family member, or because these products are so widely available and well marketed.
These products can definitely be effective for some people, but I don’t believe they should be the first choice.
Nutritional supplements can have their drawbacks:
- they can be costly, especially if used often
- people get sick of drinking them (we call this ‘taste fatigue’)
- people may not accept them again in the future after drinking them to get through an illness because the taste reminds them so strongly of that time in their life
- they may interfere with meals if taken too many times a day
- they tend to be quite sweet which is great for some people but not appealing to others
- sometimes it just seems like the easiest choice so that’s what people reach for
- although safe to consume, they don’t fit with a ‘Food First’ approach
What is a High-Calorie, High-Protein diet?
It’s a way of eating with more energy-dense foods added. These foods are cost-effective, simple to add, may already be in someone’s kitchen … and they’re flexible to match appetite changes!
High-Calorie, High-Protein food Ideas
The following foods and beverages are added in as snacks or added to boost the calories/protein in a meal. But the favourite, and most accepted, way is usually to blend up a delicious smoothie.
- cheese, cream cheese, sour cream
- whole milk, whipping cream, cream (10% or 18%)
- eggnog (now’s the time to stock up on it and stick it in the freezer for eggnog through the year!)
- ice cream
- gravy, dressings, margarine, oil
- jam, syrup, honey, sugar
- dried fruit
- store-bought muffins and cookies
- skim milk powder
- milk, soy milk
- yogurt (especially Greek or Skyr)
- seeds, nuts, peanut butter
- lentils, beans
- meat, poultry, fish
High-Calorie, High-Protein Beverage Ideas
Chocolate Bar Smoothie
For this one, I’ve ended up combining a variety of recipes over the years and it has morphed into this. I don’t even actually have a recipe since it’s just 5 ingredients. For lack of a ‘real’ name, I call this my liquid chocolate bar just because of the taste and smoothness. Caution though, this one seriously doesn’t last long … and it is filling!
1 frozen banana
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1 1/2 cups milk or soy milk – use more or less to adjust the thickness
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
- Place all ingredients into blender
- Blend until smooth
- mix it up by adding flavoured yogurt; I just tried coconut yogurt (about 1/3 cup) and got something that tasted like those little chocolate-covered coconut cookies – wow! Can’t wait to try again with caramel flavoured yogurt
- other ‘healthy’ add-ins are optional and will change the flavour, such as ground flaxseed or hemp hearts; I’ve tried hemp hearts, and while not a huge change, it’s a little less chocolate-bar-like
- if dates are not soft, soak in hot water for 5-10mins before blending
- for best results blending frozen bananas, peel and slice lengthwise and again across to divide the banana into quarters before freezing
While this recipe was brought to fame for those people following the keto diet (ie to curb appetite in the moring), it can be a way for folks to enjoy a high-calorie coffee. And again … it’s delicious!
1Tbps ghee (clarified butter, found in most major grocery stores)
1Tbsp coconut oil
Fresh brewed coffee
- Brew coffee as usual
- Measure ghee and oil into blender or container for hand blender
- Add hot coffee
- Blend VERY carefully to avoid burning yourself. If using a blender, consider having some kind of vent as pressure may build up when blending hot liquid. If using hand blender, be sure to blend in a large enough container that it won’t splash out.
- Once frothy, you’re done.
- Add cream and sugar or whatever you add to your usual coffee … and enjoy.
Tip: I tried this without the blending (yes, I was a little nervous) and it does NOT work. The oil isn’t mixed up well enough and you’ll get oil pools gathering on top. But I learned that the blending isn’t as scary as it seems and now I love to have this coffee sometimes as part of my midmorning snack.
How else can I help someone eat or drink more?
If a friend or loved one is not eating well and/or losing weight, please have them speak with their doctor first. If the problem has already been addressed and the plan includes boosting their nutrition intakes, the following ideas might help.
- make a meal/snack plan with them and help them have all the ingredients they need on hand
- batch cook favorite foods and freeze portions
- avoid foods that are labeled as ‘light’, ‘low-calorie’, ‘calorie-reduced’, etc
- encourage them to drink juice, milk or milkshakes instead of low-calorie fluids like tea, broth or coffee (unless you’re trying out the Butter Coffee recipe above sometimes)
- if able, visit at meal times to provide company and help in the kitchen, or arrange for a friendly visitor or volunteer for these times of the day
- encourage small and frequent meals or snacks through the day
- prepare snacks to have on hand, such as cheese slices, puddings, deli meat, granola bars
- discuss, if possible, what the person wants for themselves, what their health goals are
- try to understand that this may be a time to put strict healthy eating patterns on hold and instead look at getting in whatever the person is willing to eat or drink
- connect with your local meal delivery service or local lunch program
- get the help of a Registered Dietitian
Everyone’s appetite changes from day-to-day. When someone is having a difficult time eating and drinking enough to keep weight on, other risks can develop if the problem is not looked into. If you are concerned, the first step should be to discuss with a doctor.
No matter if the issue is temporary or long-term, a Dietitian can help create a plan for improving intakes, lessening weight loss or re-gaining the weight afterward. Take a look at my Nutrition Coaching Services to see how I might be able to help you or your loved one overcome this struggle.
Angela Hubbard is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) with 10 years experience working in the field of nutrition. Her work focuses on empowering people with young minds and aging bodies as they enter their retirement years and beyond. In her off time she loves swapping recipes, creating and exploring Northern BC life with her young family.