Caregivers Cooking Healthier Meals at Home

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When someone’s cooking for you, it’s easy to get trapped by politeness and gratitude. You’re thankful to have their help, and you’re afraid to rock the boat by making suggestions that might be taken as criticism. That’s natural, but it’s not going to pay off in the long run. After all, it’s you — or your loved one — who’s eating the food. And you’re paying a caregiver to cook these meals for you. (As well as paying for the ingredients, of course.) So how do you take control of the situation so that the meals you’re served are ones you actually want to eat? Try these six tactics.

1. Compliment the meals you like.
Remember the old saying, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”? And remember the number-one rule of so-called positive parenting, “Catch them being good”? It’s much easier to explain to your caregiver what you want her to do if you set the stage by praising the healthy cooking choices she already makes. Note when she cooks chicken or fish rather than red meat, and tell her how much you like them. Compliment specific cooking styles as well — if she grills the meat one night, you might say “Grilled meat is my favorite — it brings out the flavors.”

2. Buy healthy ingredients.
If there’s fresh salmon in the refrigerator, you’re halfway to a healthy meal before you start. Same goes for fresh vegetables, which can be quickly steamed to balance out the unhealthiest main dish. Stock the cupboards with whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and other whole-grain staples, and toss out the unhealthier varieties so there’s no confusion.

3. Keep it simple.
While we’d all love to have a professional private chef, that level of expertise is a lot to expect from a caregiver who has a million other duties in addition to meal preparation. Streamline and de-stress the cooking process and you’re likely to get much better — and healthier — results. Chicken breasts, pork chops, and fish are delicious seasoned and cooked very simply. Vegetables taste great sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Pasta doesn’t need fancy sauces; a simple marinara or combination of olive oil and parmesan is all it takes. Make a sample menu for your caregiver that features simple examples from each food group. Emphasize whole grains, lean meats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

4. Show rather than tell.
Your caregiver comes to you with her own cooking habits and traditions, and she may be reluctant to take the risk of trying something new that might result in a disaster. Build her confidence by offering hands-on guidance at least once, if possible. Show her how to put together your favorite salad and whip up a simple dressing. Pick a couple of simple recipes and walk her through them. If there’s a mistake she commonly makes, such as overcooking vegetables, make a pot together and introduce her to your preferred methods. If you’re a long-distance caregiver and can’t do an in-person cooking session, send her a few simple recipes with tips on how you prepare them.

5. Make small changes gradually.
If your caregiver is cooking for a loved one who’s a picky eater or set in her ways, try to steer the meals in a healthier direction without making drastic changes. For example, if fried chicken is your loved one’s favorite meal, with French fries a close second, it’s not going to work to banish fried foods altogether. Instead, talk to the caregiver about substituting other cooking methods when possible, but letting a few key dishes stay in the menu. Keep the fried chicken once a week, but switch to stewed okra and baked fish for other meals. (And switch to a healthier cooking oil like canola oil, if you haven’t already.) If your loved one hates salad, there’s no point in insisting. Instead, teach your caregiver to slip greens and other vegetables into meals like soups and stews, where they won’t be as noticeable, and serve meat dishes accompanied by tasty vegetable sides.

6. Cook in bulk.
It takes a long time to make a good, healthy vegetarian lasagna or a hearty chicken stew. But if you make a lot of it, you can have one meal a week ready to go for the next two months. Let your caregiver know that every meal does not have to be freshly cooked and that it’s more practical to prepare some dishes, especially soups, stews, casseroles, and some egg dishes and pasta sauces, in larger quantities. Ask her to double recipes when possible, and package the unused portions in single-serving packets. On nights when she’s serving a precooked main dish, she’ll have more time to prepare a salad, side dish, or dessert.