A well-balanced, protein-rich diet is crucial for seniors. Protein helps build muscle, maintain strength and so much more. We’ve developed a list of some of our favorite protein-packed and healthy recipes for you to enjoy.
Why is Protein Important for Seniors?
For any balanced diet, protein is an important nutrient to regularly incorporate into meals. While protein is most well known for contributing to muscle growth and repair, it is also an important building block for cell growth in hair, skin, nails, bones and internal organs. Additionally, this essential nutrient also plays a vital role in healing from injuries, keeping fluid levels balanced and maintaining healthy vision.
Along with exercise, protein-rich foods are great for older adults to help maintain a healthy weight, which in turn helps with chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
As we age, it is important to ensure we’re getting the right amount of nutrition, particularly to help prevent muscle breakdown. Since the body processes muscle before fat first, muscle breakdown is a common risk as a result of decreased appetite and overall decreased intake, so it is important to ensure a proper diet, especially as we age.
Seniors are therefore more likely to need an increased amount of protein in order to help maintain bone, muscle and overall health. For that reason, diets that “starve the body” are not recommended for seniors, and if anything, may be counterproductive to their goals. First and foremost, you’ll want to make sure that you are eating enough, and use protein to help supplement, rather than replace, your existing diet.
These delicious recipes we highlight in this article provide you with the protein as well as other essential nutrients seniors need.
Check out some of our favorite protein-packed recipes with some of our favorite protein-rich foods for seniors here:
High-Protein Lean Meat Recipe: Strawberry Chicken with Avocado
This nutrient-packed, delicious chicken recipe from Well Plated is the perfect way to get protein along with tons of antioxidants and vitamins as well. After marinating, this dish is done in less than 40 minutes. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 tablespoon lime zest (about two limes)
- ¼ cup of fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 ½ teaspoons honey
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Strawberry and avocado topping:
- ½ small red onion (diced)
- 1 cup diced strawberries
- 1 medium jalapeno
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- ½ teaspoon honey
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 medium avocado
Now that you have all your ingredients, it is time to get cooking:
- Place the chicken breasts on a cutting board with some space between and cover with a large piece of plastic wrap. With a mallet, lightly pound the meat to an even thickness so that each piece cooks evenly. Place in a large ziplock bag.
- In a small bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, garlic, honey, salt, pepper and cilantro. Pour over the chicken, seal the bag, then “squish” to coat the chicken evenly. Refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 1 day, rotating the bag once or twice if time allows.
- When ready to grill, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for at least 10 minutes. Preheat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan to medium high (roughly 425 to 450F degrees F).
- While the grill preheats, prepare the strawberry salsa: Place the red onion in a small bowl and cover with very hot tap water (this takes out some of the red onion’s bite while preserving its flavor.) Set aside. In a mixing bowl, gently stir the strawberries, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice, honey and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt together. Then, stir in the avocado. Taste and add a bit more salt if you feel it tastes a little too flat or additional honey if it is too spicy. Drain the red onion and add it to the salsa. The longer it sits, the more mild it will taste, so you can wait to drain and add it just before serving if you like.
- Lightly oil the grill. Grill the chicken until completely cooked through and the temperature on an instant thermometer reads 160 to 165 degrees, about eight to 12 minutes total, flipping the chicken once or twice throughout. The amount of time you need will vary based on the size and thickness of each breast. Remove to a plate, cover and let rest for five minutes. Transfer the chicken to serving plates and top each with a few generous spoonfuls of the strawberry salsa. Enjoy!
High-Protein Fish Recipe: Mediterranean Tuna Salad
In just 25 minutes, you can make this yummy, protein-packed salad from Taste of Home which is perfect for lunch or dinner. With other vegetables in the mix, this salad is loaded with nutrients to keep you healthy and nourished. Here is what you are going to need:
- 1 can (15oz) garbanzo beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained (This is a good habit for most canned foods, particularly things with added salt! Canned foods can be very high in sodium, so be sure to choose a “no salt” option whenever possible).
- 3 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 small sweet red pepper, chopped
- 4 green onions, chopped
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons of spicy brown mustard
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 cans (5oz each) albacore white tuna in water
- 4 cups shredded lettuce
- ½ cup crumbled feta or bleu cheese (optional)
Now that you have all the ingredients, the rest is easy:
- In a large bowl, combine the beans, celery, red pepper and green onions. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, basil, salt and pepper. Pour over bean mixture; toss to coat. Gently stir in the tuna.
- Serve over lettuce, sprinkle with cheese if desired.
- For another nutritious option, swap out the lettuce for spinach or kale!
High-Protein Dairy Recipe: Orzo with Cottage Cheese and Peas
While there are plenty of recipes out there that use cottage cheese, some of them are not exactly the healthiest, which is why we like this healthy one from Simple Nourished Living. Here is what you will need:
- 2 cups lowfat cottage cheese, at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup minced scallions or chives
- 1 teaspoon of grated lemon zest
- Black pepper to taste
- ½ pound orzo
- 1 cup frozen peas
- Grated parmesan cheese
Now that you have what you need, here is how you make it:
- Cook the orzo in plenty of boiling salted water until tender. While the orzo is cooking, place the peas in a colander in the sink.
- While the orzo cooks, in a medium-sized bowl, combine the cottage, salt, scallions, lemon zest and black pepper. Mix until well combined.
- Drain the orzo into the colander with peas when done cooking.
- Shake off the excess water and dump into the bowl with the cottage cheese mixture.
- Stir gently and sprinkle with grated parmesan.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
*NOTE* This recipe makes about six servings! The proper serving size for this dish is ¾ cup.
High-Protein Egg Recipe: Brussel Sprouts Hash
Take your breakfast to the next level with this low-carb, high-protein dish that is packed with nutrients from Delish. This recipe yields about four servings, and will be ready for you to enjoy in under an hour. This is what you will need to get started:
- 6 slices of 1” cut bacon
- Reminder: cured meats like bacon have a lot of salt. For adults with high blood pressure, turkey bacon or small pieces of steak are low-sodium options.
- ½ onion, chopped
- 1 lb. brussel sprouts, trimmed and quartered
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 large eggs
With all your ingredients together, and all your eggs in one basket, it is time to get cooking! Here is how you do it:
- In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon strips until crispy. Then, turn off the heat and transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Keep most of the bacon fat in skillet, removing any black pieces from the pan.
- Turn the heat back to medium and add the onion and brussel sprouts to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften and turn golden. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
- Add two tablespoons of water and cover skillet. Cook until brussel sprouts are tender and water has evaporated for five minutes. Add the garlic to skillet and cook until fragrant for about one minute.
- Using a wooden spoon, make four holes in the hash to reveal the bottom of the skillet. Crack an egg into each hole and season each egg with salt and pepper. Replace lid and cook until eggs are cooked to your liking, about five minutes for a just runny egg.
- Sprinkle cooked bacon bits over entire skillet and serve warm.
For adults on a budget or for those who may have trouble making the salads on this list, purchasing premade salads is another great option. Grocery stores often have salads that come packed with leafy greens, vegetables and more. Sometimes, these salads do not come with protein like chicken or tuna. If that’s the case, simply buy your protein separate from the salad and add it on top to enjoy!
At Iora, we are committed to helping our patients make empowered choices about their nutrition and health. We have Health Coaches and a team that’s dedicated to helping you create and manage a personalized health plan. If you have any questions about how much protein you need in your diet or how to stick to a healthy eating plan, schedule an appointment today.
For more information on diet and healthy eating, be sure to visit our Live Better Blog for more articles on healthy eating like the best foods for people with diabetes or the best foods for improving memory.