How did our mothers do it—cook three family meals a day for years?
It’s not like that in our world today! Lately, I have become aware that many people do not eat regular meals. Gone are the meals of our childhood, when we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I remember that when I was growing up, all the kids in my neighborhood and my school ate breakfast, either packed a lunch or walked home for lunch, and then enjoyed a home-cooked meal for supper.
My mother packed my dad’s lunch for work and sometimes lunch for school for one of the four kids in my family. But that tradition seems to be just a memory. Today, so many people are skipping meals, eating food that is fast and not nutritional, or trying to catch a free meal at a local lecture or social gathering.
As we become adults, we need to eat just as much as we did when we were growing up as children. It might sound basic, but we have to eat. Adrienne Justen, RD, LD, a registered dietitian with Genacross Lutheran Services, agrees. “Good nutrition is very important for all adults. It is especially important for older adults who are ill or who have been diagnosed with a chronic disease. Malnutrition can lead to a number of health problems, such as weight loss, tiredness, muscle weakness, depression, poor memory, and higher risk for infection and anemia,” she says.
I know that when I am hurrying in the morning and late for work, I tend to skimp on breakfast, and it shows. I cannot concentrate on my work, I take much longer to do simple tasks, and I am distracted because I am hungry. Doing any physical tasks, like picking up papers, moving my legs, or opening my desk drawer, seems to be a little off kilter. I do not have the proper fuel for my body!
Why don’t we eat?
Time seems to be one culprit. With two-income families, parents find cooking a meal challenging. Children are busy with school, athletic and other after-school practices, or social events. Factor in doctor appointments, dental checkups, and church services, and when you finally get home after a day, you might be too tired to eat, let alone cook a meal. There is no time for cooking, and more nutritious home-cooked meals are replaced with the often less-nutritional fast-food meals.
Some people do not eat regular meals because they keep very loose schedules—a three-time-a-day meal schedule is the furthest thing from their mind. There is a culture of persons who are retired, or who live alone, and stay up into the “wee hours” of the night since they do not have to report to work anymore. Some often eat late at night and wake up not too hungry. Their meal schedule might change every day, and often it consists of fast food, junk food, or non-nutritious foods because they are eating for convenience and at irregular times.
Others outright say that they do not like to cook. It really is another job. There is planning a menu, shopping for food, preparing it, and cleaning up after a meal. Cooking can be creative, and many like the art of cooking, but it certainly is not for those who have low energy or do not want another job in their lives. They enjoy a cooked meal but do not want to do it.
Some are just tired of cooking; they do not want to cook since they raised families and are done with cooking, even for their empty nest of two. Others have health challenges—they recently got home from a surgery or rehab and they are not strong enough to cook. Sometimes medications cause them to lose their appetite.
How can we make sure we eat?
Adrienne says, “When you are sick or dealing with a chronic illness, you may feel weak and tired. It is important during this time that you consume nutrient-dense foods, and eat and drink as healthfully as you can.”
She suggests that people investigate some outside services that help prepare meals: Mobile Meals, home-delivery shopping, online food purchasing, senior centers that offer meal services, and home health services. Older adults should focus on consuming moderate amounts of high-quality protein, which can protect lean muscle mass over time. She offers a list of ready-to-eat and easy-to-prepare foods to keep on hand, including cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurt, milk, hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, instant breakfast drinks, nuts, dried fruits, granola or granola bars, hot and cold cereals, crackers, breakfast bars, protein bars, ice cream, and sherbet or other frozen treats.
Nutrition is such a large part of a person’s overall health. Adrienne suggests preparing simple meals that do not require much work to put together. You can eat many simple meals any time during the day. Simple meals can be cheese and crackers, deli-meat sandwiches, yogurt with granola or nuts, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, microwave meals or snacks, hot or cold cereals with milk, frozen meals (healthful options are available), packaged meals, ready-made lunches from the deli counter, and canned foods such as beef stew, chili, tuna, fruits, or soups.
More healthy eating tips from Adrienne
- Prepare extra foods and/or meals during the day when you have the most energy.
- Store the food you’ve made ahead of time in single-serving portions, which will allow you to reheat just the amount that you will eat.
- Augment meals with nutritional supplements like instant breakfast drinks, milk shakes, or smoothies.
- Accept assistance from friends or family who are willing to help you cook and prepare food.
- Get takeout from local restaurants that deliver and consider ordering extra to store as single-serving portions to be eaten later.
When we are sick and have health challenges, we might find that feeding our body “good stuff” or protein-filled and nutritious meals actually helps us function better. Food that is good for our bodies might be the best pill we take.❦