Cook: Nutritious, delicious soups for the older set

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When I wanted to devise some recipes that would be healthful for seniors, I turned to the Alameda County Meals on Wheels program for some advice. The agency serves 3,862 seniors regular hot meals — 2,200 meals every weekday — and is part of a Bay Area network.

Mary Louise Zernicke, a registered dietitian, is an executive board member of the group and director of the Merritt College dietary manager program in Oakland. “Seniors differ in terms of physical function, behavior, cognition and emotional status, all of which may affect health,” she said. In planning meals for seniors, she said it is important to focus on physiological needs rather than physical age.

However, there are some common concerns. Zernicke said many seniors don’t get enough fluids. Adding water, juices, nonfat milk, soup and other liquids helps. Many seniors also don’t get enough fiber. Controlling caloric intake is important, as is eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. Making dishes tasty is key.

“If you are thinking of food as medicine, make it medicine that tastes good,” Zernicke said.

Arthur Hoffman, an Oakland resident and member of Temple Sinai, is president of Alameda County Meals on Wheels. “I feel that there is no greater mitzvah than using my skills and resources to help provide nourishment of the body and soul to our frail homebound seniors,” he said.

For more information about the Alameda County program or its April 27 Five Star Night fundraising dinner, call (510) 777-9560 or go to For information about Meals on Wheels, visit the national website at

Below are recipes for Zernicke’s lentil soup and my potato chowder. The lentil soup relies on balsamic vinegar for a flavor punch, and the chowder has a combination of spices. If salt consumption is a concern, be sure to use low-salt or homemade vegetable broth, no-salt-added diced tomatoes, and limit or skip adding salt to taste in the recipes.


Mary Louise Zernicke’s Lentil Soup

Serves 4-6

1 cup dried brown lentils

2 Tbs. olive oil

2 cups diced onion

1 Tbs. minced garlic

1 cup (about 2 stalks) chopped celery, including leaves

1 cup sliced carrots

4 cups vegetable broth or stock

14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes with liquid

1 bay leaf

2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper, to taste

Put lentils in a bowl, cover with water and allow to sit overnight. Over medium heat, heat oil in a large soup pot and cook onions. Add garlic and celery. Once celery begins to soften, add carrots, vegetable broth, tomatoes with liquid and bay leaf. Drain lentils. Add lentils to soup. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes until vegetables are cooked through. Remove bay leaf. Stir in vinegar and add salt and pepper as desired.


Potato Chowder

Serves 6-8

2 Tbs. canola oil

2 cups chopped onions (1⁄4-inch pieces)

1 cup chopped carrots (1⁄4-inch pieces)

1 cup chopped celery (1⁄4-inch pieces)

11⁄2 cups chopped red bell pepper (1⁄2-inch pieces)

1⁄4 tsp. to 1 tsp. minced, seeded jalapeño, or to taste (optional)

4 cups chopped russet or Idaho potato, peeled (1⁄2-inch pieces)

14.5 -oz. can diced tomatoes with liquid

1⁄2 tsp. ground black pepper

1⁄4 tsp. dried, ground oregano

1⁄4 tsp. ground cumin

4 cups water

11⁄2 cups nonfat milk

salt, to taste (optional)

diced avocado (optional)

In a large pot over medium heat, add oil and sauté onions until soft. Add carrots, celery, bell pepper and jalapeño if using. Sauté for 1 minute. Add potatoes, tomatoes with liquid, black pepper, oregano, cumin and water. Stir well, bring to a simmer, cover and cook about 20 minutes until potatoes are just starting to get soft. Add milk, return to simmer, cover and cook about 20-25 minutes more, being careful not to let the soup boil. Stir occasionally until vegetables are cooked through. Taste and correct seasoning, adding salt if desired. Ladle into bowls and top with diced avocado if using.

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs at Contact her at [email protected].

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].