I started this series on Monday after I read an opinion piece on The Columbia Daily Tribune site about how Hospitals Should Take Snacks to Heart. Lamenting the atrocious snacks visitors could find in the vending machines right outside the cardiac cath lab— snacks that put people in such a lab — the author was struck by the disconnect.

Yet, the disconnect between medical findings and fast-food culture embedded in cardiac cath lab lounges tells us of the complicity at play and reminds us that nobody is really at the wheel of the national health care ship.
I’ve told you about my own experience trying to find healthy snacks as I cared and advocated for my mom when she was hospitalized for five weeks after open heart surgery. Finding healthy food in the hospital was difficult, and if it hadn’t been for the generosity of friends, getting healthy dinner on the table for my family at the end of the day would have been impossible.

When a loved one has a long hospital stay, it’s important for caregivers to eat well to keep up their strength. Because of the quality of the food at the hospital, the best alternative for me was to take my own snacks. Sometimes I was able to do it. Sometimes, I wasn't, and those days I ate a lot of nuts and tasteless apples. The photo to the left was typically the best I could do if I didn’t have the time to sit and eat a salad in the cafeteria.

If you know someone who is spending a lot of time at a hospital while a loved on is there, providing meals for the family like I talked about yesterday is really helpful. But, there’s another way to help. Provide healthy snacks that can be taken to the hospital. Wrap them in individual servings and drop them off at your friend’s house.

Some ideas:

  • Homemade granola bars: I posted a recipe a while ago for peanut butter granola bars that would be a great snack for caregivers. There’s also a recipe from Smitten Kitchen for thick, chewy granola bars that looks good.
  • Trail mix or granola mix: The hospital had some nut mixes, but for the most part they were heavy on the salt, peanuts and chocolate pieces. Mix your own combinations with ingredients like salt-free or low-salt nuts, granola, dried fruits, seeds or organic chocolate chips. Try a mix with a little kick like this Cajun Trail Mix or speak to a sweet tooth with pineapple, papaya and sunflower seed granola.
  • Healthy cookies: Pumpkin spice cookies that use whole wheat flour or chewy oatmeal raisin cookies that have dried fruit and whole grains are much more nutritious than the pack of chocolate chip cookies that come out of the vending machine.
  • Muffins: Eating Well has 20 healthy muffin recipes including the honey, fig and goat cheese muffins I made a while back. The carrot-banana and the zucchini-oatmeal look good. 
  • Soups: If the person has the ability to reheat things in a microwave, a hearty soup would be perfect. Try this kicked-up vegetable stew (yes, I know, technically not a soup) or this creamy butternut squash soup.
  • Cut up vegetables: So simple, but someone running back and forth to the hospital doesn’t always have time to shop for or cut up vegetables. Cut up carrots, celery, red and yellow peppers, and broccoli, add a few cherry tomatoes, and put some of each in individual containers.

What ideas do you have? 

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Healthy eating for hospital visitors, part 3
Snacks that will keep hospital visitors away from the vending machines.