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THE CHALLENGE: At 84, Lottie Barnett is on a fixed income and doesn't have much opportunity for food shopping. Her extra freezer held the key to our dietitian's plan for her dinner.

Make Over My Meal Dinner For One

September 12, 2007|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Reporter

When we first met Lottie Barnett, a lively 84-year-old, she was dredging pieces of liver in flour and frying them in canola oil for her supper. I was with Robin Spence, the registered dietitian from Union Memorial Hospital who helps with our monthly Make Over My Meal series. About five months ago, Barnett moved into one of the low-income senior apartments in the Stadium Place development on 33rd Street.

Barnett is lucky because she has a 67-year-old daughter with an apartment three doors down the hall who keeps an eye on her. But Barnett is proud of her independence and enjoys shopping and cooking for herself, even though when the dietitian asked her how often she cooked, she said jokingly, "Just as less as I can."

Her nephew drives her to the supermarket -- "about once a month," she said -- so she hasn't yet had to take the apartment-complex bus that transports residents to and from the food store. (Her daughter makes sure she gets one hot meal a day if she isn't cooking for herself.)

On the evening of our visit, Barnett planned to fix canned peas and creamed potatoes with her liver.

Spence started off praising her for using canola oil. "It's a really healthy oil," she said.

The nutritionist wasn't so thrilled with the liver, though, in spite of the fact that it contains all the iron, protein and vitamin A Barnett would need in a day.

"It really is high in cholesterol and high in saturated fat, which increases your chance of a heart attack," Spence told her. She said she recommends liver to her patients no more than once a month.

"My personal bias is that it's the filtering organ," the dietitian added. Liver, in other words, may contain byproducts of the animal's feed and medications as well as cholesterol and saturated fat.

Barnett turned the liver pieces, which were now a nice golden brown, and continued to fry them in the hot, bubbling oil; but she listened intently.

Spence asked about her health, which is pretty good for someone her age; she does, however, have asthma, arthritis and high blood pressure. Cholesterol isn't a problem, and Spence encouraged her to keep it that way by eating less saturated fat and more fruit and green vegetables.

"I'm always looking to make sure people eat their fruit and vegetables," she said with a laugh, pointing out that they were also good for intestinal regularity.

Barnett retorted that at her age, "You could eat a whole mule if it was green, and it would still bind you."

Fresh vegetables would be best, of course, but Spence understood Barnett's dependence on canned because of her infrequent trips to the grocery store. She urged her to drain the can of peas and rinse them off before she heated them to cut down on the amount of sodium she was getting in her diet -- and in the future to buy frozen peas that have no salt added. Canned fruit would be good to have on hand because there would be no worries about salt, and it wouldn't go bad if it didn't get eaten right away.

With high blood pressure, the 84-year-old needs to watch her sodium intake.

"That's what they say?" Barnett asked skeptically.

"They say it because it's true," Spence told her.

When Barnett told her she made her creamed potatoes with milk, margarine, salt and pepper, Spence said, "That's a chance where you get to control the amount of sodium."

She approved of the 2-percent milk but pointed out, when Barnett complained that milk sometimes spoiled before she could finish the carton, that milk can easily be frozen in the carton without changing the taste significantly.

"Instead of getting a half gallon, buy two quarts and freeze one."

As an alternative to the liver, Spence asked Barnett if she ate fish.

"You want to know the truth about fish?" she said. "Since they found the snakehead fish, I haven't eaten much fish. You can't tell what kind of fish you're really getting in the store, can you?"

How about crabs?

She was emphatic. "No, no, no, no."

Barnett likes chicken, but a breast is too big for her. The boneless, skinless strips of chicken would be too pricey on her limited budget, Spence decided. Boneless, skinless thighs would be a good alternative.

Barnett prefers wings, which Spence felt had too much skin and fat to make them nutritionally worthwhile.

Would she eat salads? No, she told the dietitian, she likes her vegetables cooked.

"I had a whole menu for you," Spence said with a laugh, "but so far nothing's working."

Knowing that Barnett likes beans and would eat vegetables if they were well cooked, Spence suggested for her "after" meal a simple variation on minestrone, using low-sodium chicken broth and canned vegetables. It would be good with corn bread, which could be made with a mix and which would have more nutritional value than the crackers Barnett usually has with soup.

Dessert could be fresh seasonal fruit like apples or pears, or if necessary canned fruit. Leftover soup could be frozen in individual portions to be reheated in the microwave for another meal.

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