April 2009 Issue
Food for Thought
Experts offer tips on healthy eating for this stage of life.
Michael Fishking is a master at solving culinary dilemmas. As resident chef for Columbus’ Westminster-Thurber continuing-care retirement community, he never tires of concocting new dishes tailor-made to meet specific dietary requirements of residents.
And that trouble-shooting continues during the Cooking for One class Fishking conducts for his diners. Students come looking for answers to a litany of questions centered on how to make easy, healthy meals for this time in their lives.
“Many of our residents are adjusting to lifestyle changes,” Fishking explains. “There are empty-nesters who were used to making large dinners and are now cooking for only themselves and their spouses, or maybe just themselves. Some have downsized from a large house to an apartment-sized kitchen. Others want to fine-tune their diet to accommodate the slower metabolism that comes with aging.”
No matter what the reason, he says reassuringly, the solution does not have to involve maneuvers akin to rocket science. The first step: review the United States Department of Agriculture Food Pyramid at www.mypyramid.gov. Punch in your age, height, weight and physical-activity level to discover the daily-recommended allowance of grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, protein and fat that’s right for you. (Researchers at Tufts University have their own version of the pyramid, recently modified for older adults. For more information, visit nutrition.tufts.edu.)
Admittedly, the results can be a revelation, especially for couch potatoes who enjoy more than their fair share of sugary, salty snacks.
“Change can be hard,” says Fishking, “which is why I recommend starting slow. For example, for two weeks, just focus on your liquid intake, then move on to incorporating fiber-rich foods through fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole-grain breads.
“It’s also important to keep a positive mind-set about the
changes. Instead of thinking about what you’re taking away, think about what you are adding. Instead of saying, ‘I’m not drinking soda anymore,’ think of it as ‘I’m starting to drink water now.’ ”
Although water is essential for carrying nutrients to cells and providing a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues, the notion of drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of it a day isn’t easy to swallow.
Fortunately, says Lucie Ashton, a registered and licensed dietitian at Maple Knoll Village, a continuing-care retirement community in Cincinnati, it doesn’t have to be restricted to pure H2O.
“Don’t think of it just as water,” Ashton says. “Think of it as the total amount of fluid you should be getting a day — that 64 ounces can include milk, fruit juice, soup, ice cream — anything that melts in your mouth or at room temperature. It all adds up.”
Julie Kennel Shertzer, a registered, licensed dietitian and program specialist in Ohio State University’s Department of Human Nutrition, advises having a back-up plan at hand for those times when preparing a meal from scratch seems overwhelming. She recommends stocking up on one-skillet meals available in your supermarket’s freezer section, as well as on soup that can be served with a simple salad or a plate of cheese and crackers.
“I don’t always want people to eat frozen meals because they are high in sodium and fat,” Shertzer says, “but I think they are a good emergency solution when you absolutely do not have the energy to cook.”
After all, she adds, the last thing eating should be is stressful.
“We all need to find a balance point with good nutrition,” Shertzer says, “but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy our food.”
Measure for Measure
Throughout their 50-year marriage, Curt and Katharine
Levis have always followed a healthy diet filled with fruits and vegetables. That eating plan became even more fine-tuned 10 years ago, after Curt was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which necessitated cutting down on carbohydrates.
“Now, when we go out and order dessert, he’ll take one bite and I’ll eat the rest,” Katharine, a retired chaplain, says with a smile.
The couple, members of the Westminster-Thurber continuing-care community in Columbus, rely on MasterCook Cooking Light software to help them monitor portions.
“Katharine simply types her recipes into the computer, and the program breaks it down nutritionally,” says Curt, 83.
The professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Ohio State University has also worked with a dietitian to calibrate the number of calories he needs daily to maintain his weight, and his daily allowance of carbohydrates: 240 grams, which includes 60 at every meal. He reserves 60 grams for snacks, usually comprising fruit and nuts.
Curt admits he’s fastidious about measuring everything he eats — whether it’s the 30 grams of carbohydrates contained in the 1/4 cup of raisins he sprinkles over Puffed Rice, or the 23 grams contained in one cup of his wife’s beef stew.
