I have a confession to make.
In graduate school, I was an atrocious eater. My two main food groups were coffee and Cheez-Its. I snuck cellophane packets of bologna into the library so I could eat “quiet” food while studying. At three o’clock in the morning, tater tots were my friends.
I did not eat normal meals – hell, I did not eat normal food – I just ate what was inexpensive and portable. And back then (I’m dating myself now), there were not too many healthy choices for busy people.
Although I wasn’t a caregiver, I’m betting you can relate. Caregivers are under multiple demands, leaving little time to plan well-rounded meals or even to incorporate healthy snacks into their days.
And by the way, I’m talking about your eating habits, not those of your loved one. I already know you’re making sure your family member is well-fed. But caregivers have a tendency to ignore their own health because of their innate generosity and goodness.
But there’s good news. Eating healthfully even while stressed is a real option for caregivers, thanks to better choices and more knowledge about what’s good and bad for us. I spoke recently with Holly and Dan Hedman, healthy lifestyle consultants and owners of D & H Hedman, about nutrition tips for caregivers on the go. Here are their suggestions:
Choose an hour each week, such as when your loved one is taking a nap, to map out your meals for the next several days. This will simplify and shorten your shopping trips as well as reduce daily stress because you’ll already know what you’re cooking and have the ingredients available.
Make It an Activity
Chop vegetables and make simple preparations ahead of time, whether for recipes or snacks. If your family member enjoys helping in the kitchen, make this an activity that you do together. For instance, your loved one can rinse and peel vegetables while you do the chopping.
Choose Foods Wisely
Try to consume foods with a low glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) refers to a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale of 0 to 100 regarding how they affect blood sugar levels after eating (for more details, see the University of Sydney’s page on this subject).
In general, low-GI foods are better for us because it takes longer to digest and absorb them. This means our blood sugar levels don’t spike all over the map and we don’t get hungry as often.
Here are some low-GI foods that are convenient for caregivers on the go:
- Snacks with legumes (hummus is my personal favorite)
- Vegetables (except potatoes)
- Whole grains (minimally processed)
- Low-fat dairy (Greek yogurt and portable string cheese are really convenient)
We make our own hummus from scratch.
On the other hand, high-GI foods send our blood sugar levels to places we don’t want them to go, which can contribute to problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Plus, we just plain don’t feel good, which affects our ability to be a caregiver.
I’m sure you can guess some of the dangerous high-GI foods to avoid:
- Pastas, cereals and breads that are not minimally processed/whole grain
- Muffins (often loaded with saturated fat and sugar – very evil)
- Crackers (including Cheez-Its, darn it)
Stocking your kitchen with healthy, low-GI snacks and ingredients can make it a lot easier to eat healthfully, even amidst a tight schedule. Planning meals and preparing food in advance can save time and reduce unneeded stress.
There are also some good meal replacement options, such as shake mixes designed to provide vitamins and nutrients and keep you satisfied because of their low glycemic load. The Hedmans recommend Nutrimeal from Usana. You can also go to your local health food store and ask for meal replacement products that are low on the glycemic index.
What are your tips and tricks for maintaining good nutrition while caregiving? Your fellow caregivers can benefit from the secrets you’ve already discovered.
And although I eat much better now, if you have any ideas for how to successfully turn away from the Cheez-Its aisle in the grocery store, I’m all ears.