When faced with a tough diagnosis, it’s not only hard on the person going through it, it's hard on everyone around them. People often begin to go into “crisis mode” and all other non-essentials easily fall off the priority list. Between doctors appointments, treatment sessions, actual care-giving, researching, and picking up prescriptions, many caregivers get lost in the day-to-day needs of their loved one and things like cooking healthy meals and self-care no longer happen. I saw this first hand with my mom and my husband as my caregivers during treatment for breast cancer.
I recently heard a great metaphor for self-care from Danika Brysha. Imagine a full glass of water. As you care for others you are pouring from your cup. By the time the day is over, you have nothing left in the cup. But when you practice self-care, your cup overflows. Throughout the day, as you’re caring for others, you’re pouring from the overflow, rather than from the cup. By the end of the day, you still have plenty left in your cup. This is why I prioritize self-care and meal planning with my nutrition clients.
Meal planning leads to grocery shopping, grocery shopping leads to meal prepping, meal prepping leads to cooking at home, and cooking at home leads to eating nourishing foods that are health supportive. When you have planned your weekly meals ahead of time, it allows self-care to happen more readily and caregiving to be more effortless. These are all vital steps in the meal prep and self-care package, so I encourage clients not to skip any of them. Rather, I have suggestions for shortcuts that make all of the steps easier.
I recommend “outsourcing” what you can while still doing as much cooking at home as possible. First, grocery shopping these days can be partially or totally outsourced, depending on your location and your preferences. Depending on the app or site, these services are essentially the same as shopping at regular grocery stores. You choose your groceries online and they are shipped right to your door. Some offer only pantry items and can take about 3-5 days to arrive. Others deliver fresh groceries (produce, dairy, eggs, meat, etc.) in coolers on a date and time that you specify. Certain online stores are only available in certain areas, but it’s fairly likely that you have at least one of these available to you. Most offer free shipping for the first order and/or free shipping at a certain price point. It’s also worth mentioning that some carry more options for dietary restrictions than others. Do a google search on “grocery delivery” to find a service near you. (My personal recommendations are Good Eggs (San Francisco Bay Area only), Thrive Market, Barefoot Provisions, and One Stop Paleo Shop. Other options that I have not personally tried include: Grub Market, Instacart, Peapod, AmazonFresh, Shipt, Alberton’s, Safeway, and Walmart.
Another way to outsource some of the grocery shopping is join a weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) box - have local fruits and veggies delivered to your door. This is another great option to help save time. This website is helpful for finding the right CSA for you. In addition to produce CSAs, there are also meat boxes. Personally, I have tried and recommend Butcherbox, Five Mary’s Farm, GrassRoots Co-op. There are also other great options like US Wellness Meats, Moink Box, and Vital Choice for seafood. Saving time with these grocery-shopping hacks will free up time for you to spend meal prepping, cooking meals, and caregiving.
My second tip is to find a meal delivery service. I know these can be pricey, but I reserve them for times when I absolutely don’t have the time to cook but still want to prioritize the quality of my food. Many of these options tend to be regional, so I recommend searching “meal delivery” on Google to see what’s in your area. The only service that I have tried (and really like) is Model Meals.
My third tip includes my favorite meal prep hacks:
Buy the pre-cut veggies at the store. I love buying a mirepoix for pre-cut onions, celery, and carrots for soups and stir-fries.
Buy pre-spiralized veggies for veggie noodles. Most stores are carrying them now. Veggie noodles = more veggies = WIN!
Buy a rotisserie chicken. I opt for Mary’s Chicken from my local Whole Foods.
Smoked Salmon makes a quick and easy meal! Pair it with a salad or some roasted veggies.
Buy the pre-washed lettuce and pre-cut salad fixings for quick and easy salads.
Throw your food into the crockpot in the morning and dinner is ready for you in the evening!
Pressure Cooker Meals! Salsa chicken anyone? Simply add roasted salsa + chicken in the pressure cooker it’s ready in less than 20 minutes! My favorite cookbooks for pressure cooker meals come from Predominantly Paleo. I recommend an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker.
For quick veggie chopping, I recommend using the slicer attachment on a food processor. It may not look as pretty, but it’s QUICK and the size of the chop is consistent to ensure even cooking.
Cook in bulk. I ALWAYS cook enough for leftovers. My bare minimum goal is four meals from every recipe (i.e. dinner and lunch the next day for both my husband and me). But usually, I try for even more meals than four.
Soups are another really delicious and easy food. They are also healthy and they provide ~ 6 meals. Soups are perfect for novice cooks as they are hard to mess up!
Chicken can be quickly and easily shredded in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. I have a quick video on my YouTube page.
Chop your veggies, add some grass-fed butter, and roast them at 375° F until tender. This is quick, easy, and my FAVORITE way to cook veggies.
When I'm feeling overwhelmed with too much to cook and do in the evening, I choose the quickest dinner possible out of the available options and I get that chopped, prepared, and cooking. While tonight's dinner is cooking, I ALWAYS do some additional food prep/cooking for future meals in the week. Whether it is just cutting up veggies for salads the next day or prepping my salmon to roast in the oven.
Finally, rather than a tip, I have a resource for you. Below is a 5-day Real Food Meal Plan, Shopping Lists, and Recipe Guide for meals that are ready in 30 minutes or less.
I’m wishing you and your loved one health and healing during this challenging time.
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