Retiring Can Strain Food Budgets

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More than 10 percent of the nation’s retirees struggle with hunger.

New research offers one explanation: when people retire and give up a regular paycheck, they sometimes adjust to having less income by reducing their food intake.

After retiring, the men in the study ate 17 percent less protein, which becomes more important as people age. Their total calorie intake also dropped 19 percent, and their Vitamin E consumption fell 16 percent, on average, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and University of Delaware. The retirees also cut back on several other nutrients.

This contradicts previous studies, which had failed to uncover a link between diet and retirement income. Skeptical of the findings, the researchers did an exhaustive study that used various types of analyses and several datasets to follow male heads of households from employment through retirement. They controlled for race, education, household size, and health.

They consistently found, across several data sources, that a drop in income reduces food intake. In fact, the effect was so large that it exceeded the impact of another dramatic financial event: unemployment among working-age people.

Although a small minority of seniors are threatened by hunger, it’s a serious problem.

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Chuck Miller

Being retired gives you time to really shop healthy. Avoid prepackaged food and shop the “outside” of grocery stores where the fresh food is. Farmer’s markets have really good fruits and veggies and may cost less. Being retired also means you have time to cook and bake at home, which can be more healthy and save money.


I have seen a phenomenon among many seniors, with whom I work, that as they age, these individuals begin eating increasingly poor diets. I often observe retired housewives who were excellent cooks for their families for 40 years, but once they are alone following the death of a spouse, they subsist on hot dogs or canned soup. Often, they could afford to continue eating well, or even dining out, but they choose not to. I do not know the exact reason for this phenomenon, although I could guess. I would be interested to see an academic study on this topic.


As a registered dietitian who just retired healthy at 70, my lack of desire to cook just for me is not something that started when I retired. I raised a family. When they emancipated, I chose to divorce, so live by myself. I shop with same healthy parameters but cooking for one is really not exciting with additional issues. As one ages, caloric needs decrease significantly and the ability to digest certain foods is hindered because of decreased stomach acid. For some, there is also decreased taste bud activity.

Another a big issue is that producers and grocery stores do not package for families of one. This hinders variety for menu as well. Example: Pork loin for three days or lasagna for five becomes the standard for me when I cook. There is more wasted food — either goes bad before I can use it or I get bored with the item.

Bottom line…it is not a simple one answer. With 49% of adult meals eaten away from home and the increasing popularity of complete meal in a box delivered to homes and the lack of younger generation cooking skills…this is a concern that is going to get much worse as populations age! For me, eating lunch at the Senior center is of no interest at this point — requires effort, driving, and socializing on a superficial level – no thanks. Meals on wheels is financial qualifying.

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