If you’ve met my mom, you know that she’s a wisp of a person, not someone I’d take with me if I was a tornado chaser. I visited her a few weeks ago on my way home from a Dannon Institute Nutrition Leadership Institute meet-up at the Experimental Biology meeting and was tipped off by one of my brothers that my mom wasn’t doing so well in the eating department. Indeed, my mom verified that she just wasn’t hungry. I made sure we shared lots of meals together, even managing to help her nearly polish off a carton of Trader Joe’s ice cream in the few days I was there.

Her lack of appetite is not unusual in an older adult. For someone in relatively good health like my mom, it may be that cooking and eating alone isn’t very inspiring or fun. My brother commented that my mom eats more when she has meals at his house and I found the same thing when she and I ate together. Several years ago when I was working with Dr. Barbara Rolls on her most recent Volumetrics book, we looked at studies on the effects on body weight of eating alone versus with other people. Some studies found that solo diners eat more calories and others found that people eat more when they’re with friends. For older adults, it seems that dining with others, whether in a communal dining room, at a restaurant, or at each other’s homes, would be a good idea.

Before I left, I cooked up a pot of soup for my mom. I have been encouraging her to eat enough protein so I chose one of my favorite recipes, a red lentil soup inspired by a dish I tasted years ago by Chef Anya von Bremzen. This is the simplified version created for my mom, with orange in the title because that’s the color the lentils turn. Look for red lentils in stores that sell them in bulk bins if you don’t want to commit to buying a one-pound package.

Ruth’s Triple Orange Lentil Soup

Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped (optional)
1 cup dried red lentils
6 dried apricots, chopped (I like Californian from Trader Joe’s better than Turkish)
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, carrot and celery and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the lentils, apricots and about 4 cups of water. Simmer until the lentils are soft, about 40 minutes. Add more water if too thick.
3. Add salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
4. Serve as is or puree with an immersion blender.
5. Top with plain yogurt, plain Greek yogurt, or light sour cream.