When I wanted to devise some recipes that would be healthful for seniors, I turned to the Alameda County Meals on Wheels program for some advice. The agency serves 3,862 seniors regular hot meals and is part of a network of Meals on Wheels organizations throughout the Bay area. Mary Louise Zernicke, a registered dietician, is an executive board member of the group and director of the Merritt College Dietary Manager Program in Oakland.
“Seniors differ in terms of physical function, behavior, cognition and emotional status, all of which may affect health,” Zernicke said. In planning meals for seniors, she said it is important to focus on physiological needs rather than physical age.
However, there are some common concerns. Zernicke said that many seniors don’t get enough fluids. Adding water, juices, non-fat milk, soup and other liquids helps. Many seniors also don’t get enough fiber. Controlling caloric intake is important as is eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. Making dishes tasty is key.
“If you are thinking of food as medicine, make it medicine that tastes good,” Zernicke said.
Below are recipes for Zerncike’s lentil soup and my potato chowder. The lentil soup relies on balsamic vinegar for a flavor punch and the chowder has a combination of spices. If salt consumption is a concern, be sure to use low-salt or homemade vegetable broth, no-salt added diced tomatoes and limit or skip adding salt to taste in the recipes.
For more information about Alameda County Meals on Wheels, please call (510) 777-9560 or go to www.feedingseniors.org . For information about other area Meals on Wheels programs, please go to the national website at www.mowaa.org.
Serves 6 -8
2 Tbs. canola oil
2 cups chopped onions (1/4” pieces)
1 cup chopped carrots (1/4” pieces)
1 cup chopped celery (1/4” pieces)
1 1/2 cups chopped red bell pepper (1/2” pieces)
1/4 tsp. to 1 tsp. minced, seeded jalapeño, or to taste (optional)
4 cups chopped russet or Idaho potato, peeled (1/2” pieces)
14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes with liquid
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. dried, ground oregano
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups non-fat milk
Salt, to taste (optional)
Diced avocado, optional
In a large pot over medium heat, add oil and sauté onions until soft. Add carrots, celery, bell pepper and jalapeño (if using). Sauté for a minute. Add potatoes, tomatoes with liquid, black pepper, oregano, cumin and water. Stir well, bring to a simmer, cover and cook about 20 minutes until potatoes are just starting to get soft. Add milk, return to simmer, cover and cook about 20-25 minutes more being careful not to let the soup boil. Stir occasionally until vegetables are cooked through. Taste and correct seasoning, adding salt if desired. Ladle into bowls and top with diced avocado if using.Mary Louise Zernicke’s Lentil Soup
1 cup dried, brown lentils
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 cups diced onion
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1 cup (about 2 stalks) chopped celery, including leaves
1 cup sliced carrots
4 cups vegetable broth or stock
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Put lentils in a bowl, cover with water and allow to sit overnight. Over medium heat, heat oil in a large soup pot and cook onions. Add garlic and celery. Once celery begins to soften, add carrots, vegetable broth, tomatoes with liquid and bay leaf. Drain lentils. Add lentils to soup. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes until vegetables are cooked through. Remove bay leaf. Stir in vinegar and add salt and pepper as desired.
A version of this article appeared in the j. weekly.