I struggle with finding the balance between a healthy lifestyle and a frugal one. I am fortunate that I do not have any dietary restrictions and I like to cook. Yet I still find it difficult at times to eat healthy on a budget.
Well, if I thought feeding myself was tricky, I have an even greater challenge in trying to turn my father’s diet into a healthy one.
My 67 year old dad lives alone in an apt 2,000 miles away. He has been overweight my entire life and has subsisted almost completely on a diet of restaurants and fast food. Needless to say, he does not enjoy cooking.
Currently, he lives alone on a fixed income and obtains half of his monthly groceries from a local food pantry, where healthy options are not offered as much as I would like. He is also on the anticoagulant Coumadin. One of the downsides to this pill is that he cannot eat anything that is high in Vitamin K, for example, green leafy vegetables.
Other limiting factors to my father’s diet are his simple palate and the fact that he lives in Wyoming, where choices and competition are slim.
No leafy vegetables? Now what?
I was baffled that people taking Coumadin have to severely limit their intake of green leafy vegetables among other food items (like mayonnaise, but no complaints about that). However, even though salads are out of the question, there are still plenty more vegetables that can be eaten. I have tried to come up with meals that have corn, carrots, beans, mushrooms, squash, and peas in them. He receives canned vegetables from the food pantry but will buy fresh produce at the local grocery store when he can.
My father loves mayonnaise. Loves it. Odd, I know. But he enjoys the flavor of it so much that not being able to eat it (because of the Coumadin pills and its fattening properties in general) is quite frustrating for him. I asked him to try putting mustard on a sandwich instead. Stubbornly, he said he did not like mustard. However when I went out to visit him last summer, I made us sandwiches with mustard and, to my surprise, he thought they were delicious. So far, mustard and various salad dressings have been acceptable substitutions to satiate his mayonnaise fixing.
Last time we spoke, my dad mentioned that the food pantry gave him a box of frozen microwaveable sausage, egg & cheese breakfast sandwiches. It was a quick and easy meal that he found to taste quite good. He would have 2-3 sandwiches a week until he ran out. Now, I know how stubborn my dad is. Telling him that one of those sandwiches is 50% of his daily value of sodium wouldn’t do any good. So, instead, I let him know that they are unhealthy (especially since he has to watch his cholesterol) and suggest that he eat only one a week. The fact that the sandwiches not only taste good to him, but are free makes it very difficult for him to just stop eating them completely. So we compromised on one sandwich a week. I wish that food like this wasn’t offered for free, but I know the limited resources make that difficult.
Easy and simple meals for a stubborn 67-year old man
Below are some meal ideas that I have come up with for my dad. They are affordable, easy to cook, and generally healthy.
- Chili: Ground beef, onions, seasoning; Beans, canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce are provided by the pantry.
- Tacos: Ground beef, onions, seasoning; Shells & canned tomatoes are provided by the pantry. No lettuce.
- Burger with mushrooms & Sweet potato: Easy meal to prepare. Everything store-bought.
- Baked chicken & Rice: Seasoned chicken. Boxed rice is provided by the pantry. This is a compromise since the boxed seasoning mixes are high in sodium. However, my dad does not particularly like rice so making it as flavorful as possible means it is more likely that he will eat it.
- Chicken Ranch Wrap: Using a soft tortilla and ranch dressing (or a light vinaigrette) in place of bread and mayonnaise. Salad dressings are provided by the pantry.
- Goulash: Ground beef, onions, garlic, seasoning; Pasta, canned tomatoes, tomato soup are provided by the pantry.
- Cheeseburger & Corn: Very easy classic meals. Canned corn is provided by the pantry.
- Hotdogs & Baked beans: Another classic meal. Canned beans are provided by the pantry.
- Snacks: Cottage cheese and yogurt are relatively healthy snacks provided by the pantry. Unfortunately, they also offer boxed donuts. And unfortunately, my father loves donuts. Like the frozen sandwiches above, I suggested a compromise of only taking them once every few months so they are more of a special “treat”.
In general, many non-perishable food items aren’t healthy due to their high amount of preservatives, sodium and other processed ingredients, yet they always fill food donation bins. If these cheap and easy food items are a necessity to your budget, it is best to mix them up with some fresh produce and only eat “boxed” meals once or twice a week.
I am open to suggestions of other recipes, substitutions and food ideas!