After spending two decades shopping for food, planning meals, cooking and thinking about everyone else's dietary needs, you find yourself in an empty nest, and with an empty fridge and cupboard.
I hear it from my baby boomer clients all the time. They are tapped out. Spent. There's no energy left for even thinking about meals, let alone cooking them. Besides, what's the point of preparing a big, elaborate meal for just one or two?
The problem, of course, is that empty-nestdom arrives at a time in one's life where nature is most unforgiving.
Your metabolism has likely just taken a nosedive, meaning you can get away with far fewer dietary indiscretions without paying for them on the scale. Your bones need extra TLC if they're going to last you through retirement--particularly if you're taking a calcium-sapping acid reducing medication. And when you skimp on fiber rich veggies and probiotic-rich cultured dairy, things tend not to go so smoothly in the loo. In other words, Empty Nestdom is a particularly inopportune time to give up on nutrition.
Fear not. Armed with some basic pantry and fridge staples, creativity and a reminder that taking care of yourself is more important now that ever--you can improve your diet quality tremendously without much effort at all. Here's how:
More than ever, you need the convenience, protein and calcium that low-fat yogurt and kefir offer. These foods happily fit in at breakfast, for a snack, with lunch and even at dinner, and if you've got some on hand, a respectable meal is never too hard to conjure up. Yogurt stands on its own, or accessorizes other meals (add cucumbers and a bit of garlic, you've got Middle Eastern veggie dip; add Indian spices, you've got Tandoori marinade). Kefir (liquid yogurt) is the secret to perfect smoothies, fluffy pancakes and easy overnight oatmeal. Once you start keeping these kitchen multi-taskers on hand, your fridge will feel like an empty-nester without them.
If your intestines retired from their job of digesting dairy a long time ago, try lactose-free real dairy yogurt and kefir like that made by Green Valley Organics. It's organic, real cow's milk dairy with the lactose pre-digested, making it an easy-to-tolerate source of essential calcium for your bones and live, active probiotic bacteria for your digestive health. It's a far better option than non-dairy milks and yogurts made from almond milk, coconut milk or rice milk, as these latter options lack the protein you need to maintain lean body mass and feel satisfied after a meal.
To take the pressure off of dinner prep each night, consider lunch your main meal of the day. This especially makes sense if you're working or otherwise out, as you may have more options available.
Be sure to include a good portion of lean protein from fish, poultry, beans or tofu, paired with loads of veggies and a modest amount of slow-digesting carbs to keep you feeling satisfied through dinner.
Save the entrée salads for dinner; they're more likely to leave you feeling hungry a few hours later, which means you're less able to control portions at night when most people get into trouble. A more substantial mid-day meal means you'll be less hungry in the evening and more satisfied with a light supper.
Fancy accessories like pesto, Dijon mustard, chipotle hot sauce and truffle oil can transform workaday pantry items like pasta, tuna, canned white beans, eggs and frozen veggies into appealing meals that take 10 minutes or less to assemble.
Pasta tossed with (frozen) broccoli, white beans and pesto? A Mediterranean dieters dream. Tuna with plain yogurt, Dijon and a hit of hot sauce? Serve atop bagged salad greens, and you've got a respectable meal. An omelet drizzled with truffle oil and served aside (frozen) French green beans? Oooh la la! Dinner is served.
Veggie and lox omelets, whole grain pancakes, green smoothies...there's no law saying a dinner plate needs to have a protein, starch and veggie lined up side by side. Whole grain pancake mix spiked with canned pumpkin puree and topped with plain yogurt provides a low-glycemic carb, an orange veggie and a good serving of lean protein. A low-fat kefir smoothie with spinach, mango and banana delivers protein, a day's worth of Vitamin A and complex carbs--a far better option than pizza delivery or greasy takeout! In other words, breakfast for dinner doesn't have to mean standing over the sink and eating a bowl of cereal.
Ready to improve nutrition in your empty nest? You'll be off to a good start with these super salads from ThreeManyCooks.com blogger and AARP food expert Pam Anderson.
This Mediterranean Diet-style meal is loaded with flavor and dense with nutrients. You can save prep time and effort by using bagged, pre-washed organic leaves and whole grape tomatoes.
If you don't feel like grilling outside (or the weather isn't cooperating), this recipe is just as delicious when prepared using a countertop or stovetop grill. Or, sauté the chicken in a large, hot oiled skillet for about the same amount of time as the grilling instructions. Bake the pitas in a 425-degree oven (or toaster oven) until crisp and golden, about 8 minutes.
Mix yogurt, 3 tablespoons of the oil, lemon juice, 1 of the garlic cloves, oregano, and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Pour half the yogurt mixture in quart zipper-lock bag; add chicken and let stand at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. (Can be refrigerated for 2 days.) Reserve remaining yogurt mixture as the salad dressing.
When ready to serve, heat a gas grill igniting all burners on high for at least 10 minutes or build a hot charcoal fire. Clean grate with a wire brush and then lubricate well with an oil-soaked rag. Meanwhile, put arugula, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, feta and olives in a large bowl. Mix remaining 4 teaspoons of oil with the remaining 2 garlic cloves and brush over one side of each pita.
Place chicken on hot oiled rack and grill until impressive grill marks form, about 3 minutes. Turn chicken over with a spatula and continue to cook until chicken is just cooked through, about 2 minutes longer.
Add pitas, oiled side up, the last 2 minutes of grilling. As chicken comes off the grill, turn pitas and continue to grill until golden brown on remaining side, another 1 to 2 minutes.
Place a pita on each of 4 pasta plates. Toss salad with dressing, mounding a portion of salad on each of the pitas. Serve.
Per Serving*: Calories 564, Fat Calories 162, Total Fat 18g (28% DV), Sat Fat 6g (30% DV), Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 85mg (28% DV), Sodium 1023mg (42% DV), Total Carb. 50g (17% DV), Fiber 6g, Sugars 4g, Protein 37g, Vitamin A 53%, Vitamin C 48%, Calcium 41%, Iron 26%.
I love this hearty and healthy green, beans and grain recipe. If ever there was a Platonic ideal of a super-food salad, this would have to be it.
This salad delivers protein AND iron from the beans and quinoa, as well as calcium from the kale and probiotic-rich kefir dressing, which is a great way to get more healthful 'culture' into your diet. For those folks trying to choose more whole foods with anti-inflammatory benefits, this salad also fits the bill. It's got unprocessed whole grain quinoa, complex carbs from beans, inflammation-taming probiotics from the kefir dressing, and a medley of anti-inflammatory herbs and spices.
Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa is fully cooked, about 20 minutes longer. Cool quinoa to lukewarm.
Meanwhile, make dressing by whisking garlic, cumin, mustard, kefir, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup. Slowly whisk in oil to make a thick, flavorful dressing.
Place remaining ingredients--kale, kidney beans, apricots, onion and cilantro in a large bowl. Add warm quinoa and the dressing; toss to coat.
Per Serving (calculated for 6 servings)*: Calories 315, Total Fat 12g, Sat Fat 1g, Cholesterol 0mg, Sodium 297mg, Total Carb. 43g, Fiber 9g, Sugars 10g, Protein 10g
New York City-based Registered Dietitian Tamara Duker Freuman specializes in medical nutrition therapy for digestive disorders. She is also a gluten-free blogger for US NEWS & WORLD REPORT'S eat + run health page in addition to hosting her own blog devoted to healthy eating and gluten-free living at www.tamaraduker.com
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