I come from a family of cooks. We associate food with caring for others and pleasant feelings.
Gatherings in my childhood included my mother’s mouthwatering pies, my aunt’s homemade squash-stuffed tortellini and my uncle’s oven-roasted fresh turkey.
There were always too many appetizers, side dishes and desserts. We left the table stuffed and content.
While dining out, I used to get a chuckle out of watching my parents split a meal or snack.
Many years ago my parents were at a cafe, each enjoying a cup of coffee and sharing a blueberry muffin. An elderly gentleman came over, noted how pretty my mom was and told my father, “Sir, if she were my wife, I’d give her a whole muffin.” That story is a family heirloom.
Now here I am, beyond middle age, sharing meals with my husband. It’s a fact that as we age, our desire to eat is reduced. There are several reasons for this, the most common of which is that the brain simply tells older people that they are full faster.
Food is still a big part of my life. I earned my degree in food marketing and spent over 25 years of my working life in the food industry. My cookbook collection is vast. And locations for the vacations my husband and I take combine places we want to see with local foods and restaurants we want to try.
As with all my trips, I went recently with the recommendation of a friend, this time to try a small plates restaurant with amazing food. The beer-battered crispy cauliflower with sriracha aioli and pomegranate glaze, tequila lime shrimp tacos with applewood bacon, and braised short rib grilled cheese with a smoky tomato jam were delicious.
Fast-forward to later that night, and both of us lay in our beds unable to sleep due to that rich and heavy meal. Scrumptious, yes, but we will be rethinking our menu choices next time.
On a recent visit with my 74-year-old friend, we talked a lot about how our food preferences and choices have changed as we age, as well as how we ate during the health crisis.
We discussed our desire for comfort food during the pandemic. By definition, comfort foods give us a temporary emotional boost. We both agreed we have eaten more than our fair share of indulgent foods like french fries over the past two years.
My mother worked off her pandemic stress by running her own soup kitchen, making pots of soup each week.
Chicken noodle, pea and vegetable soups have been ladled out to friends and family, bringing her a sense of nostalgia, as her own mother made those soups when she was a child. Soup is both comforting and easy to eat, making it a favorite among older adults.
Food is, by its nature, a social experience, and without that social element, interest in eating wanes. We see with many of our Meals on Wheels clients that being alone has taken the pleasure away from eating. Having a convenient meal delivered to one’s door at least makes it easier to eat, since the desire to shop and cook for oneself is also diminished.
As we get older, we eat fewer protein-rich foods, whether it is due to fewer taste buds, issues with swallowing, dental problems or the availability and ease of fast foods.
My friend was showing me two items she buys to “up” her protein intake, a refrigerated egg bite and precut chicken pieces to add to salad or pasta.
Sadly, fast and nutritious often do not go together. Easy-to-eat protein-rich snack foods would be a great target for new consumer product ideas.