ROCKINGHAM — Eating well doesn’t have to cost a lot of time or money, say organizers of an upcoming nutrition program for older adults.
The Rockingham Senior Center will soon begin accepting registrations for this year’s free program, and Alyssa Anderson, a family and consumer services agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, said there’s a new theme this time around.
“It’s all about eating healthy on a budget,” Anderson said. “And this year we are putting extra emphasis on fruits and vegetables due to their impact on better nutrition.”
Because many senior citizens live on fixed incomes, she explained, education on how to stretch a dollar while maintaining food quality and appealing flavors is of interest.
“We meet for about an hour, and we talk as a group,” she said. “There are educational materials we hand out, but we also hear issues they have about eating healthy on a budget. We have a taste-testing portion that allows them to taste the recipes in the book and get an idea of how they taste. We also have a taste test demonstrating how brand-name foods and generic brand foods don’t really taste very different.”
Anderson added that exercise — even if it’s only a little — can go a long way to improve health.
“We do some light activity, like chair exercises that get their heart rates up a little bit,” she said.
Educational extenders — small gifts that participants can take home and keep to remind them of healthy tips and tricks learned during the eight sessions of the program — will be given out during the classes.
“Like a fruit and vegetable peeler,” Anderson said. “And the recipe book. People love that recipe book. We give out the same one each year and it tends to get people excited, with ingredients you can pronounce and things you can find in a regular grocery store.”
She added that while exotic grocery items from specialty stores can be healthy, it is important for seniors to learn that nutritious foods are not limited to exclusive venues.
“We’ll be looking at coupons, unit pricing and foods you can use without having to throw so much away,” she said. “A lot of seniors are interested in making smaller meals and re-purposing parts of larger meals, such as rice that isn’t used the first time. We give them ideas how to do that and still make things that taste good.”
Donna Luther of the East Rockingham Senior Center said the program, offered through the N.C. Cooperative Extension, is refreshed annually.
“It’s called ‘Better Choices,’ and starts on registration day, which is March 14,” Luther said. “It runs through May 9. And they’ll receive the cook book, a water bottle and other items for them to keep. We had the same program last year, but they seem to add new things to it each year. So people can learn something new even if they attended the classes last year.”
Luther said one popular recipe from the 2016 program was for chili.
“She actually cooks up some of the recipes in the class and allows them to taste test,” she added.
Anderson said that as people age, poor nutrition becomes an increasing concern.
“With older adults, it’s because it can increase chances of getting an infection and lead to more doctor and hospital visits,” she explained. “Hospsital stays can be twice as long in malnourished people. Also, there is a misconception that all malnourished people are skinny — but you can be overweight and still not getting the nutrition you need. Some people think, ‘Oh, they’re a good weight, so they’re obviously eating enough and they’re fine.’ That’s not always the case.”
The class is open to all seniors age 55 and older. For more information, call 910-997-8332.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673.