Food for an uncooking sickie
April 28, 2012 7:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm struggling with heath issues that make it hard to eat. I can only seem to keep a few things down. I need ideas of food that fit these specifics and super simple directions on how to make them as I'm awful at cooking and don't have the energy to do it.

I can only seem to keep down liquids and small amounts of food that aren't too creamy or thick in texture, or grainy in texture, that aren't meat or rice, that doesn't have a strong odor, or any sort of fishy smell. It can't be in too big of pieces or have a too hard of texture.

I know it is an impossible list to work with. I'm really sorry.

So far I've been living on cheese and crackers and tea. It is wearing a little thin.

Also about once a week I can actually stomach normal food but don't seem to be aware of it until it hits suddenly and then I'm in a position of starving and feeling faint. What I need then is healthy simple food that I can just eat without any preparation.

Further snags: I don't have a lot of money right now. I do not have friends that I can rely on for help. I do live with my mother and she could help but then I would be forced to reveal why I cannot cook or eat right now and that is not an option. I live in small town and any sort of food company that makes frozen food for you to take home and reheat is ridiculously expensive.
posted by kanata to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Chicken? Swanson's canned chicken breast is one of my staple foods for times when my nausea is out of control. Either I eat it out of the can or mix it with a little mayonnaise for a simple chicken salad.

Hard boiled eggs are another staple of mine. So is turkey jerky if you can find it.

Baked beans, just heated up in a dish, are a bland but proteiny meal.

Does yogurt work for you?
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:23 PM on April 28, 2012

What about simple soups like chicken broth or consomme? Is tomato soup too creamy or thick?

How about Heinz beans in tomato sauce? Beans on toast is a pretty simple staple in the British diet.
posted by briank at 7:24 PM on April 28, 2012

Oh, and microwaving a potato is simple (even better to microwave it then finish it in the toaster oven for 10-15 minutes).

Almond butter might be good if peanut butter smells too strong.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:25 PM on April 28, 2012

Hummus, white bean/black bean spread? Mashed potatoes 'watered' down with milk or broth. Lentils are pretty non-threatening. Soup. Soup over egg noodles. I'll stop back in if I think of more.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 7:26 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure I have a good sense of which textures are ok vs. which you are struggling with--would something like pudding be too creamy or thick? Because one thing that comes to mind as a classic "sickie" food is cornstarch pudding aka blancmange. This recipe is very basic. You could add more milk if pudding texture is too thick.
posted by drlith at 7:28 PM on April 28, 2012

Maybe small pieces of mild-flavoured fruit like melon?
posted by tivalasvegas at 7:31 PM on April 28, 2012

My "food of last resort" is yogurt. Regular yogurt is fine, but I especially love Greek-style yogurt. The flavor is very mild, so if the tang of ordinary yogurt doesn't appeal to you, Greek yogurt might be just the thing. It's mild enough that it blends well with either sweet or savory flavors. If you want it thinner, you can dilute it with milk, soy milk, almond milk, or broth, so you could even drink it through a straw. It has tons of nutrition. It's also delicious on a "baked" (microwaved) potato.
posted by Corvid at 7:32 PM on April 28, 2012

On second read, this has been an issue for more than a week? You should probably contact your doctor.
posted by tivalasvegas at 7:35 PM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

For pregnant women who have morning sickness, something that's often recommended is to eat a little something (crackers eg) right when you wake up, since an empty stomach often makes nausea worse.

Another thing you could try is ginger, which has natural anti-nausea properties. You can get a bulb of ginger and cut several coins from it and boil them in water to create a ginger "tea".

In the frozen food section they often have pre-cooked potato things (the ones I'm thinking of are in the shape of smiley faces but you can look and see what your stores carry) that you can put in the microwave for a short time - they are soft and easy to eat, and come in small units so you can make as many as you want at a time.

Can you keep down things like bananas, apples, carrots?
Ramen soup or chicken noodle soup?
Meal-replacement drinks like Ensure?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:35 PM on April 28, 2012

Can you get a swallowing study done? Therapists could then give you strategies for what foods are okay, how to modify other foods and probably give some direction with recipes/prep. You said money is tight, do you have health insurance? If so, see a doctor and describe your problems and they would likely do that. Otherwise, pasta is pretty inocuous. You could overcook it on purpose to avoid the al dente texture and it may be easier to eat. But really, you should talk to a doctor.
posted by karlos at 7:38 PM on April 28, 2012

I find yogurt too thick and too pungent smelling. I have tried thinning things down with milk but I am having a problem digesting milk. Carrots, and apples are too hard for me to bite down on (I'm also having denture problems) but if I could find them pre-sliced I probably could do that.

