For 13 years, Marlene Grunhovd has eaten lunch at SeniorPlace in Owatonna. And for a good reason. “My doctor said he doesn’t worry about me as long as I’m eating here,” she said. Grunhovd isn’t alone.
Each day, Semcac, a non-profit Community Action Agency that serves southeastern Minnesota, provides about 200 hot, nutritious mid-day meals to people 60 years old and older and Head Start students in Steele County, said Deb Praus, site manager for Steele County Semcac.
Semcac offers senior dining options at the Blooming Prairie Senior Center, Cedar Place Apartments in Owatonna and SeniorPlace in Owatonna at 11:30 a.m. weekdays and at the Ellendale Community Building at 11:45 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Volunteers with Semcac also deliver meals to Blooming Prairie, Medford and Ellendale through the “Meals on Wheels” program and the “Mobile Meals” program in Owatonna.
“We have a registered dietitian who approves all the meals we provide, and we provide nutritional meals with 600 to 700 calories each,” Praus said. “It is at least one-third of an adult’s daily requirement.”
Semcac also offers diabetic, low-sodium and low-cholesterol alternatives for seniors.
Harold Moorman of Owatonna said he doesn’t eat meals like the one at Semcac three times a day.
The meal, on a recent Monday, was meatloaf, sweet potatoes, green beans, a morning glory muffin and grapes
“Ninety-eight percent of the time the food is good, and 100 percent of the time it’s worth the cost,” Moorman said. “This is the most balanced meal I eat a day. I eat good, but not this good.”
Counting calories, calories that count
But Moorman should eat that good three times a day, according to local dietitians Louanne Kaupa and Tracy Bjerke.
“We need fewer calories to maintain our body weight as we age, so that means the calories we do consume need to count,” said Kaupa, registered dietitian with Eat Well Therapy. “It’s harder to get valuable nutrients with limited calories. They can’t be wasted on alcohol and sugar.”
Kaupa said calorie needs are dependent on the individual and his or her age, gender, physical activity and present weight.
And she said a balanced diet that contains fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and dairy reduces the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, bone loss, cancer and anemia.
Bjerke, a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Owatonna, recommends seniors eat more nutrient-rich foods that contain calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, fiber, potassium and healthy fats but minimize intake of saturated and trans fats.
“It is very important to have a balanced diet and focus on getting some exercise, too,” Bjerke said. “It’s important to feed your body healthy, nutritious foods because you’ll feel better, and you’ll do more.”
Some nutritious foods that Bjerke mentioned include dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and broccoli and orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes.
“I always recommend a variety because it means there are a variety of nutrients with them,” she said.
Kaupa said Semcac offers senior dining options to Steele County residents to keep them well.
The mission of the meal programs is to “promote the independence, dignity, good health and nutritional well being of older persons,” stated in the program’s brochure.
And Praus said the way Semcac accomplishes the mission changes over time.
“Starting soon, Semcac will offer salad alternatives to each meal on Tuesdays with a chicken Caesar salad and Thursdays with a chef salad,” she said. “Those are a few lighter options we’re bringing in to try and keep up with the way seniors are eating now and to appeal to their pallets.”
Not just about the food
But Praus said senior congregate dining isn’t just about the food.
“It’s a daily contact with people,” she said. “It becomes more than a meal. It becomes your second family.”
Joseph F. Clark and his wife have been eating lunch at SeniorPlace with Grunhovd and Moorman for awhile.
“At a restaurant you don’t have the same experience,” Clark said. “It’s fun to be with all the people.”
Praus said meals are available for individuals who are 60 years old and older and their spouses for a suggested donation of $3.50, and meals are available for people who are younger than 60 years old for a suggested donation of $6.50.
“Many people think it is just for people who can’t afford to have meals somewhere else, but that’s not true. It’s for anyone,” she said. “Come and give us a try. I think people would be surprised.”