Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fueled for Caregiving?...

Like you, I suspect, I learned about the five (or six?) food groups and healthy eating practices way back in 5th grade Health class but it wasn't until I was literally falling asleep on my feet as a family caregiver that the penny dropped and I truly realized the importance of good nutrition in my life.

My husband had been both cook and baker in our home from the day we were married and while he had tried to make sure that he'd taught me to bake bread and to put together our favourite dinners before he became bedridden, the standing joke in our family still prevailed - "If anything ever happens to Derrick, Jan will die of a Cheerios overdose!". It's not that I didn't value healthy food when someone put it in front of me - in fact, I loved it - but I had no interest in producing it from scratch myself.

Flash forward a year or two, and you would have found me cooking very small and frequent nourishing snacks for my husband. And indeed, when his snacks didn't appeal to me, eating Cheerios, (garnished with various kinds of fruit to make them "healthy"). Up all day and half the night caring for Derrick AND eating poorly quickly caught up with me. I couldn't think clearly, I had no energy, my colour was poor and I dropped two dress sizes. I would sit down on the couch "for a minute" after lunch and wake up an hour later. And, worst of all, I was grumpy and irritable at a time when I truly wanted to enjoy the days we had left. Now, there were a number of factors that went into creating these symptoms, not just the Cheerios, but it was amazing how much things improved with a little nutritional intervention.

That intervention started when my younger sister, a real foodie, introduced me to
Barbara Jo's Books to Cooks, a wonderful bookstore close to Granville Market in Vancouver. Only my sister would have guessed that the way to this non-cook's stomach was through a book - especially one with smooth, shiny pages and beautiful photographs. The first one she picked out for me to peruse was Dana Jacobi's, 12 Best Foods Cookbook, and I was hooked. Just by looking at the cover, I learned that there were 12 superfoods which, if I indulged in them, would not only make me feel better but would protect me from some of the health problems inherent in caregiving. Those 12 super stars were:

1. Blueberries

2. Black beans

3. Sweet potatoes (or yams, as we call them on the west coast)

4. Oatmeal

5. Salmon

6. Spinach

7. Broccoli

8. Tomatoes

9. Chocolate

10. Walnuts

11. Soy

12. Onions

I bought Dana's book and began to enjoy making Sweet Potato & Broccoli Shepherd's Pie, Scalloped Sweet Potato with Apple, Greek White Bean Soup, Spinach Salad with Nectarine, Blueberries, & Lime Balsalmic Vinaigrette and more. And, more importantly, my energy improved, my irritability eased and my brain began to work again. I learned through experience that fueling my body with good food bearing high quality nutrients, bought in-season to keep the cost down, was one of the best ways I could sustain myself for the years of caregiving ahead - and indeed, for my whole life. (Now, if only someone could break my cookbook addiction...!).

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