As a registered dietitian, I pay extra-close attention to my family’s nutrition, especially for the guys in my life, since they each have different needs.
Ben is 13, and growing like a weed. Between the ages of nine and 18 are the bone-building years for both boys and girls, so he needs more calcium than ever: 1,300 milligrams a day. That’s three to four servings of milk and alternatives, according to Canada’s Food Guide. So I ensure he has a serving of cheese, yogurt and/or milk at every meal.
As for healthy school lunches, he brings a packed lunch from home most days, but once a week he buys it from the cafeteria. I don’t critique his choices because I want to encourage his decision-making. And he rounds out that sometimes-junky choice with fruit, veggies, cheese and juice.
His appetite is huge, so I always have healthy foods at home so he can make snacks’such as avocado for guacamole, and berries and yogurt for smoothies. Ben loves the independence, and I love that he’s building culinary skills.
At his recent physical, Dan (who is in his mid-40s) learned he’s at risk for pre-diabetes. Although he is at a healthy weight, he has two uncontrollable risk factors for type 2 diabetes: being of Asian descent, and being over the age of 40.
Because he sometimes does the grocery shopping, I’ve given him advice on reading nutrition labels. He now chooses products that help him cut back on sugar. Dan often gets lunch at the food court, so he now swaps pad thai (heavy on carbs and not enough veggies) for a green salad with lean protein such as chicken. He even keeps nuts in his car for snacking on his long commute. Way to go!
My two ‘dads’
My father, Tim, and father-in-law, Benedict, are in their mid-70s. Men at this age can be vulnerable to heart disease and cancer. I’m thankful that both of my dads are healthy’so my main goal here is to help them age well.
I suggest they eat colourful fruit and veggies for their fibre and antioxidants, plus fish, nuts and seeds for healthy fats that boost brain health.
I also recommend they take 1000 IU of vitamin D a day, since we become less efficient at making it as we age. (The recommended amounts vary: Canada’s Food Guide suggests 400 IU for those over 50, while Osteoporosis Canada suggests 800 to 2,000 IU for those over 50.)
Another common challenge for seniors is a small appetite due to medications or loneliness. Being with others encourages seniors to eat and enjoy food. Both of the older men in my life know this well. My dad (a retired chef) still cooks an extravagant dinner for our extended family of 16 people every Monday night. And my father-in-law enjoys weekly dim sum dates with his bowling buddies. The steamed dumplings are a hands-down healthier choice compared to chicken wings and fries at a pub.
If you’re worried about your dad’s nutrition, encourage him to make meal dates with friends and family. It’s a good way to enjoy one of life’s great pleasures’food!