Caregiver Connection
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Nutrition for caregivers

Posted 08/14/2019 by Fallon Health

By Vickey Ferrante, RD

You know you should eat better, but having time to think about planning your own meals can seem like a luxury when you’re a caregiver. How can you think about nutrition, much less do anything about it, when you have so much to do in your caregiving role?

But it’s important to find a way. You may have heard this before, but it bears repeating—you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. Eating nutritiously is one of the best ways you can do that.

Benefits of eating well

With these tips and guidelines, planning, buying, cooking and eating healthy meals won’t seem like such an effort. The rewards are worth it. By eating nutritiously, you can:

  • Increase your energy level

  • Feel better emotionally

  • Strengthen your immune system

  • Reduce the risk of developing infections

  • Get to or maintain a healthy weight

  • Lower your risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes

  • Reduce recovery time when you get sick

  • Strengthen your bones and teeth

Small steps add up

So, how do you eat nutritiously? You can become a healthy eater by making simple changes. Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Become familiar with ChooseMyPlate.gov, a website with lots of information about food groups and general dietary guidelines.

  • Eat a healthy breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day. It gives you the energy you need to accomplish what you need to do.

  • Add something nutritious to your current meal regimen instead of taking something away. For example, go ahead and keep eating ice cream, but add chopped veggies to your eggs in the morning and to your pasta at dinner.

  • Find healthy substitutions. For example, switch from white rice or pasta to whole grain versions for extra fiber and vitamins.

  • Keep snacking, but make sure to choose healthy snacks.

  • Cut down on highly processed foods and foods with added sugar, including sugary drinks.

  • Drink eight to ten glasses of water each day.

  • Learn how to read the nutrition labels on packaging.

If these suggestions seem overwhelming to you, take one at a time, in whatever order you wish. For example, try having a healthy breakfast each morning for a week. Take time to notice the positive effects. Do you have more energy? Are you less tempted to binge on unhealthy food later in the morning? Are you performing better at work? Are you getting used to the routine of preparing a breakfast meal?

Plan ahead for easier food prep

Once you get a chance to implement the new ideas, you may still feel pressed for time. Here are some ideas for food preparation that can help:

  • Keep an ongoing shopping list—maybe a notebook or small whiteboard in the kitchen. Write things down during the week when you think of them. You could also try an app like Todoist or Trello, which have free versions and are accessible from a mobile device or computer. You can use either app to create a list and share tasks with others.

  • Use a slow cooker. Prepare meals the night before and plug in the cooker while you’re out during the day. If you prefer not to have appliances on when you’re gone, you can cook a meal overnight. Place it in the refrigerator in the morning, and heat it up when you come home.

  • Speed up cooking with a programmable pressure cooker such as Instant Pot.

  • Double a recipe and refrigerate or freeze leftovers for another night’s meal. Store leftover soups, sauces and veggies in airtight bags or containers.

  • Cut extra veggies, and save them for another meal or snack.

  • Stock your pantry with low-sodium, low-fat canned foods. Beans, veggies, stocks, quick-cooking whole grains, tuna, chicken, salmon and clams are great for fast, inexpensive, easy meals.

Ask for and accept help

If you have family or friends available, invite them to help by:

  • Doing the grocery shopping

  • Making dinner one night a week

  • Chopping vegetables for a stir fry

  • Preparing a sauce or marinade

  • Cleaning up the kitchen after dinner

  • Sharing easy, healthy recipes with you

Or you could ask for their help with other caregiving tasks, so you can do the shopping and cooking yourself.

Even with support and help from others, getting into the habit of eating healthier takes time. It takes the average person about six weeks to create a habit, whether it’s good or bad. Start with small goals that you can easily achieve. Small goals will go a long way and give you confidence to strive for more.

Victoria Ferrante is a Disease Management Health Educator at Fallon Health.

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Comments

  • Jenn Knight said:
    8/15/2019 12:06 PM

    And please know that Elder Services of Worcester Area operates the elder Nutrition Dining Centers in the area and Meals on Wheels. All meals are designed to meet a no added salt diet, and meet 1/3 of the required daily allowance for older adults.

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