Cooking for a chronically ill loved one (for those who can't cook)

One disabled husband + chewing problems = the need for puréed foods.
One caregiver-wife + no cooking talent = uh-oh HELP!

When I found myself in this challenging situation about a year ago, with my husband losing weight, I began learning my umpteenth new caregiving skill – providing him with a soft, no-chewing- required diet. I did a little research on the Internet and got a book on soft diets for some basic principles; then it was off to being creative and experimenting. Breakfast is the easiest meal. Pre-breakfast, my husband gets orange juice and yogurt with his pills crushed into it. Then a soft bread (pumpkin or banana bread from a mix) or store-bought mini- blueberry muffins, along with applesauce (which comes in many flavors) or puréed canned fruit. After that, hot cereal (oat bran, whole grain, cream of rice, etc.) or puréed scrambled eggs with bacon pieces and a little milk. I add healthy things like flaxseed or mango butter and soy milk to the hot cereals.

Lunch and dinner are where I have to get creative. I was surprised at how you can turn solid foods into purées with a little liquid added. It takes a lot of trial and error (and some meals thrown down the drain when inedible!); but after a while, I’ve developed a dependable repertoire, which I keep trying to expand. The three major considerations involved are healthy ingredients, a smooth consistency which is not too thin, and seasoning because flavors often die when foods are blended together.

If you are a talented cook who can whip up homemade soups and stews, they can be puréed; but if you are cooking-challenged as I am, here are some easier ideas:

• Start with frozen meals (with healthy ingredients) that can be microwaved and then puréed: chicken & veggie dishes; pasta dishes such as veggie lasagna; chicken pot pie; shepherd’s pie. Add an appropriate liquid to the blender if needed: chicken or beef broth, pasta sauce, etc.

• Or from the grocery store’s refrigerated section: turkey chili with black beans – heat and purée with rice; BBQ shredded chicken – heat, purée, and serve over mashed potatoes. Either mash real cooked potatoes (don’t need puréeing if made soft and smooth) or use instant potatoes.

• Canned soups: doctor up with extra veggies, pasta, potatoes or rice and then purée together. Pea soup or lentil soup blend very smoothly with an added can of chick peas or white beans. Chunky chicken corn chowder with extra corn or chick peas is good.

• Purée cooked pasta with jarred pasta sauce (I add frozen meatless/soy meatballs or frozen real-meat meatballs that come well flavored). Put dollops of low-fat ricotta cheese on top.

• Thaw and heat frozen meatballs in brown gravy (jarred) and purée with rice.

• Frozen or canned vegetables purée very well and usually do not need extra liquid except for a little of the water they’ve been cooked in.

• Fish ideas: baked salmon, puréed with V8 potato leek soup and a can of corn or white beans; purée crab cakes with tartar sauce and chicken broth.

I have three kinds of blenders in my arsenal: a Magic Bullet for smaller things, like fresh berries and canned fruits; a regular 12-speed blender; and a powerful Ninja blender for the bigger jobs.

Many of these ideas can be used in assisted living and Alzheimer's Care communities as well.

This ordeal has been quite difficult for me, and I spend much of every day in the kitchen, concocting my soft-food creations and then cleaning up the dishes, pots, utensils and blenders required to make them! But my husband quickly gained back the lost weight and is doing splendidly on this diet. I eat the puréed dinners with him, and it’s really not that bad - it beats cooking two separate meals.

Anyone wanna cook for us? Anyone?