Senior centers can play key role in nutrition

The role of proper nutrition in maintaining a healthy weight, high energy levels and in helping prevent or better manage chronic health problems is well documented and important throughout our lifetimes. As we age, however, maintaining healthy eating habits becomes absolutely vital.

Nutrition plays a direct role in assisting in controlling such diseases as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and cancer. Poor eating can exacerbate problems such as dementia, increase the risk of falls and broken bones and make it more difficult to recover after surgery or for wounds to heal.

Unfortunately, as the need for good nutrition increases with age, so does the number of challenges and barriers to eating healthy. Deteriorating physical mobility, social isolation, declining appetite, increased confusion, taking a proliferation of prescription drugs and even the higher cost and lower accessibility to nutrient-rich foods can make proper eating less likely among the elderly.

Senior Centers have long played a role in combatting poor nutrition among the elderly by sponsoring group lunches and home-delivered meals. Now, at a time when more of us are living longer, senior services officials are coming to the realization that simply making nutritious meals available does not mean seniors are actually eating those meals. As such, there is more pressure to re-think senior nutrition services programs and numerous towns are examining how to improve these offerings.

In southeastern Connecticut, older residents in Groton are fortunate that the Groton Senior Center long-ago discovered that mass-cooked square fish patties and tasteless chicken breasts are not the answer. The center has its own chef and its Coastal Café serves up a variety of hot breakfast sandwiches, has a salad bar, hot soup and sandwiches at lunch and offers takeout and eat-in options. In short – it’s more a restaurant with a wide variety of choices, than it is a meal site with static offerings.

“We dropped the federal congregate meals in 1999,” Mary Jo Riley, the center’s supervisor, said. “They just were not very popular.”

What Groton learned decades ago, other centers are discovering and Riley said officials from many other senior centers come to Groton to see its café in action and bring ideas home they can adapt for their towns.

Ledyard offers two meal options at lunchtime: a so-called lite lunch and the Thames Valley Council for Community Action-prepared hot meal, for example. Lisbon started a lunchtime sandwich option several years ago and more recently expanded that to include a hot soup. Some centers also offer van service to seniors who want to eat lunch at restaurants.

Offering more satisfying and palate-pleasing meals isn’t just about better nutrition. Expanded offerings could be a matter of survival for centers as they strive to attract younger seniors, many of whom are active and fitness conscious. Centers serve folks from ages 55 to 100-plus and the needs at the two ends of this spectrum are as divergent as those between toddlers and teens.

More senior centers should follow the lead Groton began quite a while ago. Food is at the heart of senior center programming and centers must find ways both to lure more residents to their doors and to provide tasty and tempting meals that provide seniors with the nutrients necessary to live healthier lives.

 

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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