The key to really eating well, and not forcing yourself to eat sad salad after sad salad – particularly when you hit the mid-life stage – is to focus on taste and flavour above everything.
Well, this is what cookbook authors Mimi Spencer, 50, and Sam Rice, 48, believe: “Just because something is healthy, you don’t have to eat it – we’d rather get our greens fix from a nice watercress soup than a wheatgrass shot.”
The food writer friends first met at the school gates and are now celebrating the paperback version of their recipe collection, The Midlife Cookbook, which dishes up recipes big on taste as well as nutrition, targeted for those facing middle-age. Here, they talk us through their inspirations and approach to keeping healthy and enjoying your food…
What nudged you to tackle the middle chunk of human life in cookbook form?
When you hit midlife, it is often a time for reflection on where you are and what you still want to do with your life. We both came to realise the limiting factor for most people as they get older is their health. If you look after yourself, you can still look forward to a good, long healthspan (we prefer this term to lifespan), which is the number of fit, functional years ahead. So where better to start than with food?
What should people be most aware of nutrition-wise during this period of their life?
As we age, there are two key things that happen relating to food: First, we need fewer calories overall as our metabolism slows, and secondly, we become less efficient at digesting the food we do eat. In practical terms, we need to eat nutrient-dense foods in order to get adequate nutrition from fewer calories. Foods that fit the bill include plenty of colourful fruit and veg, eggs, full-fat yogurt, lean (mainly non-meat) protein and nuts and seeds. It’s not rocket science, but the trick is to get these ingredients onto your fork in the tastiest way possible.
How can people best shake up their approach to cooking and food?
Shift food and cooking up the priority list a little. We all have to eat, and so instead of seeing it as a time-consuming inconvenience, it’s more helpful to view it as an important investment in ourselves. In practice, this means taking a bit of time to plan for the week ahead and get the ingredients in. The other important thing is to have a really good store-cupboard of basics.
How have your own tastes and attitudes to food changed with age?
It might sound strange, but where we once craved a creamy pasta, we now prefer an interesting salad, not because we are ‘trying to be good’, but because our palates have shifted and we are naturally drawn to more interesting flavours and textures. We’ve also found that investing a bit more time and thought in the food we prepare and eat has been a hugely positive thing, for our bodies, minds and social lives.
What do you feel when you cook?
For a long time, we were a bit resentful of the time we spent in the kitchen. When our kids were young, it was endless fish fingers and spag bol, so it really did seem like Groundhog Day. But now as midlifers, things have changed. Our kids are older, and we can cook more of what we want. Our favourite way to cook is with a decent podcast on (often Desert Island Discs) and lovely, fresh ingredients to hand.
What most concerns you about fad diets and the so-called ‘clean-eating brigade’?
What strikes us as bizarre with the recent wave of clean-eaters, is how what you eat is somehow linked to how good a human being you are – there is no moral link between diet and your personal character. Just because you have a pea protein smoothie for breakfast, it doesn’t make you a better person. A lot of the language used is misleading and, in some cases, plain wrong. A green juice will not detox you, that is what your kidneys and liver are for.
Why, traditionally, do you think midlife has been relatively ignored?
Probably because the media has, for the longest time, been fixated with youth and the idea that once you are older, you’ve had your moment in the sun. We’d say that’s nonsense – and as this current wave of midlifers has shown, times have changed: Midlife is where the action is.
The Midlife Kitchen by Mimi Spencer and Sam Rice is published by Mitchell Beazley, priced £16.99. Photography Issy Croker. Available now.