Monday, April 30, 2018

Eating Healthy While Away From Home

I recently had a crash course on eating healthy while not at home (and under a significant amount of stress) when my husband was diagnosed with heart failure!    
 This week I give tips on how to eat while not at home.  Although they center around my recent experience of schlepping three meals every day with me to the local hospital, you can adapt them to eating at work or even meals to take with you if you are a commuter to a local college.  
 Hospital food is notoriously unpalatable and really not that healthy for either patient or family. 
 For the most part hospital fare is highly processed and really full of fat, calories, and salt.  My husband was given the "heart healthy" menu.  However, it was woefully bereft of what I would call "real food".  It did have offer small salads and fresh fruit each day.  But, in general terms, it did not look particularly attractive or enticing. 


Although the patient is more or less "trapped" by the food being offered, family members can also easily become really unhealthy eaters for the duration of their loved ones hospital stay.

A.K.A. - Where NOT to go!!

Families often cannot or do not plan ahead to bring meals to the hospital each morning.  Heading to the hospital food court or cafeteria seems the perfect solution.  I did this one day.  Holy cow!  The various restaurants in the facility were swimming in animal and dairy fat, as well as salt, oil, and sugar.  

Our local hospital has probably a dozen different "restaurants" under its roof.  It's sort of a food court, offering various genres of food:  Italian, Chinese, sub sandwiches, and American fare - to name a few.  I asked at one restaurant booth, "Do you have anything without meat?"  The answer was, "No ma'am.  Every single one of our entrees and side dishes contains meat."  After that, there was no point in adding that I didn't eat dairy either.   I looked at the salad bar.  Every salad was drenched in oil or mayonaise.  

In desperation I meandered over to the wall coolers.  Voila!  There, nestled among the less-than-healthy options were a few plain salads.  There were also some roll ups.  One was labeled,  "chipolte black bean."  That looked pretty good.  I picked up one of each, added a bottle of water, and walked over to pay.  Ten dollars later, I had a meal  - of sorts.  I'm sure the salad dressing contained some unpronounceable ingredients and the black bean roll up had BACON on it, but it was better than nothing. 


 After my cafeteria experience, I decided that food from home was my only option for keeping healthy while watching over my ailing husband.  But, in order to do it, I had to come up with a system that was K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, sweetie!)


This acronym was actually birthed thirty years ago while my husband and I were planning our wedding.  We needed something to say to each other when the many details of our special day became too overwhelming.  So, we invented K.I.S.S. for "Keep it simple, sweetie."  Whenever one of us (okay, actually it was ME) became a little loopy because of an overload of decisions, Larry would look at me and say, "Remember:  KISS!"  Others probably just thought it was some weird term of affection.  LOL!  But, really it was our special code.  


Here's how I planned and took simple meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day! You can easily use these tips for any time to prepare meals to take with any time will be away from home, not just when you have a loved one in the hospital. 

1.  Consider meals that you can pack in tupperware. 

Tupperware doesn't smash, won't leak, and is reusable.  If you can use three pieces of tupperware (1 for breakfast, 1 for lunch, and 1 for dinner) - even better!  In other words, if you can open your cooler, pick out your breakfast (in the container labelled "breakfast") and then close the cooler back up, that is ideal!  It is the same process for lunch and dinner.  I tried to follow this general rule each day.  I had some "sides" packed separately - like fresh fruit or cut up raw veggies.  But, in general, the vast majority of each meal was packed in a single piece of tupperware.  

Breakfast:  Boxed breakfast cereal, soaked oats, fresh fruit, and yogurt 

Think: fast and healthy. 

                 Tips:  Every day I took soaked oats:  old fashioned oats, a few raisins, walnuts, frozen  blueberries and soy or almond milk.  The frozen berries kept that oatmeal cold for three hours or more - even without ice in the cooler!  If you have a deep, burning desire for a little "crunch" with your cereal, pack a small container of granola and then add it to the top of the soaked oats right before eating. 

