When you’re a caregiver, taking care of yourself can sometimes fall by the wayside. But keeping yourself healthy is equally important. If you don't eat healthy, your mind isn’t as sharp as it needs to be for the people who need you most. When I was a caregiver for both my grandparents and later for my aunt, I was able to work a healthy-eating routine into my life. Here’s how you can, too.
Always eat breakfast
Eating breakfast is a key part of getting through a morning routine as a caregiver. Without this meal, you can get lethargic and make a bad food decision because you merely want something fast later in the day. But you shouldn’t eat just anything for breakfast. Make sure whatever you have has protein to give you some long-term energy; eggs and turkey sausage are excellent choices.
Keep snacks on hand
We all get hungry in between meals sometimes, especially when we’re using a lot of our energy to look after someone. That’s why it’s important to have healthy snacks available. Nuts, such as almonds and cashews, are great, as are crackers with peanut butter.
Maintain good portion control
If you eat too much, you can get sluggish. There are simple ways to trim down your portions. If you’re eating a sandwich for lunch, cut one slice of bread in half, instead of using two. If you’re having a bagel or muffin in the morning, eat half and save the rest for the next day. And when you’re dining out, have the server box up half your meal for you to take home. Restaurant portions are often bigger than necessary, and a lot of times, one order can make two servings. By having half your meal boxed up before it is brought out, you won’t be tempted to eat all of it when it’s served. It takes our brain about 20 minutes to feel full, so even if you think you’re still hungry after finishing a meal, just wait and your hunger will dissipate.
Sometimes “healthy” just means “healthier”
You don’t have to be perfect when trying to eat healthy as a caregiver, but try to stay away from processed foods, eat whole grains, and stick to vegetables, whether they’re frozen or fresh. Frozen vegetables are especially versatile because you can use them in cooking and put them into smoothies without having to add ice, which waters them down.
Prepare meals ahead of time
Caregiving means being on the move, so often we don’t have the time to spend cooking and preparing a meal for our loved ones and ourselves. That’s why it’s crucial to plan ahead and make multiple servings of simple healthy meals that you can grab and take with you. One of the best and easiest foods to prepare ahead of time is boiled eggs. They’re packed with protein, and you can boil a dozen at a time. You can also prepare a big batch of soup or stew to stick in the fridge, or freeze to keep long term. Below is a great chicken soup recipe that’s easy to make on the stove top or in a Crock-Pot.
Use an electric cooking pot
Caregiving can be a full-time job, so it’s important to use tools that let us focus on our loved ones. You can leave a Crock-Pot on overnight, and in the morning have lunch or dinner readily available to serve, sometimes for more than one day. And there’s a bonus: A long-simmering meal is one of the best smells there is.
Here’s one of my favorite Crock-Pot recipes that’s hearty, healthy and easy.
Slow & Low Lentil Soup
2 cups dried lentils
8 cups vegetable stock
2 small Spanish onions, diced
3 celery spears, chopped very small
1 whole carrot, chopped
1 whole bay leaf — dry (in the spice aisle of a grocery store)
9 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried leaf oregano
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme sprigs
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional—add to vegetable stock in the beginning, if used)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (optional—add to vegetable stock, if used)
1/4 cup parsley, chopped (optional—add at the end, 5 minutes before serving, if used)
1/4 lemon, cut into a wedge
1 medium fresh tomato, chopped small
Soak lentils overnight; if you do not have enough time, soak for 2 hours.
Rinse lentils and drain soaking water. Place in cooker. Add 8 cups of vegetable stock and remaining ingredients except tomatoes, parsley and lemon. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or overnight. Add tomatoes.
Turn to high and cook 15 minutes longer, until hot. Squeeze the lemon wedge into the soup before serving. You can also add some parsley 5 minutes before it is to be served. If you want to really bring out all the flavors before you add them to the pot, get a medium sauté pan and heat it on medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, and add all of your ingredients except the lemon, tomato and half of the salt, and sauté for 3 minutes, then add to your pot.
Chicken Noodle-Cilantro-Lime-Garlic Soup, Low and Slow Style
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup onion, chopped
7 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/3 cup celery, chopped
5 ounces cooked chicken breast, chopped
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup vegetable broth
1/8 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground or cracked pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon hot sauce (optional)
1/4 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 cup egg noodles, cooked
Place a medium pot on the stove. Turn your flame or heat dial to medium. Add extra-virgin olive oil and toss in onion, garlic, carrots and celery, and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Add chicken and broths, plus oregano, kosher salt, black pepper, parsley, basil, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf and hot sauce (optional). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 1 hour. Let sit 3 minutes before serving.
Add cooked egg noodles to each separate bowl and pour the soup on top of the noodles. (If you have leftovers and reheat them, your noodles will not turn into mush.) When done, stir in lime juice and cilantro right before serving.
Place uncooked chicken and all other ingredients, except the cooked noodles, into the pot. Set on medium heat and let cook for 4 hours or until chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Serve with noodles.
In a small soup pot, heat 4 cups of water to a boil; add noodles. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes and stir every 2 minutes, or until tender. Cool under running water, drain and set to the side until needed. To make sure the noodles don't stick to one another while they cool, either lightly spray them with nonstick cooking spray and stir, or mix in 1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil.