Meals for one top tips to entice your older parent to cook

We know that encouraging our older parents to eat a balanced diet is important in keeping them healthy. Getting them to eat well is one thing (and can be difficult enough if they have dentures, weakened hands or perhaps have lost their sense of smell) but getting them to cook a meal is often a much more difficult matter.

A lack of interest in preparing meals is common amongst older people. Losing a partner and living alone has a huge impact on health and eating patterns. Older men may not have done much in the way of cooking in their past and after a lifetime of cooking for their families, older women often lack the motivation needed to rustle up a meal for one.

A long term study of health and ageing found that solitude has a significant impact on the health and eating patterns of older people and that they were more likely to have a diet with limited variety and not enough fruit and vegetables.

 So what can we do to stimulate jaded appetites and rekindle an interest in cooking in older parents who’ve lost interest?

Shopping and cooking together

If they’re still mobile, then a visit to a local food market could be a good start. The sights, sounds and smells may well stoke their interest. Choosing fresh ingredients and then cooking a simple meal together can be an enjoyable way to encourage your older parent back into the habit of eating well and enjoying their food.

Cook family favourites from the past

Talking about, and then creating favourite family meals from your childhood could be a good way of jogging your older parent’s memory. Do they have a favourite recipe passed down from their parents or grandparents? Involving the grandchildren could be a great way of making it a real family occasion and of passing on recipes to the next generation.

Grow an edible garden

Regardless of mobility, lack of space, or even lack of green fingers, it’s still possible to grow an edible garden in a window box or balcony. A visit to a local garden centre will get you all the items you need and could be the start of a fun hobby for your older parent.  It’s also a great way to stimulate an interest in healthy eating and cooking with home-grown fruit and vegetables – anything from potatoes, beans, lettuce and tomatoes to strawberries!  Check out our article on Edible gardens for the elderly.

Meals for one

A major barrier to cooking for some older people is that it just seems to be a waste when you’re only cooking for one. Fortunately, there are some good ‘Meals for One’ recipes available and these might be enough to get your parent interested in having a go at cooking. The other option is to make a larger batch of soup, stew or casseroles and freeze them in one portion batches.

Age UK has a very useful guide called Fit as a Fiddle: Cooking For One, which contains some good ideas for delicious, easy and nutritious meals, such as lamb hotpot, Spanish omelette, and microwaved stuffed apple. You can download it as a PDF, or send away for a printed flipbook copy.

Here’s on of their recipes for Vegetable and Bean Soup, which makes one large or two small portions.

Preparation time      10 mins

Cooking time             40 mins


1 small, finely chopped onion

1 small stick of celery, sliced stick celery

1 sliced carrot

1 small leek, sliced

1 clove of garlic finely chopped

1 small potato, peeled and cubed

1 small tin of chopped tomatoes

1 small tin of mixed cooked beans in water (drained and rinsed)

300ml/ ½ pint of chicken or vegetable liquid stock (or, add a stock cube to boiling water)

Pinch of dried or freshly chopped basil (optional)

Black pepper to taste (optional)

1 tbsp of olive oil (higher fat version)


Low-fat method: part boil all vegetables except for the tomatoes for 10 minutes in a large saucepan then drain (use the liquid to make the stock as it contains a lot of nutrients).

Higher-fat method: heat the olive oil in large saucepan, add the vegetables and stir for 5–10 minutes until they start to soften.  Add the tomatoes, the stock and the seasoning to the vegetables. Bring to the boil while stirring. Turn down the heat to low, cover and leave to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans and heat for a further 5 minutes, until the beans are warmed through.

Eat either on its own, or with a side salad or crusty bread. You can cool and store the leftovers in the fridge until the next day.

The BBC good food website also has some interesting meals-for-one recipes, which also  might suit older people.

You might also find these articles helpful:

Eating well for ageing

Dietician’s recommendations for elderly nutrition

Optimum foods for elderly

Top superfoods for older people






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