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,


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