Eating Well Regardless of Age

When eating is a burden as opposed to a pleasure, it becomes painful to return home at the end of the day to prepare a healthy, nutritious meal. While some of us see this as a wonderful and creative opportunity,  others see the opposite. They turn to fast food, frozen pizza, high sodium meals, or take out. Managing one’s hunger and feeding the kids are burdens to overcome quickly. Sometimes cheese and crackers, pretzels and soda, or a quick and filling burrito become the simple way to fill one’s stomach. Achieving flavor for many becomes less a goal than a hardship.


College or High School grad who are no longer living at home, and others 30 to 59 must also learn to cope with these “eating well” dilemmas. There’s so much advice given to us on T.V. and in the daily papers and magazines about how to stay healthy, trim and attractive that a common response of many is to stop eating altogether, or to merely view food as fuel. Foodies find this hard to believe. But it’s true. We all need to think about better solutions that are not costly, not time consuming, and better for us. Still, some groups don’t experience food choices as options. Decisions are made for us by income, health and whether we live alone or with others.

It may be more difficult for example to feed yourself if you’re over 59 or on a fixed income. And if you are among the many people who are no longer sharing a home with a partner, then malnutrition may be a reality.

Chris Rosenblum, a professor of nutrition, has found that the effect of widowhood on nutrition is profound. Her research revealed that married women find eating a pleasurable experience —98%. In contrast, only 26% of the widowed felt the same way. Rosenblum suggests that woman who are widowed don’t prepare meals (anymore), and as a result “don’t see the value in taking care of themselves”. So not surprisingly, 50% of widowed people she studied ate simply out of habit or to keep from starving.

The nutritional picture for senior men and women becomes even more problematic when seniors are ill or disabled. They are unable to cook for themselves, manage everyday tasks at home and even find it difficult to fill their cupboards and refrigerators with food supplies.

Poverty is another related problem since the elderly depend upon retirement accounts or government assistance to meet their needs. Cutbacks in assistance, inflation of food costs, energy, and housing costs compromises their ability to financially care for themselves. And because many women in particular have outlived their spouses and must now support the household alone, they are even more likely to suffer financial difficulties.

Still eating well can be done without great hardship. The overarching premise is that a diet rich in nutrients helps prevent depression, osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Here are two recipes for Swiss Chard Casserole that are nutritious, delicious and filling. Either is easy to make in advance and both are ideal for preparing healthy meals . Freezing can be a good idea but only when the ingredients and the dish itself are good for you.

Choose one recipe below. I am recommending that you cut these dishes into 3 x 3 inch square packages, each wrapped in cellophane and foil to freeze, marked clearly with the name and date on each package. Use a large casserole or gratin dish, 14 x 10. Bake the dish @ 350 F, 30 minutes until brown on top.

#1 Richly Baked Swiss Chard
Prepare 1 bunch of Chard , removing the ribs, and cutting each leaf into 2 x 2 inch pieces, wash and dry well, and saute with 2 tbsp olive oil. Layer with Béchamel, 1/4 cup grated each, Parmigiana Reggiano, Mozzarella, Finlandia, and lightly toasted breadcrumbs. Then add to each layer 1 tsp each ground sage, marjoram, red chile flakes, black pepper and 2 tsp nutmeg.

1. In a medium saucepan, prepare the Béchamel White Sauce. Heat 2 1/2 tbsp butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add 2 tbsp flour and whisk until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden color, about 5 minutes

2. Heat 2 cups of milk in a separate pan but don’t over heat. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a light simmer. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly until thickened, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg, and set aside until ready to use over warm water. Bake for 30 minutes or so until brown on top. Very rich tasting and so..oo good.

#2 Less Rich Baked Swiss Chard
Prepare 1 head of chopped and cleaned Chard, with the Bechamel Sauce,  1/4 cup each lightly toasted breadcrumbs, Parmigiana Reggiano, Mozzarella, and Finlandia, 2 cups of milk and 2 1/2 tbsp butter. Add 1 tsp each ground sage, marjoram, red chile flakes, black pepper and 2 tsp. nutmeg over each layer.

1. Wash and remove the ribs from 1 bunch of red chard. Cut the leaves into 2 x 2 inch pieces. Sauté one bunch at a time in a large skillet with 1 tbsp of olive oil. After completing this step, set the bunch of sautéed chard to the side in a separate bowl.

2. Toss 1/4 cup of each of the cheeses plus 1/4 cup  bread crumbs and spices in a large bowl. In the casserole dish layer the mixture of cheeses, breadcrumbs and spices with the chard leaves. Spread the cheeses on the top and bottom layers.  Bake for 30 minutes until the top is brown. Less rich– without the Bechamel Sauce– but still a wonderful flavor.

These two options with or without Bechamel will simplify your day, make it easier to relax, and reduce your costs as well. But most importantly if you prepare a couple of meals in advance over the weekend, for example when you have more time, the quality and flavor of your meals will improve exponentially. You might even wish to prepare another dish you can freeze like Bolognese, or Eggplant Parm. Enjoy!

Contact Chef Alan at [email protected] or visit with questions, observations or suggestions. I look forward to hearing from you.