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Senior Citizen's Guide to Baltimore

Nutrition after 60

As we age, food begins to play a new role in our life. Food can become more of an enjoyment as we may have more time on our hands. Food also becomes essential to our health and well-being; different foods can provide essential vitamins and minerals to aid us in growing old gracefully. However, cooking for one or two, let alone cooking healthily, can be difficult.

One of the most important aspects of healthy eating is portion control. This can be difficult when eating out – portion sizes have grown astronomically throughout the United States. A good rule of thumb when dining out: ask for your “to-go” box right away. Put half of your meal in the box and put it aside, then enjoy what is left on your plate. You can also share an entrée or order an appetizer as your meal to cut back on calories and excess fat. Eating the correct portions at home can also be difficult. Many of the recipes you already have and enjoy are designed to serve four or more. Creating a nutritious plate can improve your health and your waistline. Below is an example of what a healthy plate (9 inches) should look like:

food portion control

Let’s review each portion of the healthy plate:

The main portion of your plate should be fruits and vegetables. Both groups are low in calories and fat, and high in fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. Different colors provide different nutrients, so strive to eat all the colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow/white, green, blue and purple). Fresh is always best, and many produce items can be purchased in the smaller quantities you desire, preventing spoilage and waste. If fresh produce is not available, frozen is the next best option. Steaming your vegetables locks in the nutrients while boiling allows them to seep out--cook only what you need. There are also many steam bags available; just pop the bag in the microwave for 4-5 minutes and you have steamed vegetables for your plate; they even have individual servings!  Canned fruit is a healthy alternative when fresh is more expensive or not in season. The key with canned fruit is to purchase it packed in water or natural juices; fruit packed in syrup has extra sugar, and unnecessary calories, added. Limit your use of canned vegetables, especially if you suffer from hypertension or high blood pressure. Canned vegetables are often high in sodium, so be sure to purchase those labeled “low sodium” or “no salt added”. If you are still hungry, fruits and vegetables are the foods to get seconds of!

The next quarter of your plate is the meat: meat includes red meat, poultry, fish and any other seafood. 3oz. of meat is considered a serving size; this is about the size of a deck of playing cards. Add just one serving to your plate. Be sure to avoid fried meats and instead, focus on those that are baked, grilled, broiled and/or roasted. Also, select lean cuts of meat. With red meat, choose round, chuck, sirloin or loin cuts and be sure to remove any visible fat. When it comes to your chicken and turkey, be sure to remove the skin – this is where most of the fat is found. Also, dine on the white meat, which is lower in fat. All fish are a good source of healthy fats that raise good (HDL) cholesterol and lower bad (LDL) cholesterol. It is recommended that you strive to have at least two servings a week. Meat can be a large expense when grocery shopping. Look for sales and do not be afraid to use your freezer. Meat can be stored safely in the freezer for 4-12 months – just be sure to date your items before storing them, and then use only what you need. If you do not have freezer space available, talk to the butcher – often they can cut you the amount you need.

The final quarter on your plate is your starches. Starches, or carbohydrates, are foods that turn into sugar once they get in you body. These include: bread, cereal, rice, pasta, potatoes, corn and peas. It is important when adding a starch to your meal that you focus on the whole grains – wheat pasta, brown rice, and whole grain/wheat/rye/pumpernickel breads. Important nutrients and fiber are removed when these items are made white. The white versions are also digested more quickly, making you feel hungry again fast. The fiber found in our food can help us feel full for a longer period of time, preventing us from overeating. Fiber can also help lower our cholesterol levels. Again, use only what you need; it is okay to open a box of pasta, take some out and tape it back up for the next time.

Another important food group that is not included on the plate is dairy. Dairy is an important source of calcium, which helps keep our bones strong. Strive to have a serving of dairy at each meal. Be sure to select low-fat and/or fat-free options. This is important not only when selecting milk, but all dairy products such as yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, cheese, cottage cheese and ice cream.

Although you can tailor your grocery list and limit the amount of foods you use when cooking for one or two, there are other options for preparing healthy meals. If casseroles are your preference, there are a number of plastic re-usable containers you can purchase. Prepare your casserole and divide it into 2 or more dishes. These re-usable containers can go from freezer to refrigerator to oven.  Casseroles can be placed in the freezer for 2-3 months. If you have leftovers, pack them in plastic containers. Save some for meals during the week, then freeze the rest again.

Cooking for one or two can still be enjoyable. Now is the time to relax and savor your food. With just a few alterations to your old ways of cooking, you can create healthy meals on a smaller scale. Do not be afraid to try new foods, there are a number of great cookbooks and online resources geared towards smaller meals. Enjoy!

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