The Care and Feeding of Caregivers

Most caregivers can agree upon one thing.  One day you were going about your life, living a normal existence.  You had the usual things to be concerned with such as cooking, cleaning and working; possibly trying to eat right and exercise.  Suddenly there is a diagnosis of a disease for someone you love and you find yourself in a new “normal”.  Welcome to the world of caregiving!  You are now a taxi to multiple doctor appointments, often assisting in the care, feeding and treatment of your loved one.  You may now be doing that person’s laundry, cooking, doing dishes, yardwork, etc. And on the list of things to do, your own care and feeding is on the bottom of page 15.  

There are two truths about caregivers.  One truth is it is honorable to care for another.  The second truth is that caregivers set aside personal health to help the other person.  But your health matters, too! Consider yourself the ship, transporting your loved one on a difficult journey.  If the ship sinks, you take that person down with you.

Caregiving takes a tremendous amount of time, effort, energy and strength.  At the end of a long day, eating right and going for an exercise walk isn’t even on the list to do because there is nothing left to give.

Yes, it is too much to ask someone to go back to his or her old life AND be a caregiver.  However, bump yourself up to the top of the “To Do” list and follow some simple modified healthy steps.  

First of all, invest in a cooler and 9 ice packs.  Place 3 ice packs in the cooler, and keep the other 6 in the freezer (rotate on daily basis).  Second, pack meals in the cooler (you never know how long some of these appointments will last).   Third, shop once every few weeks, buying foods that will keep well in the fridge or on the pantry shelf such as:

Dairy:  2-3 dozen low-fat yogurts (instead of milk that can go bad quickly).  Most adults need 2- 3 dairy/day.

Fruit: Buy cut fruit and applesauce in single serving jars or plastic cups (1/2 cup portions), with peel off or twist off lids. Choose fruit packed in juice, not syrup.  Also get a bag of tiny boxes of raisins (1 box = 1 fruit).  Most adults benefit from 2-3 fruit/day.


Vegetables:  Purchase several bags of pre-cut packs of “ready to use” vegetables, which typically come in varieties (e.g. “ready to stir-fry containing broccoli, carrots, snow pea pods, etc.).  Wash a pack and place veggies in ice water before going to bed. The next morningput half (2 cups) in a baggie and eat throughout the day – now you met your veggie requirements.  Add fresh water and ice to the remaining vegetables; when empty, add the next bag.   Also enjoy frozen veggies, which are as nutritious as fresh, cook quickly and last for months in the freezer.


Protein:  Buy a couple of jars of natural, unsalted nut butter (e.g. Teddy Peanut Butter), a case of water pack tuna or salmon (canned or in pouch; sodium is higher in pouches), and a case of the single serving plastic cups of hummus for easy use.  Also, cook once a month – boil a chicken as you grill a box of turkey burgers.  Pack in 3- 4 ounce servings and freeze.  You can also buy a dozen ¼ pound packages of low sodium/low fat deli.  Keep three packages in the fridge and freeze the rest.  When you take one out of the fridge, move one from the freezer to the fridge.   Twice a day have a portion of protein.  


Grains:  Pick up loaves of high fiber bread and boxes of cereal. Freeze bread in baggies with 2 slices of bread/bag.  Take out cereal and place in 1-cup snack baggies for ease of use.    You can also cook up a large batch of brown rice and freeze in single serving containers with  2/3 cup cooked rice in each one.   Most adults need 1-2 grains/meal.


Fats: Buy a case of nuts in single serve packets for snacks.  Choose low-fat products (mayo, dressing, etc.), heart healthy oils and margarines, having 1- 3 tsp./meal.  Mostadults need 3 servings of fat/day.


Water:  It is vital to stay hydrated.  Pick up several cases of water and keep in the car.  You can also freeze bottles of water and bring 2- 3 with you at a time if youlike it cold.  Most adults need 64 ounces of water/day.


The job of a caregiver is 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.  It is a beautiful thing to devote your life to another.  Despite this commitment, it is vital to keep in mind that caregiving means taking care of yourself as well.  

Jennifer Giffune, R.D., L.D.N., is a freelance author and professional speaker.  She currently is providing nutrition counseling services for Hampden County Physician Associates at their offices in Westfield, Southwick, Feeding Hills and West Springfield. 

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