Over the years we have often called attention to the unmet needs of the elderly. Today we are happy to tell you about a need that is being met in our own State of Massachusetts. It is the need for sound nutrition education.
The need for such a program is hardly unique to the elderly. Nor is the format unique. But what is unique is that this program has been developed within the context of the federally funded nutrition programs for the elderly.
The project really began more than a year ago in a community that borders our university, Tufts. Nutrition project director Alan Balsam and nutritionist Dibby Falconer of the Cambridge-Somerville Elder Services organized what they called the New Horizons-New Nutrition Recipe Contest. The first contest drew recipes from more than 70 people.
The primary goal was not to dig into the family archives and reproduce the most cherished family recipe. Nor was it to find the most elaborate and elegant dishes, requiring big expenditures in the supermarket and long hours in the kitchen.
The idea was to submit recipes that adhered to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, and that were relatively easy to prepare as well as reasonable in cost. Of course, they did have to taste good.
Since the goal of the contest was to teach people to prepare good food within the context of what we believe to be the guidelines for preventing the major chronic diseases of aging, the contest departed from tradition in one important way.
As recipes were received, they were reviewed by the nutritionist. Where it was clear that a small and feasible change would bring the recipe into closer agreement with the Dietary Guidelines, she returned it with the appropriate suggestion.
For example, a contestant might be advised to reduce the salt and try various alternative seasonings to preserve the flavor of the product. Or fats higher in polyunsaturates might be suggested as substitutes for butter. Thus, the contestants got a chance to modify their entries and improve their nutritional scores before the judging.
At the same time, and even more important, they learned what goes into altering recipes for healthy eating.
During National Nutrition Month, a cook-off was held and prizes were awarded. More than 500 men and women came to watch the contest, cheer their friends, taste a few samples and absorb a little sound nutrition information.
For their efforts in developing a unique program in nutrition education, the organizers of the contest received an award from the Potato Board.
This year the contest organizers set their sights substantially higher. Sponsorship by the Massachusetts Department of Elderly Nutrition Programs and support from the Massachusetts Department of Elder Affairs made it a statewide event.
In all, 17 of 27 nutrition programs held local contests, with more than 1,000 people submitting recipes. And a few weeks ago, local first-prize winners, their friends and supporters gathered in the Rotunda of Boston's famed Quincy Market Building at Fanueil Hall Marketplace.
On hand as judges for the tasting were well-known restaurateurs, media personalities and nutritionists. Mark Hegsted, a nutritionist and author of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, helped judge and participated in the awards ceremony.
The "best of show" prize was won by a group of women who belong to a cooking club at an adult day-care center.
What is next? Falconer envisions the annual recipe contest as just a small part of a total program of ongoing recipe clinics focused on taking favorite recipes and adapting them so that they not only taste good but are good for you.
Sound nutrition is, after all, not what we know but what we do with what we know. There is no better way to ensure that at least one important segment of our population, the elderly, is getting the tools to achieve that goal.