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Modern meal alternatives to suit our stage of life


Modern meal alternatives to suit our stage of life

The daily grind of food preparation has been disrupted and JULIE LAKE finds out how we haven’t held back embracing a range of choices.

Carole Vancini, now in her early 70s learned how to cook the hard way – everything fresh, unpackaged and prepared by hand.

“My mother taught me to cook,” Carole says, “And she was old-school Italian; very particular about everything, from finding the best and cheapest tomatoes to rolling out her own pasta the way it was done by generations of women in my family”.

Today, Carole still looks for bargains, buys the freshest produce from favoured local suppliers and even makes her own pasta – using a machine. Her kitchen is full of gadgets, her inspiration comes from the internet and she can cook food her mother never even imagined.

Kitchen technology hasn’t changed much – baby boomers grew up with mixers and food processors, dishwashers, electric woks and pans and grills, heat sensors and microwaves.

The popular air fryer is the only really new cooking idea in years; otherwise the most exciting change for most kitchen equipment has been the digital display.

In fact, a quick check of websites promising “awesome new kitchen gadgets for 2022” showed nothing most of us don’t already have in our kitchens except a Chinese/Japanese dumpling mould and a peeler/scraper with three different blades!

What has changed is US.  Those born when the iconic F Series Holden ruled our roads differ from our parents in many significant ways:

Working women became the norm rather than the exception and convenience in shopping and food preparation became a given.

We have been much more health-conscious, encouraged by the advent of health food shops and  outdoor fresh produce markets in the 1970s.

No white, sliced bread and processed cheese for us! Though we do consume more alcohol.

Fresh food was mostly seasonal and bought close to where it was grown but supply chain economics changed all that and now we can get a vast and once-unimaginable variety of international cuisine ingredients all year round.

Cooking has become an art-form; a home-based hobby fostered by so many TV cooking shows that it’s hard for even the most avid foodie to keep up with them.

And for many older people this focus on fabulous food is a bit overwhelming – knocking out a batch of sushi one day and a truffle-stuffed lamb rump with a kiwi fruit compote is simply beyond those who used to think pavlova was the height of culinary sophistication!

The one big difference that technology has made to our culinary lives is where and how we source our information.  Don MacKinnes, early 60s, never cooked at all until his wife died.

“I could boil an egg or fry it – just!,” he says.

 “And do a pretty good barbecue”.  Now he enjoys the creativity involved in preparing meals for himself, family and friends – and he’s good at it, thanks to his laptop.

“My wife wasn’t a great cook, but she could do all the usual meat and veg stuff”, Don says.

“And bake good cakes.  She had a whole collection of recipe books people had given her as presents, most of which she never used”.

She also had, like most of us, a couple of box files stuffed with recipes cut out of magazines.  Don, who has downsized since she died, threw them all out.  Now he downloads recipes when he needs them, watches on-line videos and is even doing a YouTube cooking class.

Don and others get a kick out of the fact that if a downloaded recipe doesn’t work they can go back to the site and say so in the comments section.  Or share their own variations of the recipe with others. Using the videos, he can rewind and repeat when he doesn’t fully understand something.  The cooking class is interactive, and he can ask questions.  And he can do it all sitting at his computer or in his armchair with his tablet.

According to a new survey, 70 per cent of Australian seniors, like Don, are leading the way in adopting technology to the kitchen and 58 percent use the internet for new recipes.

In fact, the survey shows that baby boomers are an adventurous generation with 60 per cent us of saying we want to spice up usual go-to meals with new inspiration (survey courtesy of HelloFresh).

At the same time, 70 per cent of those surveyed said they were always on the hunt for food bargains – hardly surprising considering so many are on a pension or modest, fixed income, or  are using their last years at work to put aside enough for a comfortable retirement.  And much as many of us might value our cooking skills, ageing takes an inevitable toll of our fitness – fingers get stiff, wrists and elbows ache, backs hurt, legs don’t stand so well for so long, dexterity diminishes,

For some people, the chore of buying and preparing food becomes just too much. Either because they find it too physically demanding or can’t be bothered because they live alone without anyone else to cook for and share meals. Takeaways may be too expensive, so they opt for supermarket pre-cooked meals or one of the several home-delivered meal packages serving nutritious, delicious and high-quality meals made with locally sourced ingredients that can be delivered daily or weekly, just as you wish.

Most, however, look for convenience and ways to diminish culinary chores without giving up cooking altogether.  COVID restrictions greatly increased the use of on-line shopping and delivery for seniors and some of those interviewed for this article said they had no desire to go back to in-store shopping.

“The parking. The queuing. The chore of pushing a trolley around.

The risk of catching things,” is how one summed it up.

A totally prepared meal or a meal kit can save time and travel costs.

An increasingly popular compromise is the home-delivered cooked  meal that requires little more than your enjoyment or the fresh food kit that can be easily prepared with the aid of an accompanying recipe and instructions. Appropriate spices, condiments and flavourings are included in the package. A week’s meals for singles, couples or families are ordered on-line and delivered on the day and time of your choice, there are several menus from which to choose plus a full back-up service and helpline.

The meals are pre-packaged and portioned to make the prep work easy. You won’t have to worry about measuring or chopping unless the produce needs to be intact to preserve the freshness.

The ingredients come sealed and fresh to ensure you get the best tasting and most nutritious foods. The box that is shipped to you is designed to keep your food cold with thermo technology and it is sturdy to ensure nothing gets crushed. Dinner boxes get packed with smart packaging so that nothing gets tossed about.

A Your Time social media survey showed that a surprising number of seniors are choosing this option.

One of them is Jan Davies, 67, an educator with TAFE, running a program that helps young people with additional learning needs and disabilities prepare for mainstream employment – the first program of its kind in Australia.  It’s demanding and though she loves to cook, at the end of the  day she just wants to chill out.  Her partner also works full time.

Jan chose HelloFresh as her meal kit supplier after being introduced to the concept by her son and daughter-in-law, and six months later is still enthusiastic about it.

This company has been a market leader in the ‘home make-out” field and currently offers the most meal choices and an easy-to-use app.   “It ticks all the boxes,” Jan says, summing these up as: good value for money (she estimates she is saving about $600 a year on groceries), no food wastage, very high quality of ingredients, plenty of variety and healthy because the main components are fresh meat or fish and vegetables, with appropriate carbs and flavourings. Vegetarian options are available and fresh fruit boxes in two sizes can be ordered as an extra.

The average cost of a HelloFresh meal is $10 (slightly cheaper for seniors as a new 10 per cent discount has just been introduced) and preparation time varies from about 15 – 30 minutes.  Jan describes the app (for smart phone and other devices) as “impressive” and she uses it to plan and order the week’s meals.  This has drastically reduced the time she spends shopping because she only needs to buy a few basics. It was particularly welcome during the Covid lockdown, Jan says, because delivery is contactless.

Rising fuel costs are another incentive to opt for home-delivered meals or meal kits and reduce shopping journeys.

Let’s face it, from the moment we take our first gulp of mother’s milk, nourishment is the most important aspect of our lives and even as other pleasures diminish with age, the thrill of a good meal remains.

It’s not just necessary for the body, it’s good for the soul, too.  A way of enchanting everyday life now that we have the leisure to really enjoy it.

But it must be fresh, imaginative, full of flavour, interesting to the palate and varied enough so the necessary act of eating doesn’t become boring.

So whether you choose to carry on cooking, select the best possible pre-prepared home delivery or go for a fresh produce cook-it-yourself home-delivered kit –  here’s to you.

Bon appetit!

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