When my kids were younger, I often struggled with what to feed them before rushing out the door to drive them to the soccer field, gym, or dance studio. Trying to balance nutrition with convenience, speed, and quantity was a challenge.
Now I find myself wondering what to have for lunch or supper to get through activities, especially those that happen around mealtimes. I often find myself wishing I didn’t have to cook at all. Same ole, same ole, and this is from someone who used to love planning and preparing multicourse feasts!
Eating well is more than grabbing a quick snack to eat in the car on the way to “somewhere”. The right foods will increase mental awareness and energy levels, help speed up recuperation times and offer some resistance to illness, help manage chronic health problems, and help maintain good health so that we can live independently. Apparently, our energy requirements decrease as we age, so that means we need fewer calories. . .but the same amount of nutrients. I’m far more active now than five years ago, so I’m not sure what that means for me, and I suspect a lot of other newly retired folks. A bowl of cereal for supper may cover some of the major food groups, but it shouldn’t become a staple menu item. (Especially if it was what you had for breakfast!) Did you know that good nutrition is necessary not only for your body’s health but for your brain as well? Like our body, our brain needs fuel to function properly.
Recently, researchers have discovered important connections between nutrition and brain health, especially relating to depression, anxiety, cognitive function, and inflammation.
According to Ottawa Public Health, in Canada, there are 78,600 new cases of dementia diagnosed per year in those 65+. That’s nine older adults diagnosed with dementia every hour! Of those, 63% are women. And on average, friends and family spend about 26 hours a week helping someone with dementia.
I’m no expert and I’m not a nutritionist, but I can read, and apparently, Vitamin B is really good for our brains. B6 preserves cognitive function, B9 or folate influences mood and cognitive function and B12 maintains nerve health and regulates sugar levels in your brain. If you don’t know, you can get more Vitamin B just by eating more milk or dairy, eggs, fish and shellfish, dark green vegetables (mmm, spinach and kale), whole grains/cereals, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and fruit, especially bananas, citrus, and watermelon. Sounds pretty good to me!
What else can we eat to help our brains? Think Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Vitamin E. I didn’t know that our brains are made up of 60% fat, so Omega-3 is very important in the prevention of Alzheimer’s and can even improve cognitive function. The best way to get Omega-3 Fatty Acids is through fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, and plant oils. Vitamin E can be found in nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals, and certain fruits, such as mango, pumpkin, and avocado.
Choline and flavonoids, which I had never heard of until I started researching for this blog, are also necessary for brain health. Choline, found in meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs, is a nutrient that helps to form the structure of the brain and its connections. It may also fight Alzheimer’s. Read more about that here. Flavonoids, found in plants, protect the brain from toxins and can decrease inflammation, improve cognitive function, and enhance memory. We can get more flavonoids in our diet by adding onions, grapes, RED wine, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, tea, and berries. Sure, I’ll have a glass of red wine with my salad. But I’ll have a glass of red wine with anything!
If you like reading about nutrition and have a few cookbooks on your shelf, there are many books about three diets (not as in diets to lose weight, but diets as in healthy foods to eat) that recognize the connection between a healthy body and a healthy brain. They are the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH Diet, and the MIND Diet. The Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. The MIND Diet is a combination of both the Mediterranean and DASH but limits the kind and amount of fruits and vegetables, although it recommends eating berries, and doesn’t promote eating dairy, potatoes, or fish more than once a week.
Here’s a quick nutrition quiz if you want to learn more.
Thinking about all the stuff my brain and body need to be healthy is quite overwhelming. I guess the best thing to do is to be mindful of the food we are eating or what is going on the grocery list. If the pantry is stocked only with healthy foods, then that is what we will eat. I’m not going to totally eliminate the “fun” stuff from my life, but I am definitely going to pay more attention to what I reach for at the store. Do you plan meals ahead of time? I try but usually end up missing one or two key ingredients. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve planned to make something, if you are exhausted, it’s not going to happen.
Here are some recipes that work for others. I hope you find something you like. Now I must grab a mid-morning snack before going to pickleball. Mmmmm. What will it be?
Snacks to grab before rushing off to an activity:
- Tossed Salad and a protein, such as chicken or fish – Joanne
- Rio Italian tuna couscous in the can with bagged salad mix and a little bit of favourite dressing. – Laurie
- Rice cracker with nut butter – Joan
- Porridge – Karen
- Shake: Fill half a Vitamix with spinach, add ½ cup broccoli, banana, any other fruit with peel such as mango, apple, and half a lemon; add ice and water to cover; add nutritional yeast, protein powder, magnesium plus psyllium. – Fran
- Pre-cooked chicken or turkey (there are many different brands) – Julie
- There are some good ideas here.
We all have our favourite dishes that we prepare when we don’t have the energy to cook. Here are some ideas:
Put a pork loin in a slow cooker and add one bottle of BBQ sauce and one can of root beer. Cook on low all day. About an hour before supper pull the pork apart and let it sit in the sauce. It tastes great with buns and coleslaw. (I made this the other day and put in Diet Pepsi instead of root beer. It was delicious.) – submitted by Fran
Sausages and Pineapple
It’s quick and easy and takes less than 30 minutes. Fry some pork sausages until cooked through. Take a can of pineapple and separate the fluid. Add a tablespoon each of brown sugar, cornstarch, and vinegar. Stir. Then add the sausages. Stir until it thickens and add pineapple. Cook until heated and serve over rice. – submitted by Joanne
French Onion and Cranberry Chicken
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 ½ oz pk dried onion soup mix
1 16 oz can cranberry sauce (jelly)
1 cup French dressing
Place chicken in a baking pan, mix everything else together and pour over. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for about one hour until the top is bubbly and lightly browned. (You can also marinate before baking if you have time.) – submitted by Sharon
Easy Lentil Bake
Cook ½ cup lentils and ¼ cup rice together in about 2 ½ cups stock or water. Lightly grease a casserole dish and put a layer of the rice and lentils on the bottom. (Save enough for another layer.) Top with a layer of vegetables, such as chopped onion, peppers, mushrooms, or whatever you have on hand. Frozen mixed vegetables also work well. Top the vegetables with a layer of shredded cheese, then the rest of the lentils and rice. Finish off with another layer of shredded cheese. Season along the way with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, or whatever you like. Bake at 375 for about 25 to 30 minutes until the cheese is golden brown. Six servings. – submitted by Julie
3 chicken breasts
1 large jar of salsa
1 can of black beans
1 can corn
frozen broccoli or 3 cups of spinach.
½ pkg cream cheese
Put all the ingredients except the cream cheese into an oven-proof pot. (Cast iron is great). Bake at 375 for 1/2 an hour. Spread chunks of cream cheese on top and bake for another 1/2 hour. Use two forks to pull the chicken apart. Serve over rice, pasta or use as a chunky dip for crackers and toast. – submitted by Dawn
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 stalks celery
3 green onions
¼ cup dill pickles
¼ cup bell pepper, diced
2-3 tbsp. vegetarian/vegan mayo
1 clove garlic
1 ½ tsp mustard
2 tsp fresh dill
1 ½ tsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Mash chick peaks until flakey; add veggies and mayo. Stir in mustard and dill. Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. – submitted by Lori
To one package of mashed tofu, add ½ cup veg mayo, 2 tbsp dijon mustard, 1/2 to 1 tsp cayenne pepper, ½ tsp or more turmeric, 1 tbsp chopped dill, 1/2 cup chopped green onions, salt and pepper to taste. Use in a sandwich or with crackers. – submitted by Lori
Instant Pot Potato Soup – submitted by Joan
10-Minute Easy lemon Chicken Pasta – submitted by Laurie
Shipwreck Casserole – submitted by Gail
Do you have a favourite snack or go-to meal that you rely on? Share it with us! Bon Appetite!
How to Promote Brain Health | McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (interactive lesson)
Eat Well Saskatchewan – College of Pharmacy and Nutrition | University of Saskatchewan (usask.ca) or watch this interview about the program Tips for eating well | CTV News