COA offers healthy meals to keep seniors going

By D.J. Ford

Originally published March 19, 2005

Updated November 2, 2007

Ruthie Shakar, food service manager at the St. John’s County Council on Aging, works with a dietician twice a year to come up with a menu beneficial to seniors.

Three ounces of protein. Two vegetables. One starch. One dessert. One-third of the Recommended Daily Allowance, all in one meal.

“We also do two baked desserts each week,” Shakar said. “We rotate the menu every six weeks, and have menus for fall/winter and spring/summer.”

Good nutrition is vital when aging, and the COA feeds about 150 seniors on site and 250 through the Meals on Wheels program daily to make sure seniors eat well.

A lunch for seniors at the COA includes meals like oven-roasted turkey, grilled chicken, spaghetti or tuna salad. Vegetables such as stewed tomatoes, sweet peas, scalloped potatoes and yellow squash are served. Fresh fruit is a common dessert, with yogurt, pudding and peach cobbler as options.

Fried food appeared once on the February menu, which according to Jackie Shank, a licensed nutritionist in St. Augustine, is a great thing.

“Blood brings nutrients through the body, which is critical for seniors,” Shank said. “Cholesterol builds in the blood, compromising blood flow.”

In 2005 the Food and Drug Administration released its dietary guidelines for Americans, increasing the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables from five to nine. Shank recommends blueberries, red grapes and cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower in the diet.

“My motto is ‘the closer to nature the better’,” she said.

She also suggests vitamins A and D, as well as a multi-vitamin containing 100 percent recommended daily intake of vitamins B6 and B12 and minerals zinc and folic acid. Vitamin A is found in foods such as eggs and milk and aids in immunity and proper eyesight. Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” as sunlight triggers its synthesis in the skin. She cautions seniors in regard to statin (cholesterol-lowering) drugs such as Lipitor and Zocor because they deplete the body of coenzyme Q10, essential to cell growth and maintenance. Shank gives green tea as another useful tidbit.

“Green tea boosts immunity, can clear arteries and has natural antioxidants,” she said.

Seniors deal with other barriers to nutrition besides knowledge. Some don’t have the money to buy healthier foods. Some can’t cook or aren’t mobile enough to shop. Others have medical problems, such as upset stomach or chewing difficulties.

The FDA provides alternatives for these difficult circumstances. Canned beans, rice and pasta are healthy, low-cost solutions. Using coupons, finding sales, food stamps and community action programs also help lower the cost of food and reduce transportation problems.

Vegetable and fruit juices, soft canned fruits like applesauce, cooked cereals and cream soups tackle chewing problems, according to the FDA. These answers, as well as dairy products other than milk, may solve an irritated digestive system.

For cooking issues, the FDA recommends pre-cooked foods, microwaveable dishes and group meal programs like Meals on Wheels. Asking family members to cook can be a solution as well.

Reading labels at the grocery store helps with food choices. Look for words like “low fat,” “cholesterol free” and “good source of fiber.” Reading the nutrition facts for calories, serving sizes and percentage of daily value aids in planning effective meals.

In all cases, one should consult with a doctor before any diet, according to the FDA. Visit the FDA Web site,, or see if there is a local FDA office near by checking the blue pages of the phone book.