Eating Together for Healthy Living

People who are shielding from Corona, particularly those who live alone, may suffer from malnutrition because they are not eating proper meals.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, one of the problematic side-effects of social distancing is that many people are eating all their meals alone. With day centers closed and no Shabbat or Yom Tov invitations, their social calendars are empty and depressing.

Loneliness is a major problem for many seniors. Preparing and eating meals alone can feel particularly depressing, because there is no one to talk to during meal times. Eating in a social setting tends to encourage older people to stay at the table longer and eat more. This can be particularly important if they have spent many years eating together with a spouse, and associate sharing meals with the happier times in their life.

Studies show that the vast majority of older adults report feeling when happier eating with others than when they eat alone. More than half report that sharing meals makes the food taste better! Older adults who are more socially connected report living longer, feeling better, and experiencing fewer health problems than their more isolated counterparts. Shared meals offer a chance for people to spend time together, strengthening ties and building better relationships.

Assisted living facilities like Beit Tovei HaIr generally offer communal meals, particularly on Shabbat, which encourages lonely residents to leave their apartments and socialize at meal times. This can have a very positive impact on their physical and mental health, and it also gives them an event to look forward to in an otherwise boring day.

Cooking for One

Food plays such an important role in Jewish life that it is hard to imagine our parents not eating. It may be too embarrassing for them to talk about their loss of appetite or the fact that they no longer want to cook for themselves. If shopping and food preparation used to take up a major proportion of their days, they may find it difficult to find other activities to fill that time.

Seniors who live alone may lack the motivation to prepare meals for themselves, and they are less likely to make healthy food choices. When cooking for one, it is sometimes difficult to keep your menu interesting. Cooking small portions is time-consuming, but cooking larger quantities can lead to a boring diet of the same soup or casserole dish many days in a row. If they have access to a freezer and microwave, and if they know how to freeze and reheat food safely, this can help them to vary their diet.

Buying fruits and vegetables for one is another challenge. Even someone who wants to maintain a healthy diet may find that fresh produce deteriorates before they get a chance to eat it. One idea is to share your shopping with a friend or neighbor. If half a cabbage is enough for you, he or she can have the other half, and perhaps swop it for half of their bag of carrots! Seniors are sometimes reticent about sharing their problems, so if you see that your parent is throwing away produce, perhaps speak to them about different shopping and swapping ideas.

Living & Eating Alone

In the first chapter of the Torah it says “It is not good for Man to live alone”, and this applies to women as well, of course! Single older people may lose track of time and either accidentally or deliberately skip meals, particularly if they want to avoid the loneliness of eating alone. Look out for signals of weight loss and, if you can visit, check what they have in their refrigerator. You may also want to take a look at the sell-by dates of the food, which can give you clues as to whether they are eating what they buy, or losing track of the days.

Loneliness and isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, and even chronic health problems. If you cannot join your parent for meals, perhaps look around for a friend or neighbor who might also be looking for companionship. Making meals more sociable will also encourage your parent to pay more attention to what they are preparing. If your mother was accustomed to making big meals for her family and showing her love in that way, finding an appreciative person to share her food with her might help to fill that void in her life.

If you are concerned about how your parent is dealing with the loneliness imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, now may be the time to discuss the idea of moving to an assisted living facility. The social and health benefits may be easier to recognize today than they were previously.

The Importance of Food

Genesia Pave is the Dietician on the staff of the Beit Tovei HaIr Residential Facility in Jerusalem. She sits on the Residents’ Food Committee that meets every month to discuss the menus for the main dining room, together with the Kitchen Manager, Chef and CEO. “We always try to include the residents in the planning of menus, particularly before the Chagim, because we know that the food we serve is important to them. If they want to eat in their own apartment, they receive a daily menu to choose from. I am also available to our residents to discuss issues of diet and nutrition, and I visit them in their apartments to discuss ideas for food they can cook in their own kitchens.”

If you think that the strictly kosher, religious and social environment of Beit Tovei HaIr may be suitable for you or your parents, please contact us to find out more. Over 70% of our residents are English speakers who have moved to Israel, and we can even advise on the process of making Aliyah.

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