Lunch:  Sandwiches, fruit, cut up raw vegetables, homemade soup, salads.  

                Tips:  If you bring soup, remember to throw in a microwavable bowl.  I forgot one day and the staff was kind enough to have one of the kitchen staff bring me up a bowl.  Also, I threw my homemade dressing on top of the salad.  It never got soggy in the amount of time that it was in the cooler.  

Dinner:  Roll ups, baked potato topped with toppings (black beans, sauteed veggies with seasoning, or salsa are suggested toppings), leftovers.

 "One dish meal" that will fit into a single tupperware container.  

Think:  "Is it filling, healthy, and easy?"   

              Tips:  Roll-ups (you can fill them with anything!  Black beans, rice, or steamed veggies can  be layered over homemade hummus).  Bring along a small container of salsa or barbeque sauce to dip it in.  

Finally:  remember to bring along a set of silverware.  If you forget, the hospital undoubtedly has extras that they can get you upon request. 

2.  Items that can be set aside and finished later if you get interrupted. 

Nurses, doctors, aids, visitors, and various tests regularly interrupt your days (and nights) at the hospital.  That means that your meal times are often either sporadic or eaten a little at a time in odd intervals.  This is another reason that I suggest that you plan meals that can be put all in one container.  That makes it so much easier to set aside to finish at a later time. 

3.  Find out if the hospital has a microwave or refrigerator available for family use. 

Our local hospital had some nice perks for the family members of patients.  There was a small room which contained a refrigerator, paper plates, napkins, plastic silverware, a toaster and a microwave.  Be sure to read and follow all the rules.  I had to put my food into a paper bag and label it with my husband's name and room number and the date.  

4.  Make use of hospital "freebies."

They afore mentioned snack room also contained coffee, tea, juice, soup, saltines, graham crackers, bread, jello, pudding, ice cream, and more.  Daily, I availed myself of the healthier options:  unsweetened applesauce, decaffeinated tea, and 100 percent frozen juice cups.   

5.  Use a small cooler and one or two of those reusable ice blocks.

If you will not have access to a fridge, now would be a great time to purchase a small cooler and a couple of reusable ice blocks if you don't already own them.  This would give you all day refrigeration, but the lack of a microwave would certainly limit your food choices.  Larry and I loved the "normal" feeling that was evoked as we shared our meals on the little wheeled bedside table in his room.  Okay, perhaps, "normal" isn't exactly the word.  LOL!  But, it did give us a feeling of comfort to do so.

It is so important that you stay healthy and feeling positive as you care for your loved one in the hospital.  So, choose your foods carefully.  Loading up on caffeine and sugar will drag you down, bloat you, and make you feel awful!  Natural, whole foods will allow you to think more clearly and give you a positive attitude while facing an unknown, scary situation.


Do all to the glory of God,


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

When Your Friends Organize a Meal Train

When your friends bless you with great food!

I must begin this post with a shout out to my Peoria Cooperative Academy sisters, who provided meals for us for two weeks after Larry returned from the hospital.  I learned much from their encouragement and gifts of time and love to our family.

Meal Train is a free website that allows you to create a place to organize meals for friends after a birth, surgery, or illness.  The organizer can send e-mail invites with a special link for your meal train to any number of people.  When your friends go to the link they can view available days, your food preferences, and any other special instructions like what time of day to deliver the food and your phone number to call with any questions. 

Having just been through two weeks of Meal Train, I have tips for both those giving and those receiving meals.


1.  Get rid of your prideful excuses!  

Receiving meals from friends is a humbling experience.  You tend to believe that you are "inconveniencing others", that you "don't really need help", that "people will find your dietary specifications hard to follow."  These are exactly the thoughts that flew through my mind when my friend, Kim, suggested that they form a Meal Train for me for two weeks.  

