Caregivers are parents, grandparents, teachers, community members or a friend taking care of another friend. A caregiver can be a child taking care of a pet. Today my writing is focused on taking care of someone through life transition (end of life). While this role has great rewards, it offers many challenges. For instance, answering “What’s for dinner?” The “caree” may like something one day and not the next, or can chew and swallow more easily one day better than the next. Maybe they suddenly crave a favorite food from childhood. It’s hard to meet these changes and tend a myriad of other tasks.
Be kind to yourself. When you want the caree to have the best of everything during this life stage, it is common to try and be perfect. You are already perfect, because you are providing care for someone. The rest is gravy. Do your best at the moment with love and kindness. It will make every other effort sufficient. When I took care of my mother, I took on perfectly-taking-care-of-her and my family. I gave little, if any, thought to my needs. That made it particularly challenging to transition into “life after mom”. Two years ago when I took care of someone facing life transition, I was less concerned with perfection and more concerned with just doing my best.
Some guidelines I find useful to make appealing, easy dishes – considering method, as well as ingredients.
- Toaster ovens are invaluable. I don’t typically endorse a product, but mine is a Cuisinart. I’ve had it for over 10 years and still going strong. Microwaves are okay, but cooking and warming is more reliable with a toaster oven. You won’t have the worry, as you do with microwaves, that there will be hot spots or uneven cooking. If you’re taking care of someone with eating challenges, this can be of particular concern. Place a nice piece of haddock in a baking dish, sprinkled with a bit of seasoning and salt, a pat of butter on top, sprinkled with a bit of panko and pop it into the toaster oven while you tend to something else. I’m not a fan, but mom’s Scottish heritage led her to liking haddock baked in a little milk.
- I recommend sticking to no more than four main ingredients. If you’re taking care of a person who is transitioning and you’re working otherwise, perhaps, outside the home, this is no time to be fancy, unless you really want to be. Cooking is often self-therapy.
- Simple can be elegant. When my friend was craving tomato soup “like her mom made from scratch” I bought a jar of organic marinara sauce, added some fresh herbs, milk and voilà! Homemade soup that satisfied like no canned version could.
- Cook a main ingredient ahead. Boiled potatoes can take you through the week. Mash some one day, cook up as home fries on another. Slice, grate a bit of cheese for topping along with some herbs and bake in the toaster oven.
- Staples: eggs; flour; butter; milk; cream; coffee/tea (if not for you, someone stopping by); prepared-but-not-processed ingredients; bread options – English muffins are versatile and quick; jelly; simple jarred or fresh seasonings. Trail mix can be sprinkled on a salad or cereal or snagged as a snack.
- Baked Custard is an easy dish to make and provides protein, fats and carbs. Amazing how comforting some eggs, milk and sugar can be!
4 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups of whole milk, scalded
Nutmeg (if desired)
Preheat conventional oven to 375˚F. Beat the eggs slightly. Add the sugar, salt and vanilla; whisking constantly, slowly add the scalded milk. Pour the mixture into 7 custard cups; sprinkle nutmeg over each custard. Place each together in a pan containing hot water. The water should cover the cups up to the level of the custard. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the custard comes out clean. Serve chilled or warm, as preferred.
Provided foods need to meet specific needs of the “caree” and your culinary skill level, but the key ingredient in every dish is love. You aren’t just providing calories. When you consider the needs of the other person and combine that with being kind to yourself, you’ll find sharing food takes on great meaning during the life transition process. Finally, don’t be shy about asking for and accepting help! Look for that caregiving food topic in a future post.