Mashed potatoes are out because of the texture but I think I could probably manage tomato soup. Almond butter might be a good solution too as peanut butter is too strong smelling.

I also need to keep up my energy during this time as I need to be able to hike with the dog every day and do the odd chore. Would any of these things be able to give me energy?

It is actually not a physical issue but a mental one so doctors are unnecessary but thanks for suggesting that.
posted by kanata at 7:51 PM on April 28, 2012

Someone on another board I frequent recommend "Magic Mineral Broth" from a cookbook called One Bite at a Time, which is for cancer patients. Apparently the broth is chock full of nutrients and good stuff and it's easy to keep down. I haven't tried it myself, but the person who recommended it says it's easy to make with no fancy ingredients. (Also, to my knowledge, she's never had cancer; she just makes the broth when sick and then freezes it for later.) You could look for the book at your local library. I hope you feel better. I'm also nthing go see a doctor because it's definitely not unnecessary; take good care of your mental health.
posted by pised at 7:59 PM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do you have a blender? You can puree fruits/veggies, make smoothies (with a juice base), etc. Super quick, easy, and will at least get you some nutrition and keep you hydrated.

When I had my wisdom teeth out (and a swollen throat on top of that), I lived off of mashed bananas for a few days.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:59 PM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

For energy, I would concentrate on protein (eggs, beans, meats) rather than carbs (pasta, crackers, etc). But you also want to be getting a reasonable balance of nutrients from fruits and veggies if you can. Can you take a vitamin pill? If swallowing pills is a problem, they come in gummy and chewable form too.

If smell is an issue, you might try refrigerating things. When things are cold, they smell less strongly.

For the fruits and veggies, you might try steaming them to make them soft? (Boiling them in water would make them soft but nutrients get removed into the water, so steaming is a better option) Or roasting. To steam veggies: wash them and cut them up, put them into a steamer basket or a strainer, pour a small amount of water (maybe an inch or so) into the bottom of a pot and boil that water, then set the steamer basket into the pot and put a lid on it. Steaming is fast, too.

You could also roast them: wash them and cut them up, coat them lightly with oil (pour a little oil in a bowl, roll the veggies in it then remove them), put them in a baking sheet. Put them into an oven that's about 400 degrees F. You can look up recipes online for about how long different veggies will take to roast. They will come out sweeter and with soft insides - they sometimes have a harder outer skin, but you can cut that away.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:01 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

What about a baked potato, rather than a creamy mashed one? You can microwave a large potato for about 8 1/2 minutes if you poke it through with a lot of holes and knife cuts so steam can escape. Then you can cut it up and drizzle it all over with olive oil and sprinkle it with Parmesan.
posted by limeonaire at 8:02 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can handle cooked eggs, you could try making a frittata in a casserole dish. Then you can have just as much as you want and the leftovers will keep in the fridge for several days.

Basic recipe:
Heat oven to 400 deg F. Use a 9x13" baking dish, lightly greased (with oil or butter).

Frozen veggies - frozen chopped broccoli or spinach or mixed veggies, whatever sounds like you could eat it if it were cooked and softened
Cheese - Cheddar is good for this, or whatever you have.
Eggs - About 8, but a few more or less is fine.

1. Defrost frozen veggies in microwave, following instructions on the package.
2. Grate some cheese - maybe 3/4 cup.
3. Beat eggs - Crack eggs into a mixing bowl (remove any pieces of shell that fall in) and beat them (with a whisk or a fork) until they're frothy.
4. Assemble - Drain the defrosted veggies and put them into your pan, sprinkle some salt and pepper on them if you like. Sprinkle cheese on them. Pour eggs over them.
5. Cook! Put the pan in the oven and let it cook for 20-25 minutes, until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Take it out, let it cool for 10 min or so, and cut into whatever size pieces you like!
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:22 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was still extremely sick, a staple of my diet was cup-a-soup enriched with an egg, a little extra salt, and some instant brown rice. I would stir a scrambled egg into boiling water on the stove and let it cook for a minute or two, then pour the whole thing into a mug with lipton chicken noodle cup-a-soup, salt and instant brown rice already set up beforehand. I got pretty good at estimating how much water I needed, otherwise some of the eggs gets left behind. I ate this with Red Oval Farm crackers, which are pretty wholesome and filling and helped me make sure I got enough to eat if I was especially hungry. This is quick, easy and something I could cope with when I was too sick to deal with any real cooking.

I also did a lot of carnation instant breakfast. It was not unusual for me to put extra (like a packet and a half) in a really small cup of milk (4 to 6 ounces instead of 8). It is easier to do this if you get the canister instead of the packets, but I think they only sell the diet version in packets, not in the canister. Since I have blood sugar issues, the non-diet stuff can be a problem. So I favored the packets.

When my dad had cancer, my mom put weight on him with fruit smoothies at a time when most cancer patients are losing weight. They calculated how much fluids he needed and made sure he got enough to drink even if he could not eat. I have an incurable condition which impacts digestion and so does my oldest son. Emphasizing hydration over food has been one of the cornerstones of our success. So I know this approach works really well. Anyway, mom would do ice cream and frozen fruit and milk in a blender on his better days and ice, frozen fruit and fruit juice on his really bad days. As long as he stayed hydrated and got enough calories, he gained weight even if he could hardly eat.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 8:30 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing that might help is soft white or wheat bread with butter/jelly/jam/almond butter/sunflower seed butter. You can squish it up into a little roll to eat it more quickly. Bananas are good; they are super bland. You can make Licuado to drink--it is just a banana (or strawberry or mango or whatever), milk, sugar and ice milkshake. The texture is meant to be frothy and not very thick.
posted by 200burritos at 8:38 PM on April 28, 2012

Seconding Ensure nutrition shakes. Relatively cheap and are good for lactose intolerant type people, like me.
posted by Polgara at 8:56 PM on April 28, 2012

It is actually not a physical issue but a mental one so doctors are unnecessary but thanks for suggesting that.

I'll say this once and then go away (because I'm not directly answering your question), but that sentence tells me that a doctor is especially necessary. Good luck.
posted by karlos at 9:20 PM on April 28, 2012 [11 favorites]

I'm agreeing with karlos that you need to see a doctor. You might not need one for physical ailment but there are doctors for mental ailments too.

The fact that you kind of quickly brushed the suggestion of medical help off and that you are hiding your health issue from your mom makes me wonder if you have an eating disorder or some kind. It doesn't have to be anorexia or bulimia. There is a whole slew of EDs other than those two.

I'm not saying this in an accusatory way. I had an ED-NOS and no one knew for the longest time because it didnt look like I was starving and I've always been naturally very thin. I would have continued with my issues if it weren't for a friend I confided in because I knew I wasn't doing the right thing to myself. That friend talked to me a lot and helped me get over my ED.

If you can't eat to the point of starvation because of some mental block, that's an ED and you need to see someone about it. If you don't like doctors or therapists then at least find a friend you really trust.

If you need to, you can memail me.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 9:52 PM on April 28, 2012 [11 favorites]

Buy a box of chicken broth. (The kinds in boxes are usually better than the kinds in cans.) Heat it up in a saucepan. Throw in some noodles, and boil. Eat your very simple very basic soup! (If the smell of broth is even too strong, you could water it down.) If you scramble an egg in a bowl, and then slowly drizzle it into the boiling/simmering soup, you can make a sort-of egg drop soup, so you can get some protein without eating anything that has much of a noticeable texture.

How do you manage with toast? Top toast with cream cheese and sliced strawberries or jam. Or with ricotta cheese with some salt and pepper. Or have it with an egg. Boiled or scrambled or fried or microwaved. However you like it.
posted by Kololo at 10:54 PM on April 28, 2012

[Folks, understood that we are all concerned for the health of OP and want to offer advice toward that end, but you need to address the question posed in the post.]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:03 PM on April 28, 2012

Avacado? Very mild in flavor when eaten by itself, and texture can range from super smooth and creamy dip to a soft cheese consistency. It can pair with both sweet and savory, and is a very high calorie food.
posted by markblasco at 11:34 PM on April 28, 2012

Kanata, I have something I sometimes make that may work as a "carrier" for things you definitely know you like: savory bread pudding. The "pudding" part in the description may make it sound a bit "ew," but of course it's nothing like regular pudding. I make it to use up odds and ends of bread and leftovers, and it's very much a "comfort food" with a sort of quiche-like texture, that's hard to mess up.

So, say you have no problem with, for example, peas, shredded carrot, and sauteed mushrooms. Put that all together in a cooking pan with the cubed (or torn) bread and some shredded cheese, then whip together some eggs and milk (plus salt/pepper, whatever) in a separate bowl, pour it over the bread/cheese/veggie combo and mix it all together (hands work well for this). Pop it in med.-high oven for 40-50 minutes, et voilĂ . You can look at some of the recipes in the Google search for amounts (I just eyeball it), and you can experiment with ratios of bread/egg+milk/cheese/veggies to get the texture closest to ideal for you.
posted by taz at 12:24 AM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

My mother's dish for sick kids was milk toast. Buttered toast cut/torn into bite size pieces and put into a bowl. Hot milk is then poured over. Season with salt and pepper if you wish.
It is less nutritious than taz's recipe above, but it could be a simple standby.
posted by Cranberry at 12:35 AM on April 29, 2012

My father-in-law always recommended beef tea as a restorative. You could strain it if the texture is too grainy for you. Don't forget the linen napkin ;-)

If you don't want to go to the trouble of making beef tea from scratch, I like Herb-Ox beef packets (or chicken), because they are low sodium. You can add other ingredients that you can tolerate. Real beef tea has a reputation for helping invalids get their strength back. It's not that hard as far as cooking goes and any cheap steak will do (give the leftover meat to the dog, double win!).

Or barley water? Use only a little lemon or leave it out.

How about a simple version of Greek Lemon soup with the rice left out or using pasta? Add beans if you can tolerate them. If you can tolerate cheese, grate some into the soup.

Add some greens to your tomato soup. This time of year, dandelion greens, picked away from the road of course, can be tender and not bitter. Lots of nutrition in them, too! Strain them out if the texture is too much, you will have some minerals in your soup tho'. Use frozen veg, such as broccoli, if the other greens are too much. Here's a recipe, top of list.

Also look at SunButter at the store.

According to this article, you should avoid your favorite foods when feeling sick, or recovering from stress, or in the future, you will think they make you sick! It's your brain trying to help you survive.

Also, apple juice.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:59 AM on April 29, 2012

Get a bunch of things that are good for you, and get a liquid that you like.

Experiment with blending those things into the liquid until you find something nice to drink.
Lots of unexpected things work as a smoothie. You can work a good amount of mushrooms, and frozen broccoli, and nuts or grains or whatever is lacking in your diet into a easy to down smoothie.

Also this is not directly answering the question, and might be bad advice in your particular situation, but a super low dose of marijuana can help a lot with this.
posted by St. Sorryass at 1:01 AM on April 29, 2012

Baby food jars - you don't need to cook anything, they are bland by definition and you can water down if the texture is too grainy. If possible add a little bit of oil to give you extra calories.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:15 AM on April 29, 2012

Thanks everyone. This seems to give me a decent place to start to try to find some nourishment over this period of time. I guess it will just be trial and error to find out what I can stomach.

To those who raised concerns it is not an eating disorder it is just how my body deals with extreme emotional stress. I've had this happen before and I was just trying to see if I could handle it more healthily than last time when I completely stopped eating except for coffee and cigarettes and an apple once a week for about 6 months.
posted by kanata at 6:39 AM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kanata, if that answer was designed to reassure others that you don't need to a doctor, you should know that it did not serve that purpose.

You need a doctor or nutritionist who can help you come up with an eating plan that will keep you healthy until you solve the mental health issues. You really need a mental health professional who can help you learn how to handle stress without harming your body. Eating disorders are often people reacting to stress (often a feeling of a lack of control) by withholding food from themselves. It isn't always a 'can't eat, will get fat!' thing. Mental health issues affecting eating patterns to the point that it's affecting your health is what eating disorders are.)
posted by Kololo at 8:17 AM on April 29, 2012

When super-stressed, it's beneficial to eat leafy greens. Given your capacities & aversions, you might do well with whatever tender young leaves are available at your local farmers' market (watercress? rocket/arugula?) -- or if you're too far north, try your supermarket for fresh herbs (basil is especially good for your neurotransmitters) or bags sold for salad (these may smell funky when you open the bag, but rinsing usually fixes that). To keep things simple, you can just put some on a plate and nibble them as you browse the internet. Or insert a leaf between your cheese and your cracker. Eating even a few leaves a day helps mood & stamina.

