Setzer: Plan meals with a marathon in mind

July 15, 2011

At every stage in life, healthy eating means different things. As we age or deal with chronic illness, it is important that we sharpen our focus to take advantage of the power of food to fuel us.

 While there are gobs of resources for specific diets or recipes, my goal is to spotlight the need to see food differently, to maximize its powerful potential to improve the quality of one’s life simply by eating, and by eating simply. As caregivers of both ourselves and our patients, cooking can become repetitive as well as being relegated to a small part of a very large routine. I want it to take center stage and you to reap the rewards of more energy, more self-satisfaction, more balance.

 The basics are well known. We are water. We need water. Lots of folks don’t like to drink it and some don’t ever get thirsty even when they’re seriously dehydrated. So make a batch of soup. Even if you start with canned soup (reduced sodium, of course) and add some extra vegetables (fresh, frozen or otherwise) you can stretch it with beans and change its flavor each time by what you add or by the seasonings you choose. Soup is a complete meal if you have water, veggies, beans. No meat needed. Run it through the blender if it needs to be easier to swallow. Each spoonful you and your patient eat is perfect fuel.

 Fruit is fiber and water. We need more fiber in our diets, especially as we add medications. Look it up. Do your research and see its power. Variety is important. Buy what’s on sale. Make stewed soup fruit from a bit of this or that. Combine canned, no sugar-added fruit cocktail to fresh fruit. It doesn’t matter if you’ve made a large or small batch, the leftovers can be changed into something entirely new with added ingredients or spices. No added sugar needed or wanted.  Top a serving with either chopped or whole nuts. Again, a complete meal in one serving. Perfect fuel.

 Whole grains are ideal for their slow, easy digestion. Small quantites offer big payoffs. Plant protein is easier to digest than animal so not only are you giving yourself the best fuel, you’re making it easier to get the maximum performance with minimal effort of the system.


With chronic illness, all systems are weakened. Making the internal system run easier and more effieciently, even if unseen, means less stress internally with the result of more physical energy. Add uncooked oatmeal, barley, whole wheat macaroni or noodles to your soup to thicken it, stretch it, change it, improve it.  Think one slice of whole wheat bread with peanut butter and a teaspoon of the above stewed fruit. If you allow it to cook longer, it will thicken, or add a little barley or more dried fruit to fresh. It’s another complete meal.

Beans are an excellent source of protein, fiber, water. Try to substitute them often for meat. Beans can be used in soup, rice and beans, beans and corn bread and bean salads. They are easier to digest and the leftovers can be the basic ingredients for the next pot of stew or just an added extra to a casserole, soup or any one-pot complete meal.

 Substitute fish one or twice (or more) a week. Serve with a bean, whole grain macaroni salad or even cole slaw and you have a complete meal. Even a microwaved sweet potato , which is a powerhouse food, can be used. Add chunks of sweet potatoes (wash but don’t peel) to your soup/stew or casserole for color, taste and its extraordinary  taste, vitamins, minerals and fiber.

 As age or illness changes our physical demands, less is more: less junk and more thoughtful eating. As your patient’s appetite decreases and your stress level increases, you should consider these smaller but complete meals. Each bite they take is perfect fuel that you provided. They’re easy to make, easy to serve, easy to eat and easy to digest. And they’re good for you, too.

This is no sprint you’re on, this is a marathon. You must fuel yourself continuously with what every marathoner needs, quality fuel. Think about this as you plan every meal.