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spice up your life
Published By Katrina Markel on March 28, 2017

Debbie Main wants Eastern Iowa seniors to know that they can eat healthy food without sacrificing flavor. She says that sometimes making better food choices means making a favorite dish with healthier ingredients, but she also encourages older adults to be adventurous and try new foods.

When Main is not working in the Right at Home Cedar Rapids office, she can be found speaking to groups of Iowa seniors about healthy, local food, or she might be literally getting her hands dirty.

“I’m lucky enough to have Debbie, who is the office manager, but she’s also a master gardener,” says Renee Riffey, the owner of Right at Home Cedar Rapids.

Riffey and Main collaborate on educational presentations for churches, senior living communities, senior centers and other organizations in their region. Riffey offers a variety of presentations from Fall Prevention to Dementia Live, but the food presentations are popular.

For example, “Spice Up Your Life” is a fun way to learn about simple dietary changes that can have a big impact on the way older adults eat. When she speaks, Main brings more than just useful diet tips.

“We also bring in a snack with each presentation to show them an example of how to make a better choice,” she says.

She likes to share treats such as pita chips as a substitute for potato chips, or homemade cookies seasoned with lavender.

“They get in a rut where they just don’t eat well anymore,” says Main. “By making something that they’re used to or something that they think they don’t like, by adding spices, it makes it more palatable.”

She recommends trying just a little bit of an herb or a spice when it is unfamiliar. This is because of allergies, but also because people need to find their preferred serving. Cilantro is one of those herbs she suggests people ease into using if they’ve never tried it. People tend to either love it or hate it.

“If it’s something you’re not too sure about, try just a little bit, and if you like it, try just a little bit Hearmore,” says Main.

She also likes to explain the difference between herbs and spices as well as the difference between dried, ground and fresh ingredients.

“A lot of people don’t know the difference between what a spice and an herb is,” says Riffey. Potency may vary depending on what form the herb is in or how fresh it is. For instance, a teaspoon of ground basil will be stronger than a teaspoon of dried basil because it has a greater density.

Main also reminds people that they can find substitutes and equivalents online. For instance, if someone is doing low-sugar baking and they want to use stevia in place of sugar, a quick internet search can help reveal how to swap those ingredients and not sacrifice taste.

Mostly, Main wants older adults in her community to realize that healthy eating can still be fun and that we’re never too old to expand our palettes.

Two of Debbie’s Favorite Recipes

Easy Grilled Fish in Foil (2 servings)

  • ½ lb fish fillets (leave skin on)
  • 1 TBSP melted butter
  • ½ tsp dried dill weed
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp lemon pepper
  • Red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • Spray 2 large squares of heavy-duty aluminum with butter-flavor spray. Place equal amounts of fish on each, skin side down. Pat surface of fish dry with a paper towel.
  • Brush each with melted butter, then sprinkle with seasonings to taste.
  • Wrap foil securely around fish, leaving space, but sealing edges completely.
  • Grill for 5-7 minutes on each side or bake in a 350-degree oven for 15-20 minutes depending on thickness, turning halfway through.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with your favorite seasonings. You can try adding garlic, onion, chives, basil, oregano or tarragon for starters!
  • Squirt with lemon before serving.


  • 2 ripe avocados (chopped)
  • 1 Roma tomato (diced)
  • 1 TBSP fresh or 1 tsp dried cilantro
  • ¼ red onion (finely diced)
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • 1 TBSP lime juice (fresh is best)
  • Smash avocados, add other ingredients and chill a couple hours to let flavors blend. Serve with homemade tortilla chips to cut back on salt. Simply slice corn tortillas into triangles and bake for 8-10 minutes in a 350-degree oven. They will crisp as they cool.
  • You can add a little finely chopped fresh jalapeno if you like some extra zing!

Tip: the secret to keeping avocados from turning brown is adding the lime juice ASAP. Store any leftovers with plastic wrap touching the food to eliminate any air.

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