Nutrition and grief | tips for helping those suffering from loss {Guest Post}

From Tamara ~ My family and I are truly grateful for all of the meals and snacks and foodie gifts of love and comfort that our friends and family provided in the weeks following my daughter’s death. I’ve asked my friend, fellow blogger and Registered Dietician Melanie, of Nutritious Eats to share some ideas about nutrition and food prep during periods of grieving; so you’ll be ready to step in and help out a friend in need when the time arises. Thanks so much Melanie for your willingness to share your thoughts (and recipes!) with us.

From Melanie ~ I have had the pleasure of getting to know Tamara through blogging and social media and am struck by her grace, positivity and beauty inside and out. I truly wish it were under different circumstances that I would be providing this guest post, but Tamara and I believe that this information might help someone else during such a tragic time.

Providing food for someone who is grieving with the loss of a loved one is one of the simplest ways to show how much we care. At such a devastating time it’s hard to feel like you’re doing anything to help. Although we can only imagine all the emotions the family is going through, one thing we can be certain of is that cooking is far from their minds. But people don’t bring meals forever and the grieving process doesn’t have a definitive time period. Unfortunately the need to consume food isn’t going to just go away.

Today I am providing a few nutrition and meal prep tips to help families get through this extremely difficult and stressful time, as well as tips for friends and family members who want to help.

Nutrition and grief: Tips for Grieving Families 
  • Keep meal prep simple. Think of it in terms of food groups- make a batch of whole grains like quinoa, a lean protein like some grilled chicken or fish, a batch of hard-boiled eggs, a couple of vegetables (one could be salad which will keep in the fridge for days undressed), fruit and dairy.
  • Rely more on convenience items like canned beans, jarred tomato sauce, pre-shredded cheese, pre-cut vegetables
  • Buy a few healthy condiments like pesto, salsa, guacamole or a fresh dressing to jazz up those basic foods you’re preparing
  • It’s important to eat 3 meals a day to keep your blood sugars stable and avoid binging on junk food
  • Caffeine has negative side affects on the brain and nervous system if used in excess so try to keep consumption at ~2 cups a day
  • Don’t omit fat, stress will cause you to crave it, but rely on healthy fat like avocado, nuts, olive oil and fatty fish like salmon
  • Lean proteins will assist in growth and tissue repair- focus on lean beef, chicken, turkey, tofu, shrimp, eggs, nuts and seafood
  • Getting enough Omega 3 fatty acids can help with our response- focus on fish, nuts, flax seeds and leafy vegetables
  • Get your Vitamin C which protect the immune system so stock up on citrus fruits and vegetables like broccoli and potatoes
  • B vitamins are essential for coping with stress as they are used in building up your metabolism

It’s common to want to provide something delicious and comforting that the family will love, but the high carb, high fat “comforting” fare, along with ample desserts and wine can eventually catch up with anyone. Food affects the way we feel, our energy, our skin, or digestive system, so it’s important we are providing our loved ones with proper nutrition to help nourish their body, mind and spirit.

Traumatic events not only affect one’s emotional state, but also their metabolic and hormonal state. The amount of stress that their bodies go through can play havoc on their health. For example. when the stress hormone cortisol is elevated it can contribute to fat accumulation, usually around the abdomen or in the blood vessels and if stress is prolonged, which of course it would be if you lost a loved one, possible health effects such as high blood pressure, chronic muscle tension, headaches can also occur. Unhealthy food will just make it worse.

Nutrition and Grief: Tips for Providing Meals to Grieving Loved Ones
  • Make sure your dish or meal is well-balanced and nutrient-dense. Offer a few different food groups with your meal.
  • Use lean meats and seafood instead of higher fat cuts of meat
  • Avoid recipes that call for too much butter, cheese and/or cream or whole milk
  • Offer healthier baked goods like whole grain muffins using nuts and fruit which are perfect for the freezer too
  • Also consider bringing healthy snacks like date and nut energy bites
  • Bring something light such as a grilled chicken salad along with a hearty soup which can be used as a freezer meal for a later date if needed
  • Warm foods like soups and stews are very comforting and can be packed with heart-healthy vegetables
  • Provide food in disposable containers or tupperware they can keep so there doesn’t need to be any coordination of returning dishes
  • Use a calendar to share amongst friends to avoid duplication and to cater to the family’s likes and dislikes (more information below)
Nutrition and grief; Registered Dietician-suggested recipes for healthy, tasty and nourishing meals

Vegetarian Chili

This hearty bowl of vegetables will provide plant-based energy and fiber. Pack mini tupperware containers with all the fixings.

Vegetarian Chili | Nutritious Eats

Saucy Slow Cooker Turkey Meatballs

Who doesn’t love a slow cooker recipe? You could pack some cooked veggies or a salad on the side and a healthy grain like quinoa or a high fiber pasta to go with it.

Meaty Mushroom Marinara

This is made with lean ground turkey and veggies and is a great option to spoon over pasta or steamed cauliflower.

Meaty Mushroom Marinara

Hearty Vegetable Soup

This is my go-to soup recipe not only when I am under the weather, but when I am craving something healthy and satisfying.

Chicken Fajita Bowls

Fajita bowls are great because they can be customized per person and are very well balanced. It also is perfect for leftovers and I think they are well liked by most people. You could do lean beef or strictly vegetarian too.

Chicken Fajita Bowls | Nutritious Eats

Chipotle Turkey and Sweet Potato Chili 

Another chili recipe because chili makes a great comforting meal, it’s even better leftover and freezes well! This one uses a learn protein, turkey, along with the super nutritious sweet potato.

