|By CYN LoPINTO
Sitting down to a meal represents a lot more than just physical nourishment. Besides replenishing the body with much-needed nutrients and vitamins, mealtime for most cultures is a social ritual. It is an opportunity to relax and share feelings with those we care about.Many of us grew up with dinnertime as truly the “social hour.” The kitchen was the hub of family activities and often the only place where busy family members reconnected with one another. The actual “food” was secondary to the emotional satisfaction mealtime provided.Raising children of our own, we tried keeping this tradition alive. Our schedules were a lot more hectic than in our parents’ day and a number of women worked outside the home while still handling the responsibility of providing three meals a day to their families. This “new” family lifestyle may have threatened the ritual of mealtime, but didn’t destroy it. Traditional meals may have given way to faster and more casual eating, but the social importance of sharing a meal with those close to us, didn’t change. We still saw the value in this.As we grow older and the children or loved ones leave and the house becomes empty, mealtime can be a real challenge. The kitchen isn’t as active as we are used to and our newly quiet surroundings seem deafening. Perhaps we are single for the first time in our life and are forced to eat alone. How on earth can we adapt? Is it possible to get excited about eating again?A poor diet can cause major health problems, especially for older adults. Problems in regards to shopping and preparing foods, coupled with a lack of interest in eating alone, can begin a downhill spiral for seniors if they aren’t careful. There are ways to avoid this dangerous situation. By following a few ideas and tips, sitting down to a meal can once again be both physically and emotionally rewarding.Plan you meals
There is nothing more frustrating then coming home after a full day and trying to “come up with” a nutritious and quick meal when you have absolutely NO idea what you are going to make. What ingredients do you have? Is there enough time to cook, etc.?
If you make a weekly menu, you can be sure to have the ingredients you need and can readily plan the time required to prepare your meals. Also, if you know what you are eating, there is less chance of eating quick high-calorie convenience-type foods. Make sure to pick up some nutritious snack foods for those in-between meal cravings as well. Unhealthy snacking is more easily controlled if you have some alternative snacks on hand.
If you are cooking for one, buy only what you need. Most grocery stores will let you split produce packages, eggs, etc. so you only have to buy what you want. You could also shop with a friend and share packages between the two of you.
Keep your pantry stocked with canned goods. These are great in a pinch and their shelf life is greater too. Frozen foods are also a wonderful idea since you can just quickly take out the amount you need and freeze the rest. Always check expiration dates on all food before using them.
Safely prepare you food
Cooking larger quantities on days in which you have the time to cook and freezing leftovers is a great way to have nutritious meals ready to go. Divide leftovers into individual servings and label and date these packages. Microwaves and crock-pots can really be a lifesaver as well. They can save you both time and effort.
Try a new recipe each week to get you into cooking again. Newspapers, magazines and the Internet are full of great ideas to reacquaint you with your kitchen. Depending on where you live and your TV service, cooking shows are airing virtually 24 hours a day. The choices are endless. Remember to include a variety of colors, textures and temperatures in you meals too.
Make mealtime fun
Even if you eat alone, create a nice environment for your meals. Set the table, put on some nice music and relax. It will also help in digestion. Vary where you eat in your home. Do you have an outside porch or patio in which to dine on those nice summer evenings? Maybe bring your dinner into the living room for a change of scenery.
Invite a guest to lunch or dinner to try out your new weekly recipe. The preparation will be as much fun as the meal itself. You could even start a “pot luck” group where everyone brings a favorite dish on a given night. Your group could plan dinners around a particular country’s cuisine and even wear the costume and play the music popular with the chosen culture. It is a great way to learn how other people live.
By trying some of the above suggestions, you will be helping your health emotionally as well as physically. Remember you are the most important person in your life. Treat yourself the way you should. You know you are definitely worth it!