During National Nutrition Month, awareness is increased about whether we are eating as well as we can for our personal health.
Some of us find caring for our own nutrition a challenge with many obstacles to hurdle, especially for those who are family caregivers.
Are you part of the sandwich generation?
An adult who has the responsibility to care for not only their immediate family – children, spouse — but also their aging parents is known as a person sandwiched in the middle between people who need their care.
This can be the most fulfilling and rewarding endeavor in one’s life. But it can also be hard because we put our family first and do all we can to satisfy everyone’s needs but our own.
The difficulty many sandwich generation caregivers face is finding time to properly care for themselves.
Self-care is vital to continue to be a family caregiver. Good nutrition is the foundation for health as a caregiver especially when you are part of the sandwich generation.
Impact of Caregiving on Health
Caregiving for children, whether they are younger or older, at the same time you are providing care for older adults can be physically draining and lead to poor health.
Poor health as a result of inadequate nutrition in people who are pulled in many directions, such as sandwich generation caregivers, is something many of us haven’t identified as a concern – yet!
Caregivers are at risk for poor nutritional intake due to skipped or grab-and-go meals, nutritional depletion, reduced immunity, frequent illnesses, depression further reducing intake, stress related illness or injury, and chronic disease.
Caregivers need to replenish their bodies to stay healthy in order to accomplish their daily tasks.
Nutrition for Caregivers
Eating right isn’t always easy in the hustle and bustle of the life of a caregiver.
Taking time to appreciate yourself and your own needs will help you get the nutrition your body craves.
- Sit down to eat your meals. Eating on the run, walking to the next task or in the car on the way to an activity are not healthy ways to meet your nutritional needs. We tend to choose less healthy foods when we have to walk away with it in our hands.
- Drink enough water. Staying hydrated will help your body carry out important functions and keep your system humming along. Carry a bottle, measure the needed amount out in the morning to see how close you came to completing it and choose water with meals instead of other nutrient deficient, higher calorie choices can help you meet your hydration needs.
- Balance your plate. Eat adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, lean protein foods, whole grains and nutrient dense choices.
- Avoid skipping meals, especially breakfast. It has been shown that skipping meals physically affects your body. You aren’t giving your body the resources it needs when it needs them when you go for hours without nutrition. You also tend to eat more than you need and choose unhealthier foods to quiet your cravings when you are at your hungriest. When we skip meals we also skip our bodies’ fuel supply resulting in fatigue (just the opposite of what caregivers need!).
- Enjoy meal time! When we don’t put our own needs first, we don’t just affect our physical health but our emotional health as well, which will in turn harm our physical health. It is a viscous cycle. We miss the enjoyment of eating our favorite foods, the time spent with those we love in a calm manner, and the conversation that we need to keep our brain’s stimulated when we stop putting meal time into our busy schedules.
- Avoid excessive alcohol. Drinking alcohol may sound like a good idea at the time and may be a short-term fix for a chaotic day but regular use can lead to health problems including sleep deprivation.
Meal Plan Tips for Caregivers
It is true that putting our own needs first ahead of those we care for lovingly feels selfish. However, it is important to our success as a sandwich generation caregiver to put our own health at the top of the list so that we are able to care for others in our life.
If you get sidelined with an illness, who will take over for you?
Because it is so difficult to take the time for ourselves and putting the best foods on our plates, here is a sample meal pattern that might help you meet your personal nutritional needs.
4 oz. fruit/veggie blend juice
2 slices of whole wheat toast
1 tablespoon nut butter
1 hard-boiled egg
Turkey sandwich (3 oz.) on multi-grain bread with tomato/lettuce and avocado aioli
8 oz. water with orange slice
Trail mix ¼ cup
Yogurt drink (7 oz. serving)
4 oz. grilled salmon filet
Medium baked sweet potato with 1 tbsp. butter
Green beans with slivered almonds (1/2-1 cup)
Whole wheat dinner roll
Berry salad (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries) with vanilla Greek yogurt topping
Plan & Prepare for Better Nutrition
Caregivers may find it helpful to schedule a little time on the weekend to do meal preparation tasks so that you can get a healthy meal ready more easily and quickly during the week.
You can boil eggs, chop vegetables, make homemade trail mix, pack lunch and snacks, bake potatoes, and plan meals before you shop in a few hours on the weekend.
Ask your kids to join you in the kitchen to help prep the week’s meals.
It is a great way to spend quality time together, teach them about the importance of nutrition, and make weekday meals easier for the whole family.
Caregiving is not always easy. It can be even more challenging when you are in the sandwich generation.
However, a little planning and putting your own nutrition at the top of your to-do list will help you stay well to be a successful caregiver.