Okay, let's just nip my incorrect thinking in the bud!  NOT allowing those who love you to feel that they can take minister to you in a real, genuine, and meaningful way is unkind on your part!  Yep!  Your friends need to feel needed and you DO need their help.  So, let them do it!  

2. Narrow down your needs. 

 Decide if you need to focus on the needs of your children or your family member who is returning from the hospital.  Larry came home with very specific dietary needs.  I just could not ask friends to count units of Vitamin K in the foods that they made.  However, if you all hate green peppers and onions then you really don't want to suffer through two weeks of stuffed peppers.  So, narrow down your preferences to a couple of general guidelines.  I decided to specify that whole food and vegetarian were best for us.  Other than that, I left it up to them what they cooked and brought.

3.  Keep a list of who brought what.

You will want to take time to send thank you notes to everyone who took the time and energy to prepare food for you.  You can get packages of 8 thank you notes for a dollar at Dollar Tree.  (Love that store!)  Make a short note of what they brought so you can add something personal like, "The children all loved your spaghetti and meatballs!"  I put the thank you note inside of any glass or non-disposable dishes that needed to be returned to that person.  That way the thank you was stored with their washed and dried dishes. 


1.  When in doubt, ask questions. 

Carefully read any dietary needs. If you are using Meal Train, the organizer can add a list of preferences on the main page.  If you have any questions, contact the family ahead of time.  I had several friends who threw me an e-mail several days in advance of their day to bring food.  Be sure to ask brief, specific questions.  People who have an ill loved one have limited time to answer e-mails.  For instance, "I'm making your homemade pizza next Tuesday night.  Are mushrooms okay for everyone?" is great.  But, a three paragraph e-mail, which requires a lot of mental thought and energy to answer is probably something best saved until later.  

2.  Recipes please! 

My kids loved some of the meals so much that I wound up calling, e-mailing, or texting friends to ask for their recipes.  If you have a signature recipe, be sure to make a copy and just include it in the box or bag when you drop them off.  Here's where this also came in handy:  Larry was and is on a very specific diet.  But, there were several items that friends brought that he could eat.  However, unless I had all of the information on ingredients, sodium content, etc. I could not let him eat it.  Friends who provided a list of ingredients or (even better) the actual recipe, were greatly appreciated.  After I had this information it was a piece of cake to see if Larry could eat it or if I needed to prepare something else for him to eat.  

3.   Instructions please!

Several of my friends included reheating, cooking, assembling, or other special instructions.  This was super helpful.  It might be several hours after they delivered their meal when I finally served it.  Oral instructions had faded long before that!  Written instructions are best.  Some friends actually wrote the instructions and attached the instructions to the item.  For instance, "Heat at 375 degrees for 20 minutes" on the garlic bread.  Or:  "Can be frozen for later use." on the chicken casserole.  You can hand write the note and tape them to the front of the item.  Or if your item is wrapped in foil, I had several friends who wrote instructions on the foil with a black marker.  This worked really well.  Easy to see and the instructions couldn't get lost.  

4.  Keep visits short.  

Whoever you are providing meals for is probably a little overwhelmed. Their home may not be "company ready."  Unless you are a really, really close friend or relative (I mean the kind who comes over in the middle of the night when your husband is working third shift and you are incredibly sick with the stomach flu!) don't plan to stay more than five or ten minutes when dropping off your box or bag of food.  Your friend loves you, but their time and attention are elsewhere right now.  If possible, bring your meal in disposable containers, so that the recipient doesn't feel the need to "catalog" which dishes go back to which friends.  If it is tupperware or ziplock, label the top of each container with the contents.  This makes it super easy for your friend to stick leftovers in her fridge and find herself or direct children to them later.  

5.  Include a personal note.  

I loved the short notes of encouragement from my friends. These were such a blessing.  Even if it is written on notebook paper, please do write a short note that says you are thinking of them and praying for them. 

That's it from me!  Your turn.  Have you been blessed by friends with meals?  Do you have any tips and suggestions from the giving or receiving point of view?  I'd love to hear them!  Comment below in the comments.


