Second Wind: Eating options for us older folks |

Second Wind: Eating options for us older folks

Cat food! That’s how meals are stereotyped when people think of older folks eating dinner alone at home.

They imagine we eat Fancy Feast when nobody is looking, and if not going the cat culinary route now, we’ll do it later when Social Security runs out.

Seriously, though I have never met anyone without a cat who had cat food in the cupboard, I do know that eating habits change as we grow older and they change because …

Older people just can’t eat what they used to. People moving on past 50 have to monitor their calories since the pounds come on more easily now. Fat wants to move in for good on our older bodies. So we have to count calories in a way that was not so when we were young. “Young” was before the development of fast food, TV or chauffeur moms, so we did a lot of walking, little eating out and no watching of TV because – gasp! – there was no TV. We did not have to watch our weight and in my whole childhood, I knew exactly two children who were overweight. They were an astonishment to the rest of us, like a blue daffodil or a green sky.

Older people eat earlier in the day than we used to. OK, maybe it’s because restaurants offer sunset dinners to seniors to fill up the place before the 6 p.m. rush. Or maybe we eat earlier just because we can – we don’t have to work late at the office, endure a long commute and eat a late dinner anymore.

But there’s another reason – this one medical:

As my doc told me, if you want to avoid or improve acid reflux disease, eat at least three hours before you go to bed, so dinner has time to settle way down in the tummy. She also suggested sleeping with the head elevated. So, following her two suggestions, you will have both time and gravity working to keep food from coming back up for a nocturnal visit.

Older adults may need food with higher flavors. Some people lose their sense of taste as they grow older. Others notice their sense of smell no longer works well. Those sensory losses make food seem unappetizing.

Doctors would not recommend pouring on the salt to improve things, but a well-stocked spice cabinet can help here. So can morphing the menus towards ethnic foods instead of white-bread cuisine.

Older people may change the menu for the worse when they eat alone. Many older people live alone. If they are men, they may have never learned to cook. If they are women, they may think it is only worthwhile to cook for others, but not for oneself. These situations lead to people living on Saltines and tea – which is one reason Meals on Wheels programs exist – to bring nourishing food to older people who ran out of culinary steam or can’t drive to the market or are too physically challenged to cook.

Call the Gold Country Community Center in Grass Valley if you need home-delivered meals, 273-4961 ( And if you can help, they need drivers, as well as money to pay the rent.

Words to the wise

If you’d enjoy a wonderful read on the subject of cooking for yourself, read “Alone in the Kitchen With An Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One And Dining Alone.” As author Laurie Colwin says in this anthology: “Cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest.”

So go forth and be weird in the kitchen. Tell the refrigerator I sent you.


Mel Walsh is the author of “Hot Granny,” now in its second printing Visit Mel at

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