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Healthful Meal Ideas for Seniors

Dietician/chef creates meals that are nutrient-dense and easy to prepare.

Shirley Martin of Vienna has a pacemaker and is on warfarin, a blood thinner, and Vitamin K, found in dark leafy greens, can lessen the effectiveness of warfarin. Martin also has high cholesterol. "I have to be concerned about eating too many greens while I’m on warfarin or too many fats," said Martin. "I also try to keep from gaining weight."

For an aging individual, physiological or medical changes can have profound effects. Not surprisingly, change is part of the aging process. Not bad changes, necessarily, but changes none-the-less, from changes in sleeping habits to changes in health and changes in physiological and mental makeup.

Eating and diet habits affect the well-being of all age groups, but, for seniors, age-appropriate issues arise, as well. Hampered mobility or arthritis may influence food preparation procedures. Diabetes or high blood pressure may impact ingredient inclusion. And, occasionally, cooking for "one" may take the joy out of eating. Foods may interact with drugs’ effectiveness. Sensory changes, such as loss of smell and taste, may hinder foods’ appeal.

"As we age, our sense of smell and sense of taste decrease," said Culinaria Cooking School dietitian and chef Emily Doerman. "This can make food less enjoyable.

"As it is important to enjoy the food you eat, incorporate a variety of herbs and spices to increase flavor," said Doerman. "Herb and spice blends are an easy way to add flavor to a dish, and enhance the enjoyment of eating." Doerman flavors up dishes with lemon juice and balsamic vinegar, as well as with spices and herbs.

SOME SPICE BLENDS, such as Mrs. Dash, do not contain salt, while others are very heavy in sodium, Doerman said. "Be sure to check the ingredients label first. If you are not sure if you should limit your sodium intake, talk to your doctor or dietitian."

Processed and prepared foods tend to be higher in sodium and/or fat than dishes made from scratch. Processed foods, such as cold cuts and frozen entrees, contain a high percentage of an adult’s recommended daily maximum.

Doerman believes freshly-prepared foods are healthier and can be prepared on a budget and with ease of preparation. Doerman recommends eating, and cooking with, fresh ingredients, making extra servings to freeze when possible. She likes mess-free food preparation and cooking, as well, using parchment or foil for easy clean-up, and using as few pans and prep bowls as is feasible.

If chopping produce is a challenge or a nuisance, cooks can buy ingredients from a fresh produce department of a grocery store. When the budget is tight, buy frozen vegetables, meat and seafood rather than fresh. If standing for long periods is tiring, try using the oven rather than standing over the stove’s cooktop to cook.

Doerman is a registered dietician [R.D.] and chef in private practice and with Culinaria. She teaches a diversity of healthy-eating classes at Culinaria, from "healthful 30-minute dinners" to diabetic-friendly meals, and on to gluten-free dishes.

Gluten, notes Doerman, is only "bad for people with a gluten intolerance."

After completing her dietetic internship at the University of Connecticut, Doerman’s interests took a turn to the culinary field and she decided to merge her dual passions. In Dubai, she completed the professional culinary program at the International Center for Culinary Arts.

In her nutritional counseling sessions, Doerman takes into account the physiological and medical needs of her clients, tailoring diets to them.

The recipes Doerman provided to the Connection take little time to prepare and take well to substitution of ingredients. Her stuffed pepper recipe was designed to be flexible, incorporating foods of your choice. Peppers can be stuffed with veggies, meat, rice or quinoa, or a combination of those.

Whole grains contain more vitamins and minerals than processed grains, such as white flour or white rice, do.

Doerman combined salmon with asparagus for a nutrient-rich easy-prep dinner. A four-ounce piece of salmon contains approximately 50 percent of an adult’s recommended intake of omege-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, offer many health benefits. These healthful fats can help improve blood cholesterol levels and have anti-inflammatory properties. The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming at least eight ounces of a variety of seafood, including fatty fish, every week.

Asparagus is very nutritious, a good source of fiber, with 2.7 grams per 5-ounce serving. Asparagus also contains antioxidants, including beta-carotene, and phytochemicals.

Antioxidants in colorful vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes, blueberries, and butternut squash, help prevent some types of cell damage caused by free-radicals in the system.

For healthful, nutrient-dense snacks, think Greek yogurt topped with fruit, a slice of two of avocado with multi-grain crackers, vegetable pieces accompanied by hummus and whole-wheat pita bread with fat-free yogurt dip, Doerman said.

MAINTAINING A DIET abundant with fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, and whole grains protect against many chronic medical conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. These foods may protect your blood vessels. At every meal, try to fill about half your plate with fruits and vegetables.

"You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money to eat healthy," said Doerman. "Just try to keep healthful, nutritious ingredients on-hand."

To register for one of Emily Doerman’s healthful cooking classes, see www.culinariacookingschool.com or call 703-865-7920. Culinaria is located at 110 Pleasant Street, NW, in Vienna.

To learn more about Doerman’s expertise and services, visit www.EmilyDoerman.com or email her at Emily.Doerman.RD@gmail.com. Doerman’s phone number is 703-447-5513.