Do all to the glory of God,


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Where Have I Been?

Sometimes life throws us unexpected curves. 

Some of you may be wondering where I have been for the past three or four weeks.  Well, I've been dealing with a very challenging medical diagnosis for my husband.  We've learned some lessons - and we are still learning more.  I'll be back blogging - sharing on "lessons learned in illness" - in the near future.  We have been the recipients of major amounts of love, concern, and help from friends and relatives.  I am a person who prefers to be in the position of being a "giver" and not a "receiver".   But, God put me suddenly in the position of being on the receiving end - receiving help from others.  I have learned much about being gracious and thankful.  

So, here's what happened: 

My husband had been recently plagued by shortness of breath.  We associated it with side-effects from this bout with the flu in January.  He headed off to a local Promptcare and came home with a diagnosis of acute bronchitis and a prescription for an antibiotic.  However, after seven days he was no better.  At my insistence, he saw our primary care physician.  When a chest x-ray revealed an enlarged heart, the doctor scheduled an echocardiogram.  
This final test revealed a very scary diagnosis of "end stage heart failure with a 1.3 cm blood clot in his left heart chamber".  Basically, in the course of eight weeks the flu virus had attacked his heart, leaving it barely beating.  I was stunned!  He was a perfectly healthy 60 year old man, who had taken great care of himself.  We eat a whole foods diet, exercise, and do nothing to excess!  He had NONE of the markers that suggest that he would be susceptible to heart failure! 
What followed felt like a nightmare from which I could not awaken!  He spent a week in the hospital, had a minor stroke, and left with a list of daily medications and appointments with a host of medical professionals.  He is on several medications to lessen the load on his heart, hopefully allowing it to heal over the next six to twelve months.  
A Wake-Up Call!
This illness has forced us to reevaluate our priorities in some very important ways. 
1.  The massive amounts of overtime which he has worked for the past three years are history.  This is VERY challenging for our monthly budget, but very good for our family and marriage.  In future weeks,  I'll be writing more on changing your budget when life throws you a huge (and expensive) curve. 

2.  His cardiologist says that daily exercise will strengthen his heart muscle.  So, we are taking daily walks together again!  We haven't had time to do this for a long time!  In the busyness of life, we had forgotten how good it felt just to be "in the moment" together.  

3.  We cut out all unnecessary obligations.  With the amount of overtime that he was working and our other church and community obligations we were literally running from commitment to commitment every day of the week!  We took a long hard look at each one and chose to keep those which gave us energy and life.  We took sabbaticals from others - like playing piano and being on the worship team at church.  Our church is VERY important to us!  They graciously accepted our resignation for an undetermined amount of time, knowing that we will be back when we can.  These decisions, although hard to make, gave us emotional freedom to focus on what we need to focus on right now.  

You can't always choose the path that your life will take.  But, I am grateful for each and every new day with my love of over 30 years.  
Here is a photo of us taken on Easter - just days after he left the hospital. 
Now that life has slowed down and we are learning to embrace a "new normal", I am processing the events of the past few weeks.  I find my thoughts turning to you, my readers.  As I have time, I will be "downloading" my observations (and revelations - LOL) in the form of future blog posts. 

I leave you today with best wishes for you and your loved ones.  Enjoy each and every day that you have together.  Keep "short accounts" on your conflicts and disagreements.  I have a friend who signs her photos of her husband and children with "find your tribe and love them hard".  I love that advice. 

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not end with the fact that my faith in Jesus Christ has been my rock through this terrible time.  Life on earth is hard, if not impossible, without the hope and assurance of life eternal.  Life is short.  Eternity is forever!  John 3:16 is more than a sign that people hold up at sporting events.  It is the story of a God who created us, loves us, and wants us to spend forever with Him.  Find a local church.  Get a Bible and begin reading it.  Give it some thought.  😊


Do all to the glory of God,