Kale and Quinoa Salad

This makes the perfect light lunch and will last in the fridge all week. It makes a good amount and is packed with nutritious goodness from the high-protein quinoa, the antioxidant and vitamin/mineral rich kale and almonds.

KaleandQuinoaSalad-1-2

Slow Cooker Asian Pulled Pork

This is another versatile dish that can be served with the lettuce wraps, a tortilla or spooned over brown rice.

Apple Pie Walnut Donuts With Vanilla Glaze

It’s natural to want to provide something sweet during stressful times, but you can find lighter options. These donuts are made with yogurt, whole wheat flour and almond milk and will still satisfy that craving without as much fat and calories.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars

Providing something to be eaten for breakfast or snack is helpful too. These are the perfect thing and super easy to make (one-bowl required!)

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars | Nutritious Eats

I strongly encourage you to set up a online calendar which can make providing food or other helpful services so much easier. I have used CareCalendar before which is very convenient. This is how it works: one person will set up the calendar for the person or family in need. You can chose a date range for how long help is needed, for example one month. Then just fill in information such as the recipients usual meal time, dietary preferences like dislikes and favorite foods, and other helpful info like if they have freezer space available. This information will help the giver quite a bit!

Another great thing about sharing a calendar with the friends and family of the recipient is then other people can see what type of meal you are providing which reduces duplication. That way not everyone brings a lasagna. I also love that this online calendar is not limited to just meals- you can have friends or family sign up to help with yard work, errands such as grocery shopping, babysitting, etc. We all can imagine just how difficult day to day tasks are when you have just lost a family member or loved one and I think any help would be appreciated.

I hope this was helpful and remember that no one knows what the grieving family needs so it’s okay to ask. While one family might need meals for a month, another might need help for much longer. It’s never too late to get this set up to help those we love.

Keep those healthy meals coming!

MelanieF.-1-200x300Melanie is a Registered Dietitian and mom of four, with extensive experience in wellness and weight management. By combining her passion of food, nutrition and exercise, Melanie encourages her clients to have a healthy and happy relationship with food. She is the author of the blog Nutritious Eats where you can find healthy family recipes, nutrition and fitness tips and more. When she is not cooking or blogging, you can find her drinking coffee on the porch, chasing her children around, running, doing yoga, and practicing photography. You can follow her on twitter , instagram or Facebook.

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Comments

  1. Great post, and good reminder that some of the best meals to show we care are simple and healthy. A glut of comfort foods isn’t always comforting when you normally try to make and eat nutritious meals. Here’s a food delivery tip: Those meals in disposable containers can be dropped off into a cooler between certain agreed upon hours on the family’s front porch or entryway. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to say hello to everyone when a family is dealing with a stressful time.

    • That’s an excellent idea Lynn. I know that for us, while it was wonderful to see so many faces, having a house full of people was also stressful. I also found hearing the doorbell ringing over and over again was starting to trigger anxiety and panic. Not something anybody would ever predict or want to inflict on a friend.

  2. This never crossed my mind. Changing up what I take as a meal to a grieving family. Thanks.

  3. Wow amazing article. I am a total health nut myself, but I would have assumed the comfort foods were the best to give during times of grief. Common misconception. Thanks for the great information. AND great recipes!

    • I think a blend of the two is helpful. Melanie’s suggestions of coordinating with others is a great way to ensure that balance exists in the giving. xo

  4. Excellent written post Melanie. I think your message is so important and can touch so many people. Thanks for including the donuts in the recipe recommendations. I hope they provide a bit of cheer to someone in need this holiday season.
    Elizabeth Shaw recently posted…Comment on Turkey Parmesan Burgers from The Foodie Physician by Sonali Ruder- The Foodie PhysicianMy Profile

  5. Great tips on helping out when others are grieving or just having particularly stressful life events. It’s so easy to forget that they need help in the simple things – like what to eat. Thanks for this great information.
    Jennifer Dodrill @ All-In-One-Mom recently posted…5 Easy-to-Make Christmas CardsMy Profile

  6. I’m typically an 80/20 healthier eater, but would devour anything given to me in time of need. It’s good to think about quality of food given to aid in time of trials instead of the typical pasta or heavier dishes. Great post!! And great recipes.
    Haley recently posted…December 2015 Workout PlaylistMy Profile

  7. What a good article! I regularly bring food to family or friends to comfort them but I generally think about giving them something fun and not about how the food itself could help them.
    Heather Davis recently posted…4 Points for setting ConsequencesMy Profile

  8. I love this. I think we often think of comfort food versus things that are nourishing when it comes to helping those in need. Pinned!
    Katie recently posted…4 KitchenAid Gifts For Design-Conscious Coffee ConnoisseursMy Profile

  9. These are great tips! I always have a couple meals in the freezer for grieving families, or for new babies. I always try to include a breakfast bread or rolls too, since most people think about dinner, but not breakfast, and if they have company in the house it makes it a little easier! Thanks for this!

    • Breakfast ideas; brilliant! I must admit that I wasn’t really eating breakfast for the first week or so and my boys were grabbing cereal on their own…

  10. Such a practical and wonderful post… and much needed! And I love these recipes, they look so good! Thanks!

  11. Great post by Melanie with some really excellent information about why what we eat as we heal emotionally is so important. Plus these recipes are all so satisfying and comforting while still healthy.

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