Veggies with leftover Halloween candy, please



The old admonition to eat your veggies takes on new meaning in retirement.

It’s so easy not to, you know. Who wants to peel and chop? Now that you’re on a fixed income, who can afford to continue shopping on the outside aisles of the supermarket?

All these excuses vaporized the week I had two cooking disasters in a row, brought on by feeling compelled to clean out cabinets and the freezer by using up old stuff. There’s a reason for those expiration dates, kiddo, says me to self in disgust. You can’t expect a box of Jambalaya mix that’s two months beyond expired to taste good (were those weevils that wobble in the bottom of that box?), especially when paired with some shrimp that was frozen in a salt brine in China. The whole batch got thrown in the trash, where it should have gone before gracing the cooktop. Neither did the whiting filets that were just a little freezer-burned add much pizazz to a new fish soup recipe. But then what could one expect when the carrots were too dehydrated from their month-old resting place in the crisper, and the ground spices had been in the cupboard for five years? The dogs really liked the whiting. We resorted to nuking a frozen pot pie for our supper.

It was the pot pies and their sister TV dinners that proved the straws that broke this cook’s reluctant, procrastinating and lazy back. Realizing that our menus had featured two of those low-quality entrees in a row made me realize we were trapped in a fast-food hell that could only be solved by pre-planning and chopping.

Extra motivation for this change in culinary habits came from having a mate with diabetes and digestive challenges who has to greet the day with fresh evidence of his sins the previous day through a blood glucose test. In addition, we’ve both become increasingly concerned about the well-being of a relative we care for through grocery shopping and bill paying. All she seems to put on her grocery list are mushy, white, salty things, plus a new supply of frozen dinners and pot pies. Sometimes she just skips meals.

A survey by Ross Laboratories found that 30 percent of seniors skip at least one meal a day and another 16% don’t consume enough calories to maintain adequate nutrition. We’re addressing our relative’s situation by inviting her over for a meal with us once a week (where she eats heartily) and checking into Meals on Wheels. We also throw in a few healthy choices she hasn’t asked for when doing her shopping. And in case depression and loneliness were the culprits in her poor eating habits, we got her a mature cat who needed a good home. The two have become fast friends and now watch television together and snuggle on the couch for a nap.

As for us old folks taking care of an older folk, we’re trying to improve our eating and cooking habits. I sat down Sunday afternoon with a few favorite cookbooks, after doing a freezer, fridge and pantry inventory. The rest of the week’s meals are planned, from breakfast through snacks. It wasn’t easy. And I have to admire the school lunch ladies and dietitians at nursing homes and hospitals in their challenge of offering tasty and healthy entrees every day. Some of my plans had to be revised upon discovering they were too skimpy on veggies and/or fruit.

But you know what? It’s amazing what a relief it is to be able to answer the odious question of what’s for dinner by producing a written document instead of the pat reply, “I don’t know. What sounds good?” or “What do you want?”

And there was no boss to object or employees to roll their eyes in disapproval when I got up from breakfast and started chopping something for lunch, or when I finished lunch and made this evening’s dessert. Instead of realizing, halfway through the day, that there was nothing pulled out of the freezer for supper, I just looked at my menus for the day and retrieved the package of lean ground beef for tacos. It will now be ready when I am.

Lest you detect a note of self-righteousness here, let  it be known to all that I’m having a big struggle with the plate of leftover Halloween candy that calls out every time I walk by. That is not one of my menu selections, but bad habits can’t be overcome overnight or we’d have nothing to feel guilty about.

P.S. For additional information about helping a senior in your life with nutrition concerns, check out these web pages: