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Healthy Foods Made Fast and Easy

Sometimes when people start trying to eat healthier foods, they start doing more of their own cooking. Also, when people feel ill they often prefer to stay home to eat rather than going out. Are you doing more cooking than you used to? Cooking takes time, but there are some things you can do to make the job faster and easier.
  • There are appliances that can help a lot. See the next two sections on ideas for simple foods you can make using your microwave oven and blender.
  • There are certain foods that good cooks use to make a meal in a minute. Take a look at the section, "Foods To Keep On Hand For Quick Meal Preparation" for ideas on which foods you might keep on hand for easy, healthy meals.

Healthy Foods From A Blender

Do you own a blender? A blender doesn't cost too much and can sometimes be borrowed from a friend or relative. Some HIV or AIDS support groups may also loan them out. Here are some healthy ideas to try in a blender.

  • If you have ulcers in your mouth or throat, you can put solid foods in your blender to make them easier to swallow. You can make it thick enough to eat from a spoon or add extra liquid so you can drink the food from a cup. You can blend foods separately, or blend a whole meal together.
  • On days you don't feel like eating, you might try making yourself a healthy blender drink. Try some of these and then make up your own! They are all cold to soothe a sore throat. Add 2 tablespoons dry milk to each for extra protein.

    "Fruit Shake"
    Blend together:
    I cup milk
    I ripe banana
    1 scoop ice cream
    1/4 cup orange juice

    "Peanut Smoothie"
    Blend together:
    1 cup milk
    1 scoop ice cream
    2 Tablespoons peanut butter
    Sprinkle of cinnamon

    "Pineapple Froth"
    Blend together:
    1 carton yogurt (any flavor)
    1 cup pineapple juice
    1 scoop ice cream

    Blend together:
    1 cup orange juice
    1 slice cantaloupe
    1 scoop ice cream

    "Fruit Nog"
    Blend together:
    1 cup egg nog
    1/2 cup canned peaches
    1 scoop ice cream

    "Solid Gold"
    Blend together:
    1 raw carrot
    1 cup pineapple juice
    1 carton vanilla yogurt
    2 ice cubes

    "Purple Cow"
    Blend together:
    1 cup grape juice
    1 scoop ice cream
    1 ripe banana

    Blend together:
    1 cup buttermilk
    1/2 cup orange juice
    1 scoop ice cream

    "Jamoca Whip"
    Blend together:
    1 tsp. instant coffee
    1 scoop chocolate ice cream
    1 cup milk

    Blend together:
    1 Tbls peanut butter
    1 cup orange juice
    1 scoop orange sherbet

Healthy Foods From the Microwave

Microwave ovens really speed up cooking and keep you from getting a lot of pots and pans dirty as you cook. A small microwave oven costs less than $100. You don't need a big one. Perhaps you could borrow one from a friend, family member or health agency. Here are some ideas for healthy fast foods from the microwave.

  • Try frozen dinners made for the microwave. They cook much faster than frozen dinners that have to go in the regular oven.
  • Heat leftovers from past meals. You can put several different foods on a plate, cover it with plastic wrap or an upside-down plate and heat it all together. Saves you lots of dirty pots and pans.
  • Baked potatoes. Potatoes bake in just 8 minutes in a microwave oven. They take about an hour in a regular oven. Once you have a hot baked potato, use these tips to turn it into a whole meal:
    • Pour canned chili over it. Microwave again till chili is hot. Top with lots of grated cheese. Eat a salad on the side.
    • Pour canned cream soup like cream of mushroom or cream of chicken over it, right out of the can. Microwave again till soup is hot. Sprinkle with chopped ham or tuna. Eat an apple or pear on the side.
    • Pour canned sloppy joe or "Manwich" over it. Microwave again till hot. Top with cheese or sour cream. Have some buttered toast and sliced tomatoes on the side.
    • Pour canned beef stew over it. Microwave again till hot. Drink a glass of milk and have some buttered toast with it.
  • You can bake sweet potatoes or yams in your microwave oven, too. After they are done, sweet potatoes taste good with lots of butter, honey or syrup, and a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. Have a bowl of cottage cheese and cucumbers on the side.
  • Make burritos. Open a can of pinto beans and pour into a bowl. Heat in the microwave. Mash with a fork. Put a line of the mashed beans down the center of a flour tortilla. (You buy these in the dairy section of your grocery store.) Top with cheese and a little hot sauce. Roll up. Put on a plate and microwave about 1 minute till hot.
  • Make little pizzas. Open up an English muffin. Spread it with canned tomato sauce. Add chopped cooked meat. Put sliced cheese on top of that. Sprinkle with oregano leaves. Microwave until melted and bubbly.

Foods To Keep On Hand For Quick Meal Preparation

There are certain foods that can really help you put a healthy meal together fast. You might call them cooking "basics." A lot of the cooking ideas in this book use these foods. If you always keep a stock of some of these foods in your home, you will find it easier to make good meals each day.

Hard boiled eggs. You can boil a whole dozen eggs at a time. Do not peel them. Store in a covered container. They will stay fresh for a week in the refrigerator. Eat them plain as a snack or mealtime. Chop them up and add mayonnaise for egg salad. Cut in half, scoop out the yolks and make devilled eggs (mash yolks with mayonnaise). Chop them up and add to cream soup. Pour this over toast or baked potato. Put chopped eggs in salad, in broth-type soups.

Chopped, cooked meat. Keep small plastic containers of chopped, cooked chicken, turkey, pork chops, hamburger, roast beef, and ham. Keep in the freezer till ready to use. They can be defrosted quickly in the microwave or in a pan with a little boiling water. Add to canned chili, spaghetti, soups, stews to boost the protein. Add to salads, top frozen pizza with it. Add to a jar of spaghetti sauce and it's ready for pour over cooked pasta or bread. You can add mayonnaise to make them into meat spreads for crackers, bread, raw fruits and vegetables.

Nut butters. Besides peanut butter, look for almond butter, cashew butter, sesame seed butter, and others in the store. They are all high in calories and protein. They can be spread on crackers, toast, raw vegetables and fruit. Try stirring nut butters into hot cereals and milkshakes.

Canned creamed soups. Keep a stock of cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, cream of celery and cheddar cheese soup on your shelf. If you add chopped boiled eggs, grated cheese, chopped cooked chicken or other meat you have a creamy sauce. Pour this over toast, rice or noodles for dinner.

Canned deboned chicken and turkey. This comes in cans like tuna. It is fully cooked. You can add it to soups, stews, salads, cream sauces. Mix with mayonnaise to make chicken salad or turkey salad spread.

Canned ham. It is fully cooked and ready for sandwiches. it can be chopped up and added to soups, casseroles, salads. Mix chopped ham with mayonnaise for ham salad spread.

Canned tuna, canned salmon. Mix with cracker crumbs and egg to make patties. Fry the patties to make fish-burgers. Canned tuna and salmon are already fully cooked.

Canned beef stew, canned spaghetti, canned soups. All of these make a good base for a meal. If you add grated cheese, chopped cooked meat and your own vegetables they will be healthier for you.

Canned pork and beans, canned baked beans, canned chili hot beans. Beans are high in protein and inexpensive. Canned beans are faster to make than dried beans. Try heating these up and pouring over a baked potato. Top with cheese. You might also try mashing them with a fork. You can put this bean spread on crackers or in a sandwich or rolled in a tortilla. It is good hot or cold.

Canned chili. Add extra beans or meat if you wish. Try pouring hot canned chili over a baked potato. Top with cheese and sour cream. Try pouring hot canned chili over a salad. Top with grated cheese, crumbled tortilla chips, and sour cream.

Frozen pizza. Add extra grated cheese. Add cooked and chopped hamburger or other meat. Add sliced onions, green peppers, zucchini or mushrooms. When you eat pizza, drink fruit juice and eat a salad with it.

Frozen dinners. There are two types: for microwave ovens and for regular ovens. many taste great! Take a close look at the food in the dinner. If any of the basic food groups are missing, add it to the meal. For example, drink milk.

Boxes of macaroni and cheese mix. Cook it up as the directions say to do. Before you eat it, add some more grated cheese to it. Add tuna to it, or chopped cooked meat or chicken. Add a can of peas to it. Have some toast and a piece of fruit at the same meal.

Boxes of rice mix. (like "Rice-a-Roni") and noodle dishes (like Noodle-Roni). Cook as the package says to do. Before you eat it, add grated cheese, chopped cooked meat, chicken or fish. Add chopped egg. Mix in a can of vegetables. Fix a bowl of mixed chopped fruit to go along with it.

Box of scalloped potatoes or au gratin potatoes mix. Cook as the directions tell you. Before you eat it, add sliced ham, chicken or tuna. Add extra cheese. Add a can of peas or other vegetables. Have buttered toast with it and drink juice.

Boxes of breakfast cereal. Add chopped nuts. Add chopped apples, sliced bananas or peaches. Add raisins or chopped dates, prunes or dried apricots. Try yogurt or ice cream on it instead of milk. Have some peanut butter and toast on the side.

Packets of instant hot cereal (oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits). These are good just as they are. Better when you add extra dried fruit, nuts, butter and sugar, syrup and honey. Instant grits are good with grated cheese mixed in. Drink milk, juice or cocoa and have some buttered toast with it.

Packets of hot cocoa. Mix with hot milk instead of hot water. Put marshmallows in it for extra calories. Put a teaspoon of instant coffee in it for a different flavor. Put whipped cream on top.

Food Safety

Special Note: This advice about keeping food and cookware safe and clean is meant to protect you from the germs that they carry. HIV cannot be spread by food or water. Feel free to have friends in your kitchen and to cook and share meals with them there.

You have to be careful with food when you are infected with HIV. It can easily give you infections and make you very, very sick. There are germs on all the food we bring home from the grocery store. You need to handle the food right, cook it right and store it right to keep those germs from getting to you.

  • Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Use a vegetable brush designed for this purpose.
  • Throw away any fruit or vegetable which has a rotten or moldy spot on it.
  • Cook meat thoroughly. You might want to buy a meat thermometer to help you know for sure that it is done. Put the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat and not touching a bone. Cook the meat till it reaches 165 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit on your thermometer.
  • Do not eat raw meats or fish, even in small amounts. No sushi or rare steak. Order restaurant meats cooked well-done.
  • Thaw frozen meats and other frozen foods in the refrigerator or in a microwave oven set to defrost. Never thaw foods at room temperature. Germs that grow at room temperature can make you very sick.
  • Don't eat raw eggs. Cook all eggs till firm. Don't eat Caesar salad. It contains raw eggs. If you wish to add an egg to milkshake or make egg nog, use a pasteurized product like "Egg-beaters."
  • Don't use cracked eggs. Look for cracks in the shell before you buy them.
  • Use different cutting boards for raw foods and cooked foods.
  • Throw away moldy cheese. It is not good enough to just cut off the moldy part.
  • Don't let hot foods cool down at room temperature. Put them in the refrigerator right away. If it is a large amount of food, put it in 2 or 3 containers so the refrigerator can cool it all quickly.
  • Keep your refrigerator cold. You might wish to get a refrigerator thermometer. Keep it set no higher than 40 degrees. Your freezer should be at 0 degrees.
  • Use hot, sudsy water to wash you dishes. Let it out of the sink when it gets dirty and replace it with new. Any food germs left on your plate can make you sick the next time you eat from it.
  • Keep everything clean. Clean your counters often and clean them well. Wash your hands with soap and water a lot during cooking.
  • Don't use foods past the recommended date on the label. Even though this never made you sick in the past, it may now!
  • Don't taste anything that you think might be spoiled. If in doubt, throw it out!
  • Use pasteurized milk only. This means it has been treated with heat to destroy harmful germs. Look for the word "pasteurized" on the label. Do not drink milk fresh from the cow!
  • If you have old dishes, cups or plastic containers with a lot of scratches in them, throw them out. Germs love to hide in scratches and they are very difficult to clean out of there.
  • Wear rubber gloves when handling raw meat. This will prevent germs from entering any open cuts or sores on your hands.
  • Hurry home from the grocery store! If the cold or frozen foods you buy warm up in your car, germs can grow that may make you sick later.

Commercial Diets

There are special products on the market to help you get good nutrition and gain weight when it is difficult to eat enough food. They are like canned baby formulas but made for adults. You can drink them with your meals or between your meals. Here are some tips on shopping for these:

  • Before spending the money, try making yourself milkshakes, egg nog and other high calorie beverages first. They are far less expensive and very much the same thing. Some recipes for these beverages you can find in the section, "Healthy Food From A Blender."
  • Try "Carnation Instant Breakfast." It is very similar to the more expensive canned formulas, but lower in cost.
  • Try "Polycose." It is a powder on the market that can be added to foods to make them higher in calories. It has no flavor at all and so can be sprinkled on anything before you eat it. Look for it in drug stores.
  • Canned nutritional supplements can be very convenient but they are quite expensive. Compare prices at drug stores and large grocery stores. There can really be a difference!
  • Try different brands of canned nutritional supplements until you find one that tastes good to you and you can digest well. Some brands to try might be "Ensure," "Jevity," "Sustacal," and "Isocal" ("Isocal" has no lactose -- see the section, "Lactose Intolerance"). Your doctor, dietitian or pharmacist can advise you about others.
  • You may need to improve the flavor of the supplement you buy. Experiment with temperature. Some taste better at room temperature. Some are better over ice. Try adding tasty ingredients to make these fancy flavors:
    • Butterscotch. Add 2 spoonfuls of butterscotch pudding mix to a can of vanilla liquid supplement. Stir well. Add a little brown sugar for more flavor.
    • Cafe Au Lait. Dissolve 2 spoonfuls of instant coffee in a little boiling water. Add to a can of vanilla liquid supplement. Stir well.
    • Chocolate Shake. Blend a can of vanilla liquid supplement with a scoop of chocolate ice cream till smooth.
    • Strawberry Shake. In a blender, mix one can of liquid supplement, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a scoop of fresh or frozen strawberries.
    • Fruit Nectar. Blend a small cup of canned peach or apricot nectar with a can of liquid supplement.
    • Other Recipes. The makers of liquid supplements have recipe booklets they will send to you. Look for their address on the label and write to them.

Mental Health Issues

The way you feel can make a difference in your appetite. If you are sad, lonely, or worried you might not feel like eating as much as when you are feeling more satisfied with life. Here are some ideas to help make mealtimes more cheerful.

  • Share mealtimes with people you enjoy. Invite them to your home or go to theirs.
  • Pack up some food for a picnic in the outdoors. Try the park, beach, or even your back yard. Bring a piece of bread to feed birds or squirrels. The sunshine, fresh air and company of animals will help you feel better.
  • Change where you eat daily. Always eating in the kitchen or in the bedroom makes meals less interesting. Try eating in the bathtub or on your porch or patio.
  • Go for a short walk before eating. Exercise is good for you anyway. A walk in the fresh air can give you quite an appetite.
  • Have a glass of wine before dinner. It will help your relax and gives a good appetite.
  • Listen to favorite music during dinner.
  • Read a funny story or interesting book during your meals.
  • Try not to just stand in the kitchen and eat out of the pot. Take the time to put your food on a plate and sit down at a table to eat. You are worth it!
  • Make your meals attractive. Spruce up your plate with a sprig of celery, a slice of lemon or other simple garnish. Buy colored paper napkins.
  • Put some fresh flowers on the table. Pick them yourself or buy some daisies.
  • Have some lighted candles on the table. It will make even a bowl of chili seem fancy!

Hints for Helpers

Do you have someone coming to help you at home? Maybe they would like some ideas on how to help with your food. Let them look at this list of ideas.

  • Make casseroles and freeze enough for one meal in little plastic containers. Easy to defrost, heat and eat!
  • Thoroughly cook meats such as chicken, pork chops, hamburger, turkey, or roast beef. Chop and freeze small portions in little plastic bags. Easy to defrost and add to soups, salad, and casseroles to make them high in protein.
  • Hard-boil a dozen eggs. Do not peel. They will keep in the refrigerator for a week and can be used for snacks, or chopped and added to soups, salads and casseroles.
  • Volunteer to go grocery shopping. Buy some of the foods listed in the section, "Foods To Keep On Hand For Quick Meal Preparation" that will make easy meals.
  • Take you friend out to a restaurant for a meal. Make it breakfast, lunch or dinner. We all like to get out sometimes.
  • Take you friend to your home for a meal. There's something very nice about sharing your home with someone.
  • Plan a picnic for your friend. Pack up healthy food and go to the park, or even to the backyard! Sunshine and fresh air do wonders for the appetite.
  • Be ready to go get food from a take-out restaurant for your friend. When we're ill it's hard even to run down to the corner by ourselves.
  • Provide company to your friend at mealtimes. None of us likes to eat alone. We eat more when there is someone to talk to.
  • Share your favorite recipes, especially for simple, healthy things. Maybe you have a cookbook full of good ideas.
  • Share your appliances. Maybe you have a blender, toaster oven or microwave that you aren't using much.
  • Wash dishes. A dirty kitchen can really discourage cooking. A sick person may not feel up to cleaning.
  • Write out a few days of menus for your friend. We all need help sometimes with planning.
  • Make your friend a batch of healthy muffins or cookies.
  • Write out shopping lists of things that are needed in the kitchen. It takes energy to look on all the shelves and cupboards to see what's missing.
  • Be supportive. Don't be upset if your friend can't eat much today. Ask about favorite foods. Other small servings of food. You can always give seconds.

How Your Doctor Can Help

You are not alone in your struggle to eat right. Talk to your doctor. There are medicines that could help you with nausea, dry mouth, painful swallowing and other problems related to eating.

There may be times when you will be unable to eat or drink anything at all. At these times it may be necessary for your doctor to arrange for you to be fed by tube or intravenously till you get your strength back.

If you would like to speak with someone about food or your meals in more detail, ask you doctor. He/she can refer you to a registered dietitian in your community. They are trained health professionals who are experts at food and good eating habits.

Be careful not to fall into the hands of people who might be "nutrition quacks." People working in "good health" shops, for example, are usually not professionals. The advice they may give is often not based on scientific facts and could be harmful. If you have heard something about nutrition and HIV, check it out with your doctor first before trying it.

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This article was provided by Tennessee Department of Health AIDS Support Services. It is a part of the publication Nutrition and HIV: Your Choices Make a Difference.