Katharine, 81, follows the same plan to keep her cholesterol in check. “Curt has become so knowledgeable about diet,” she says, “that he could teach a class in it.”
Eating for a New Age
Tom and Janet Daniel admit to indulging in a chocolate chip cookie every now and then. And a Saturday night plate of cheddar cheese and crackers.
But the couple, who live in Hudson’s Laurel Lake Retirement Community, have always been steadfast and true to a low-fat, high-fiber diet.
“We’re not extremists about what we eat, just sensible,” says Tom, 80, a retired pulmonologist and professor emeritus of medicine at Case Western Reserve University.
The Daniels’ philosophy is simple: Unlike the high-school track-and-field star who can burn up 4,000 calories with ease, people over 50 cannot.
“Even active seniors don’t need the calories they did when they were younger,” says Tom. “Janet and I walk a lot, but we’re not athletes.”
So when they’re not dining at Laurel Lake or trying out a new restaurant with friends, Tom and Janet keep things simple.
The couple’s routine includes a breakfast of dried cereal with skim milk, a lunch comprised of fresh fruits and vegetables and dinner of roast turkey (sans skin) or broiled salmon. They also avoid fast-food restaurants and steer clear of frozen-food meals laden with sodium.
“The trick is to find nutritious foods that will control your hunger,” explains Janet, 77. “I enjoy a cup of tea in the afternoon or munch a bunch of grapes. Then I’m OK until dinner.”
The mother of four daughters, Selma Woodin was no stranger to preparing well-balanced meals for a dining-room-tableful of family members and their friends.
“Since someone was always asking a friend home for dinner, I cooked for about 10 people every night,” Woodin, 83, recalls. “My kids were raised on good, solid foods.”
But after her children left the nest and her husband passed away 15 years ago, Woodin realized she had to find a new way of cooking that was quick and convenient, yet did not skimp on essential vitamins and minerals.
“It was hard at first to plan meals for one, but I’ve learned a lot of shortcuts through the years,” she says.
Her favorite discovery: the joy of slow cookers.
“I don’t start every day by peeling a potato and three green beans,” she says. “Instead I make four to six meals at a time in the Crock-Pot — meat, vegetables, the works — and then freeze individual portion sizes.
“The end result is that I have a freezerful of full meals.”
A resident of Maple Knoll Village, a continuing-care community in Cincinnati, Woodin enjoys eating out with friends. But she also enjoys entertaining at home, which is when the slow-cooker fare really comes in handy.
“When I have someone in for dinner, I’ll take two boxes out of the freezer, instead of one,” she says. “Since each box contains a complete home-cooked meal, they think I’ve worked all day.”
Westminster-Thurber resident chef Michael Fishking shares two of his favorite recipes that are a cinch to make: The Salmon and Lemon Rice skillet dish is a complete meal in one pan, while Steak Salad with Blue is a tasty solution for leftovers.
Salmon and Lemon Rice
5 ounces salmon fillet
1 ea lemon
1 thick slice of red onion
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup white rice
2/3 cup asparagus
1 dash olive oil
1 pinch kosher salt
1 pinch white pepper
In a medium skillet with a lid, heat the water to a boil. Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze the juice into the water. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Place the lemon halves next to each other in the pan, cut side down. Add rice, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Season the salmon with oil, salt and pepper. Place the salmon on top of the lemon. Add the red onion and asparagus to the pan and re-cover. Cook for an additional 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it sit, covered, for an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Place the rice, asparagus, and onion in the center of a plate, then top with the salmon.
Steak Salad with Blue Cheese
1 cup romaine lettuce, spring mix, or baby spinach
2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds, pinenuts, or your favorite unsalted nuts
1/8 cup carrots, chopped
1 thick tomato slice, cut into 4 pieces
2 tablespoons raisins
3 ounces steak, sliced thin
2 teaspoons of your favorite salad dressing
Combine the first 6 ingredients in a salad bowl. Top with steak and dressing.