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  • Caylie Gnyra

Aging With Vitality Lunch And Learn Held At Senior Centre


Participants enjoy a nourishing free meal sponsored by the Vermilion Wellness Coalition following Caroline McAuley’s Aging with Vitality presentation at the Senior Centre. Photo Caylie Gynra

Registered dietitian Caroline McAuley led a nutrition-focused Aging with Vitality Lunch and Learn at the Vermilion Senior Centre on October 26.

McAuley began by describing the hidden impacts of a poor diet, explaining that food is medicine. As we age, it may become more difficult to consume balanced, regular meals and snacks, but a lack of protein and calories affects our strength and our energy. McAuley offered tips to add calories for energy: choose higher calorie foods like dried fruit for snacks; try adding hemp hearts or skim milk powder to yogurts for extra protein; or add eggs, nuts, trail mix, cottage cheese, or lentils into your daily snacking and meals.

It’s important to eat every 2–3 hours, says McAuley. “Appetite begets appetite, but loss of appetite begets loss of appetite,” she says, so intentional changes are needed in daily eating habits to prevent muscle loss. It is important to eat small, frequent meals that are high in protein, and eat more when your appetite is good. Coupling a steady, nutritious diet with regular movement such as walking stairs and reaching for items in cupboards over your head will help combat stiffening and weakness.

Getting enough to drink each day is also critical in maintaining health, particularly in preventing bladder infections and headaches. Aim for 8 cups of fluid each day, but it doesn’t all have to be through water. Coffee, tea, juice, and soups are all good options, but alcohol is one exception, as it is actually dehydrating. Tips to getting enough fluid each day include having a drink of water when you first wake up; drinking fluids throughout the day, between meals, and after every snack and meal; setting reminders; taking small sips frequently; getting an insulated container so you can choose your temperature; flavouring water with fruit, tea, or powdered mixes; and keeping water nearby.

Fatigue can often prevent us from preparing filling and nourishing meals, so McAuley offered a few suggestions to minimize meal preparation time. First, she recommends cooking and freezing extra portions when you do have the energy to cook. Convenience foods like store-bought meals are also good to keep on hand. You might also ask friends and family to cook for or with you, or contact community programs like Meals on Wheels for assistance. Ready-to-eat foods like frozen meatballs, canned beans or lentils, and boiled eggs provide a quick protein boost, while leftovers like a rotisserie chicken can be added to tacos or quesadillas, garden salads, stir-fries, pita wraps, sandwiches, or chicken noodle soup.

For those experiencing changes in taste as they age, McAuley recommends experimenting with adding vinegar, oil, spices, herbs, nut butter, fermented foods, garlic, or sauces.

Adults require five or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day, so McAuley recommends trying to work one or two into breakfast, as well as adding vegetables to soups, salads, omelettes, and pasta, and fruits to salads, yogurts, smoothies, etc.

Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are encouraged if fresh fruit is too pricey, out of season, or goes bad before you can use it all. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and fibre that are essential for your body.

A crock pot was one of McAuley’s top recommendations for kitchen tools to help save time and money. Vegetables, meats, lentils, and grains like barley can be placed in the crock pot earlier in the day to ensure a hot and nourishing meal ready at suppertime with minimal cleanup before bedtime. Sharp knives are also worth the investment and don’t have to come at a steep cost.

She offered a simple recipe a quick, high-protein, freezable “egg bites” meal: beat eggs in a bowl; add chopped vegetables, meat, and/or cheese; pour into a muffin tin; then cook at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Recipes for sheet pan meals (i.e., meals that can be baked on a single baking sheet for the same amount of time at the same temperature), one-pot meals, and no-cook meals can all be found for free through a simple internet search, while canned, frozen, and value-added meals can also provide nourishing options that don’t require a lot of effort.

McAuley emphasized the social nature of eating, noting that we eat better when we eat with others. For those who live alone, she recommends changing the atmosphere for yourself through music, lighting, setting, or location; making phone or video call meal dates with friends or family; arranging potlucks, supper clubs, or community meals; starting a regular community meal with neighbours; or teaching family members or neighbours to cook.

Those struggling with accessing sufficient nourishing food can contact Meals on Wheels, Hearts and Hands, the Food Bank, FCSS, Walking Through Grief Society, and 211. Anyone looking for nutrition-related support can call Health Link at 811 and request to talk to a dietitian.

The Vermilion Wellness Coalition sponsored the hamburger soup meal provided at this Lunch and Learn, and the atmosphere echoed one of McAuley’s most important points: eating at least one meal a day socially will not only increase appetite, but will benefit mental and emotional health through connection. She says, “Think about eating as an important part of aging, and enjoy your food!”

Although this was the Family and Community Support Service’s (FCSS) last Lunch and Learn for 2023, Senior Support Coordinator Shirley McRobert invites the public to their Community Shredding Event coming up on November 17 at the Vermilion Regional Centre from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The event will provide an opportunity for individuals and families to shred sensitive documents such as credit cards and bank statements to ensure their confidential disposal. There is a limit of two banker boxes per family, and FCSS requests that each family bring one food bank item for the Vermilion Food Bank, if possible.

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