If you get hooked and want to increase your volume intake, here's a simple recipe for green salad with vinaigrette*. Mix half a teaspoon of salt into a tablespoon of lemon juice (fresh or bottled). You can do this by shaking a small jar, or stirring with a fork in a small bowl. Let sit for ten minutes (ideally). Then add 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil, and shake or stir some more. (If you don't mind adding half a teaspoon of mustard, that will help the mixture stay mixed, and also add savor.) Pour a tablespoon or two of the mixture over a pile of leaves in a bowl. (Mixed herbs, say, or little pieces of lettuce that you've ripped off the fibrous stalk.) Mix with your hands so the leaves are coated. If you like you can sprinkle cheese (feta is good) or slices of hardboiled egg**, or sliced almonds & scallions, or pretty much any food that strikes your fancy. Grind or shake black pepper over the bowl. Voila! (For bonus stress reduction, accompany your salad with a glass of wine.)

* This recipe is from Deborah Madison. She used to cook for a zen monastery, so she's brilliant at simple food that tastes good.

**Hardboiled egg recipe: put egg in small pot, or many eggs in a bigger pot so they fit. Add enough water to cover eggs. Put on stove, on high heat. When water boils, turn off heat and cover pot. Wait ten minutes. Drain. If you have a fanatical hatred of overcooked eggs, rinse the eggs in cold water until they've cooled.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:31 AM on April 29, 2012

Hi Kanata, I have the exact same reaction to stress as you. For three or four months my senior year of college I could only stomach cigarettes, coffee, and occasional odwalla juices. If I was very lucky I could keep down half a grilled cheese a day. It wasn't intentional, I just forgot about food, and when I did think about it, it made me nauseous.

What helped for me:
- Do not worry right now about getting nutrients or being healthy. if you can get used to eating food, any food, you will start to feel hunger again. If the only thing that sounds good is a chocolate milkshake, or french fries, then go get those things. Don't beat yourself up about it. (I did drink the odwalla juices because they made me feel like I was getting some nutrients, though. And while they're expensive, I was spending pretty much no money on food at this time anyway.)

- I had a good friend who let me follow her around all day, every day. When she ate, I ate (or tried to). If you can't do this, then try setting alarms or following a school/work schedule. You don't have to eat a whole meal, but try eating a handfull or nuts or something.

- If you can drink a few beers or wine, you might relax and feel the urge to snack. At this point you should order a pizza.

- What are your comfort foods? Keep them near you. Though I could only handle a bite at a time, I would eventually eat that goddamn grilled cheese. Luckily it traveled well and it was the middle of winter. Yogurt worked well too.

- They sell frozen dinners of things like lasagna and pizza for like $1 each at Safeway. They're very small portions and pretty mild tasting.

Good luck! I lost 15 lbs when this happened to me, and was very weak for months even after I gained the weight back. It was not fun to be at war with my body.
posted by ke rose ne at 8:55 AM on April 29, 2012

Milkshakes with a bit of protein powder or peanut butter.

I've been in a similar spot and a big trick for me was eating anything remotely appetizing (a lot of salt and vinegar chips and snickers bars) and choking down food that helped me keep weight on.

Are you talking with a doctor about this? They might have suggestions about what to do so you don't lose too much weight.
posted by k8lin at 9:59 AM on April 29, 2012

If you are under stress, adrenal and thyroid support can help. Some things that provide adrenal support: licorice (read the label and make sure there is licorice extract in it), wild yam extract in supplement form or eating actual yams (I like them lightly grilled along with a small steak, slice of pineapple and sometimes onion), good quality sea salt, and lysine supplements or foods high in lysine. For thyroid support, I consume coconut oil. Caffeine can help give a short term boost but nutritional support is better and more sustainable.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 2:02 PM on April 29, 2012

Thanks for your suggestions and recipes everyone. It has really helped me get through. I did end up mentioning it to my doctor at a visit for something else and he agreed that it was the temporary emotional stress that is brought on by therapy. He gave me some med that they give to people undergoing chemo to reduce vomiting. The combo of it and your recipes are making it so I can get through life at this time.
posted by kanata at 8:15 AM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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