If you’re an empty nester or retiree, then you may have noticed that not only has your routine changed from your younger years, but so have your taste buds, eating habits, and maybe even your waistline. Adjusting to a kitchen without kids can be tricky and too often, once the kids are gone or a routine has changed, older adults resort to eating out too often or not eating as many fresh foods as they should be. Healthy eating for empty nesters and retirees usually requires finding a new rhythm when it comes to meal planning.
How eating habits change for empty nesters and retirees
Take Sandra, for example. Sandra is a woman in her sixties, a wife and grandmother, who has always prepared healthy meals for her family. She shops weekly, buys whole foods and healthy grains. She also enjoys lots of fruits and vegetables.
Over the last five years, however, she has gained about 15 lbs and feels “heavier.” She also feels her eating habits have become poor, and she has not exercised in over six months and does not feel motivated. Other than one family meal a week, she does not cook. Her husband is self-sufficient in the kitchen and takes care of his lunches. Dinner meals are very simple. Sandra likes to follow recipes and does not like “winging it” in the kitchen; however, she has decision fatigue and does not feel excited to open any of her cookbooks.
Sandra’s goals include: discovering new meals, learning how to substitute ingredients in recipes, eating healthy and gaining her energy back. She would also like to enjoy cooking again and would like to lose a few pounds and not have to buy clothes. The number on the scale does not matter to her; it is more the tightness of her pants that is a current concern.
When I asked Sandra to describe her daily routine, she told me that she eats maybe two meals a day. Breakfast has never been an interest for her, and now that she does not go to the gym in the morning, she often skips breakfast. Sandra’s husband is newly retired, and he follows his daily routine.
When I pointed out to Sandra the differences that I saw from when she was working and “taking care” of her husband’s meals, she immediately realized how her daily routine has changed since her husband’s retirement. The usual structure of waking up and going to work was no longer there. While they had more freedom to do what they wanted and when they wanted, there was no more structure for meals.
Retirement is a new stage in the life cycle; routines change, and there is more freedom of time. Couples sometimes feel that is it not exciting to cook for two people as it was to cook for four or more family members.
Life’s defining moments
In the book Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath (Heath brothers), the authors explore why certain experiences have an extraordinary impact and others do not. Life milestones are usually characterized by change, but if we do not recognize them, life can become mundane. When you are struggling to make a transition in life, creating a defining moment will help draw the dividing line between an out of date routine and your new stage in life routine. Transitions hinge on “defining moments” that can provide the chasm you need to cross to the retirement stage. Creating small experiences around changing your routine can be both meaningful and memorable.
As I reflect on the story examples that the Heath brothers share in their book, I can build some parallels to Sandra’s dilemma with decision fatigue and lack of motivation with meal preparation. By recognizing that retirement is a new stage of life for Sandra and her partner, and using the four elements outlined in the Power of Moments that characterize defining moments, we can cultivate a renewed interest in healthy eating and culinary enjoyment.
The Heath brothers explain that defining moments can be built from one or more of the four elements of Elevation, Pride, Insight and Connection. With these four elements in mind, I offered some recommendations for Sandra to redefine meals within this new life stage of retirement and freedom of time.
Moments that affect our five senses make us feel engaged, joyful, surprised, motivated. Great meals are characterized by their sensory appeal of elevated appearance, taste, smell, and texture. Think about the difference in the appeal of a meal from a fast food chain to one that you order in a sit-down restaurant. In a sit-down restaurant, the ambience of the dining room, the service of the staff, the presentation of the meal all elevate the experience. The ingredients in the food could be the same as what you find at a quick take-out restaurant; however, the experience and feeling of satisfaction of the meal is different.
Explore recipes and meals that explore the boundaries of sense of smell, taste and texture. Think about some memorable meals and what you loved about them. Work with a meal planner to help you organize and create easy extraordinary meals of your own.
Enhance the atmosphere of your dining room or kitchen table to mark the transition from providing food on the table for sustenance to providing an enjoyable, tasty meal that is full of appeal. Consider a new tablecloth, new placemats, a pretty centrepiece or fresh flowers for no other reason than to make your meal environment visually appealing to your new stage in life.
Moments of pride commemorate people’s achievements. Practice courage in trying new cooking techniques, new ingredients or new recipes. Home delivery meal kit boxes are popular with couples because you get to cook and sample new recipes and cooking techniques without the stress of shopping for unique ingredients. You get to keep the recipes and decide to recreate them again and again. Take the time to celebrate the little things in your day instead of always the big things. Cooking together as a couple provides a new activity of enjoyment and connection.
The Heath brothers describe moments of insight that deliver realizations and transformations. To produce moments of insight for others, we need to stretch our imagination. As couples, explore dining events at local restaurants or local festivals. Explore different meals together and discuss the experiences that you enjoy.
When pointed out, Sandra realized that she and her spouse were missing a daily routine. The lack of routine was how she currently viewed cooking for meals and lost her enjoyment. Acknowledging that her life schedule has changed and needed a new structure, was a powerful moment of insight for Sandra.
Moments of connection bond us together. Groups unite when they connect together. Invite friends over for a meal once a week for no other reason than “just because.” Sign up for a group cooking class or wine tasting event. Host family meals to celebrate the little things in life. Cooking for others can provide some intrinsic satisfaction to get you through a lull in your current routine. I feel that doing something for others motivates and helps me get out of a rut.
My signature LEAP program is a four-week program designed to help you transition stages in life around food and healthy eating. You will learn about your patterns and food choices. You will also learn to organize your kitchen to maximize success and master the flow of creating healthy food choices as well as how to enhance the flavour of your foods so that you are not “dieting” but eating better than you ever have before and enjoying your meals.
Each week you will receive a new meal plan with recipes, preparation instructions and a grocery list. Also, you have access to me, a Registered Dietitian, who can answer any questions that come up along the way. I will teach you how to adapt recipes to your particular needs with ease. I will also show you that you don’t need to abandon a favourite recipe because of a “diet.” Instead, you will see how you can create plans that work for all types of situations: a busy week, a travel schedule, a meal prep week, and a craving home cooked meals week.
If you are unsure where to begin, but want to make a change in your life and change your relationship with food, then let’s have a conversation. Together we will figure out where you’re at right now, and where you would like to be in six to 12 months. I offer a one-time, free consultation, where you and I will have a conversation about whether or not we’re a good fit to work together, and whether nutritional coaching is the right step for you.