How food choices and cooking affect our health and well-being


Most of us in this industry have chosen this profession because we have been caregivers or have currently found ourselves in this role as caregiver and know how overwhelming it can be. Therefore, we have dedicated our lives to ensure that others who are experiencing this caregiver journey have the knowledge and resources to guide them on their way.

My guest blog appearance today is John Reeves with Cooking for Caregiving – and what an important topic.

What is Cooking for Caregiving?

We started the CareLab project to look for innovative solutions to the day-to-day challenges of caregivers and long-term care.  Of course, there are a lot of such challenges, from coordinating medical care to juggling transportation to re-designing the home to enable independence.  But after researching and developing ideas in a variety of areas, we began to focus more and more on the issue of food and cooking.

Why did this challenge rise to the top?  It’s often a big part of the caregiver’s day.  The 2009 MetLife study [http://caregiving.org/data/Caregiving_in_the_US_2009_full_report.pdf] which estimated that there are 65.7 million caregivers (defining caregivers as those spending more than 20 hours a week taking care of a family member, friend or neighbor) also noted that 75% of caregivers help with grocery shopping, and 64% with meal preparation. That’s a significant number of hours on a daily basis.

Working caregivers are particularly constrained by time and schedule, so it’s often hard to find the time to shop or cook at all.  If we can find ways to make the whole process more efficient, flexible, and stress-free, that’s a big win.

But possibly even more important is the impact of food choices and cooking on health and well-being, of the caregiver as well as the caree.  Poor nutrition and unhealthy dietary behaviors are increasingly seen as major risk factors for seniors and chronic disease sufferers, with a significant impact on public health and the health care system.  The population at risk in the U.S. is large and growing:

  1. Almost 1 out of 2 Americans have at least one chronic illness, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis.

  2. Obesity, afflicting 1 out of 3 Americans, is being implicated in a wide range of disease conditions.

  3. More than 75% of healthcare spending goes to chronic diseases.

  4. 7 out of 10 deaths annually are from chronic diseases.

Those are scary statistics.  But chronic diseases are increasingly being seen as preventable with modifications to lifestyle behaviors, including diet.  What if we could combine more convenient ways to shop and prepare food with better nutrition, perhaps ingredients and recipes that are more tailored to the specific condition of the family member being cared for?  That would be a tremendous benefit, to families as well as our community.

There’s another big benefit.  Caregivers are often at risk for the same conditions as their carees.  If we can provide ways to shop and cook more conveniently and nutritiously, they might be able to take advantage as well.  Another MetLife study in 2010 [http://www.caregiving.org/data/Caregiver%20Cost%20Study.pdf] looked at issues related to working caregivers and noted that  “… employees caring for family members might be at heightened risk of major chronic diseases, including diabetes, cholesterol and hypertension.

Making Ahead

There’s been a lot of interest in “make-ahead” techniques in the parenting community, as a way to help families cook and eat together more often at home.  These include flash freezing, slow cooking, and pre-preparation.  A lot of these techniques work great for caregivers as well. Caregivers are able to spend one day of the week “cooking ahead” for the special dietary needs of their caree, and then cook for the rest of the family at other times.

Meal Planning

There are online meal planning tools that can help in this area. [http://www.mealsmatter.org/MealPlanning/] And in many areas there are online groceries that allow you to make up a shopping list and have it be delivered regularly.

We’re very interested in getting feedback from the community of working caregivers about the challenges you face, the solutions you’ve found, and how we can improve the cooking for caregiving process.  We’re on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/CookingforCaregiving, please join us, and add your ideas and suggestions.  Thanks for all you do as caregivers!

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