For Seniors, It's Tough To Get Cooking When It's For 1

Social Atmosphere Helps Build Appetite

September 11, 1991|By June Kurtz | June Kurtz,Contributing writer

Janet P. Renfro, 78, looks forward to her weekly trip to the grocerystore.

"I like to shop," Renfro said, as she slowly pushed her cart past a variety of breads. "I enjoy spending money."

Renfro's daughter, Alene R. Stickles of Westminster, explained that going to the store gives her mother, who lives alone, a chance to socialize. Stickles, 54, drives her mother to the market Friday afternoons.

While Renfro derives great pleasure from the hours she spends within the aisles of food at Hampstead's Super Thrift, for many seniors living alone, eating and cooking tend to be times spent in solitude.

"Because there's only one person it's really hard," said Eulalia M. Muschik, supervisor of food services for Carroll's Board of Education. "Most of us don't like to eat alone and . . . that makes itdifficult to do the preparation."

Darlene D. Flaherty, the director of Nutrition Services for the county Health Department, agreed that seniors often lack the motivation to prepare food for themselves.

"It's the companionship a lot of times that improves appetite," Flaherty said. But, she said, "As people get older they still need to make wise food choices."

To maintain a healthy weight, men older than 50 must consume 2,300 calories a day and women 1,900. Once people hit 75, the total recommended intake of calories decreases by about 200, Muschik said.

A registered dietitian, Flaherty suggested several ways for seniors to make cooking and eating more enjoyable, including preparing several meals at once, sharing meals with a friend and varying eating surroundings.

Another possibility for seniors looking for company during meals is to go to a nearby senior center, Flaherty said.

That is what one group of women at the South Carroll Senior Citizens' Center chose to do. They meet at the Sykesville center every Tuesday and Wednesday and eat a healthy lunch in the company of friends.

The meals, which are prepared at the Brethren Center in New Windsor, contain one-third of the recommended daily allowances andare meant to be the main meal of the day, said nutrition coordinatorDiane Unglesbee.

"They serve you a nice, well-balanced meal here," said Anna M. Zamostny, 72, who has her own apartment at her daughter's house in Sykesville.

"The meals are very good here. Seven daysout of eight you get what you like," agreed Anna M. Spindler of Woodbine. "And my friends are here."

While most of the women had nothing but praise for the center, they said it could not fill all of their needs: They must prepare the rest of their meals themselves.

Andnot all Carroll seniors gain as much pleasure in the long aisles of the local food store as Renfro.

"It's murder," Spindler said. "It's a terrible ordeal. You go in the market for a little piece of meat and you come out with half a cow.

"You can't buy a small piece of meat, and you can't buy two chicken breasts," she said.

Muschik acknowledged that buying meats for one person can be difficult.

"When you look in a meat case at the stores, most of the foods are not packaged for one or two," she said. But, she added, "Stores say they will cut things to smaller sizes."

Cooking the food also proves tedious for some.

"Who wants to fry chicken for one?" pointed out Judith A. Stewart, a home economist at the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service in Carroll. "If you make a meatloaf you don't want to eat it for a week."

Instead, Stewart suggested seniors choose one day to be "cooking day," during which meals for the week are prepared, labeled, dated and frozen.

That eliminates the need for daily preparation, she said. Seniors can simply remove an item from the freezer and reheat it in the microwave.

"A microwave helps a lot, so food doesn't taste left over," she added.

Spindler, who eatsalone, uses a similar tactic -- she prepares large portions of chicken or beef and freezes portions of them for another night.

But the71-year-old, who lives and shops with her daughter, said she does not like to precook and store all of her meals.

"When you freeze chicken, the outside is tough," Spindler said. "It's like chewing gum."

For those who prefer fresh food, Flaherty suggested seniors buy meats in the regular portions, divide the package into single servings and freeze it raw. Then, she said, simply cook one package from the freezer each night.

Another option, Flaherty said, is to buy prepared foods from the grocery store. Companies such as Tyson and Perdue sell fully cooked chicken -- whole and in parts -- which cost more than typical uncooked varieties, but eliminate the need for home preparation.

And frozen dinners give seniors another choice, she said.

"Nutritionally speaking, you can get (frozen dinners) that meet dietary guidelines," Flaherty said. But, she added, "My impression is that they are very costly."

Stewart agreed. "If they can afford to pay for the convenience, they're great. TV dinners are not what they used to be."

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