As a group, senior citizens generally report being the most satisfied with mealtimes: they tend to eat earlier and have more established rituals than younger persons or families. Everyone benefits from the peace of mind that comes from a structured routine. Researchers say that following daily patterns such as eating at regular times may help keep the body’s internal rhythms synchronized. Without external cues, the daily or circadian (body-clock) rhythms such as sleepiness, peak mental sharpness, body temperature, blood pressure and hormone levels may get out of balance. Regular eating times also primes the digestive system for optimum functioning (timing of digestive enzyme secretion, peristalsis, etc.)
• Certain Foods at Certain Times: Gather recipes for family favorites and turn them into a family cookbook. Ask relatives to jot down reminiscences about the dish and the people they shared the meal with.
• Doing Kitchen Duty: Chopping vegetables and stirring pots may become soothingly methodical, especially when shared with others. Turn off the television, play some soothing dinner music and talk about your day.
• Setting the Table: Putting plates and utensils in their proper places around the table is part of ritual—most people tend to sit in the same place either out of tradition or necessity. The color of the tableware is important to the overall mood. Red stimulates the appetite and mood. Blue is calming. White connotes cleanliness (or sterility). Fresh flowers or a bowl of fresh local produce ties us to our natural environment, reminding us of the season, the region or climate in which we live. Candlelight can make any meal special.
• Food Presentation: Edible flowers make colorful, fragrant, flavorful garnishes. Try daisies, marigolds, nasturtiums, geraniums, pansies, lavender, roses and violets. (Avoid if have allergies/sensitivities.). Cut vegetables on an angle. Cut sandwiches into triangles or with cookie cutters. Strive for an array of colorful produce, brown whole grains and beans, pasta, etc. Use big wooden serving bowls, colorful ceramic platters, hollowed bread loaves, hollowed melons, etc. Plates should not be too large—it makes servings appear small and people tend to eat more. Likewise with vivid patterns on plates.
• Table Talk: Mealtime is a prime opportunity to share stories and discuss the day. Give everyone a chance to speak, taking turns around the table. Give thanks for the good things in your life.
• Cleaning Up: It’s the perfect opportunity to share work responsibility. It can also be soothingly methodical if done in a well-defined order.
Restaurant Meals (Tips for Healthy Dining-Out)
• The way foods are prepared tells a lot about how healthy they’re likely to be. Terms such as roasted, baked, braised, grilled, stir-fried, poached or steamed indicate that they’re relatively low in fat. On the other hand, terms such as au gratin, breaded, creamy, flaky, scalloped, fried and pan-fried indicate relatively high fat preparation methods. Make special requests—likely the restaurant will happily accommodate you.
• Choose simply prepared whole foods: broiled fish, legumes, steamed and raw vegetables, whole grain breads or cooked whole grains. Clear soups and salads with oil and vinegar (vinaigrette) type dressings are good choices for a light meal. Eating a clear soup appetizer (as opposed to going straight to the entrée) will likely result in 25% fewer calories consumed by the end of the meal. Ask for salad dressing on the side and dip your fork in it rather than have it tossed into the salad.
• Order from the appetizer side of the menu along with clear soup and salad.
• Smarter buffet picks: bread without butter, cherry tomatoes, cooked vegetables, raw vegetables, fresh fruit, leafy greens, lean protein, yogurt. Be aware that variety of foods (buffet or sampling several entrees) and eating in groups induces overeating. Use a small plate—you’ll feel like the portions are larger than they actually are.
• Smarter “fast food” picks: salads with vinegar and oil based dressings, baked potatoes with broccoli, vegetable stir-fry with rice, broiled chicken, bean burritos. Best condiments: mustard, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, onions, relish and pickles.
• Restaurants stay in business by making it easy for you to order more food than you need. A simple strategy is to order a pitcher of water for the table—you may think you’re hungry when you’re actually thirsty (most people are dehydrated to some extent). Sip water throughout the meal to naturally reduce your appetite. Avoid alcohol (cocktails) before dinner.
• Wait for 20 minutes after the meal before ordering dessert—it can take that long for the satiety signal to reach your brain. You may find that you really don’t want dessert after all. Choose fruit and/or low-fat yogurt combinations, if available.
Experts now say that well-paced eating of nutrient-dense foods throughout the day can complement regular meals and even fill gaps in your diet, helping you stay healthier overall, more alert and energetic and likely eating fewer calories throughout the course of the day. Have some of these foods available in your refrigerator or pantry at all times: Baked potato or sweet potato, grapes, banana, tuna, dried apricots, low-fat yogurt, low-fat string cheese, strawberries, orange, cottage cheese, almonds, sunflower seeds, brown rice cakes, whole grain pretzels, air-popped popcorn, crudités (cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, carrot and celery sticks).
Great combo snacks:
• Apple slices or brown rice cakes with nut butter
• Low-fat yogurt with nuts and berries
• Raw cheese on whole grain crackers
• Hummus and crudités/raw vegetables
• Low-fat cottage cheese with pineapple chunks
• Baked potato topped with yogurt or salsa
• Baked tortilla chips with salsa
Ayoob, Keith et al. Healing Foods. 2000. International Masters Publishers.