They say that with age comes wisdom. It seems that wisdom extends to the eating habits of those of us over 50. Ninety-five percent of adults over the age of 50 agree that fruits and vegetables have many health benefits and 89% say they enjoy eating them. Older adults are also more likely to recognize the short and long term health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables compared to younger age groups who eat them because they were told they were good for them or someone else prepared them.
A health strategy that dietitians embrace as a way to eat more fruits and veggies is cooking at home and 2020 saw a big spike in home cooking. According to a recent research report, “Home Cooking in America 2020” from The Food Industry Association (FMI) 40% of American adults say they are cooking more since the pandemic. That might be the silver lining for these challenging and uncertain times. Like many of you I like watching “House Hunters” and I always get a kick out the couple whose wish list includes a gourmet kitchen even though neither one of them cooks! And, many love cooking shows yet they rely on take out for their meals. Of course, the resurgence in home cooking is forced upon us by stay at home orders, closure of our favorite restaurants, or feeling unsafe venturing out to eat, but it is getting us in the kitchen.
How can we encourage the cooking trend to continue once the pandemic is over? After reading the “Home Cooking in America 2020” report, several clues are revealed by the research. Here the highlights that apply to the 50+ demographic, and some personal tips to encourage the cooking trends.
“Shared cooking supports consistent cooking.” Those who say they cook a lot often have some help in the kitchen. The report suggests that retired adults may have more time and a renewed interest in cooking with their partner or family as a form of togetherness. While women still are the primary shoppers and chefs, now is a great time to get your partner in the kitchen.
Personal Tip: I encourage my husband to cook by agreeing to be his sous chef; I get the ingredients ready, chop veggies, measure the spices or herbs, set out the pans or pots, and then offer help when needed. Turns out he is an inventive cook and more creative than I am in the kitchen. He also makes a mean weekend breakfast!
Bonus Tip: Now is a great time to pass along family recipes or favorite kitchen hacks to the next generation. Inspired by a neighbor, click here to access the post highlighting her ideas on paying it forward. But it is also a great time for the older generation to learn from the younger. My niece, Samantha, taught me how to make bagels and I’ve been perfecting my technique since her original bagel making lesson. My nephew, Reis, is also handy in the kitchen. On his visit he taught me how to make an easy, crusty French Bread. It was fun to watch him bake and I reaped triple rewards: spending time with my college-aged nephew, learning a new baking technique, and eating delicious bread.
“Cooking well is a path to eating well.” Tastes rules when it comes to choosing foods and cooking can be a path forward to both taste and health. It’s never been easier to find recipes that contain less calories, saturated fat, sodium, or sugar. And cooking is great way to incorporate more fruits and veggies into meals. Many of us are dusting off small kitchen appliances and rediscovering why we bought them in the first place…. from slow cookers (one of my faves) to Instant pots, we’re enjoying new cooking methods.
Personal Tip: I’ve written about my early pandemic purchase of an Air Fryer and I can’t believe it took a world-wide virus for me to fall in love with it. I use it all the time to turn indulgent foods (fried shrimp!) into healthier versions. It is a quick way to roast veggies, too. Cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts cook up crisp and flavorful in an air fryer. Plus, it doesn’t heat up the kitchen and it is easy to clean. I’ve turned several friends on to the virtues of air frying and we swap favorite recipes each time we talk.
“Sticking to budgets and reducing food waste has never been more important.” Fifty-one percent of consumers expect they will be better in the future about not letting food go to waste. With food costs on the rise and wanting to minimize shopping trips, getting creative with leftovers (or, as my friend calls them, “plan-overs”) means less waste.
Personal Tip: With late summer harvest fruits and veggies appearing at farmer’s markets, roadside stands, community gardens, and your local grocery store, make sure to use it all up to avoid waste and save money. My lake neighbor has an incredible garden and when he comes to his lake home, he brings bags and buckets of tomatoes, peppers, yellow squash, and zucchini. I’ve made salsa with the tomatoes and peppers, grilled squash kabobs, whipped up chopped tomato caprese salad (adding in my home-grown basil), and make easy stir-fries with leftover chicken and veggies.
“Scratch cooking can be fluid.” Many of us have an idealized version of scratch cooking. You don’t have to make your tomato sauce or fresh pasta to enjoy “scratch” home-cooked meals.
Personal Tip: Convenience items offer short cuts that can make cooking easier and less daunting. I can’t live without canned beans…black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas…are versatile, nutritious, and easy. Just open the can, drain and rinse, and they are ready for soups, stews, or salad. For those nights when you don’t want to cook, don’t overlook a frozen lasagna for dinner and add a big green salad and some crusty bread for a quick meal.
Krystal Register, registered dietitian who leads the health and well-being initiatives for FMI, the food industry association, agrees that “now is the perfect time to embrace the many benefits we can all experience from home cooking and shared family meals. Research from the FMI Foundation, along with many other studies, shows that more frequent family meals are associated with better dietary outcomes and family functioning outcomes. Consumers are to be commended for adapting and discovering new skills and perspectives while cooking more at home. We encourage families to stay strong with family meals. While there are plenty of inspirational ideas, we hope that families stay connected by cooking at home and eating meals together, building habits that can lead to healthier eating patterns and improved overall well-being.”
Dr. Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.
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