What can I make for my widowed dad to eat who is on a salt restricted diet?
December 6, 2012 7:12 AM   Subscribe

What can I cook my very old fashioned, CHF widowed dad?

My mom passed away 8 months ago and she was his cook, maid, errands, doc companion, etc. He's never lived alone nor done really anything on his own. He has severe CHF so he is on a restricted diet. I've been calling him daily, helping with bills (he can't write a check due to arthritis), and doc apts. If he needs errands or anything else, I do my best. I work full time, have a toddler, and he lives 1/2 hour away from me in a bad neighborhood so it's not like I can go there daily to visit/cook.

So his diet is totally messed up which caused the last congestive heart failure (CHF) bout. He was eating nothing but chicken nuggets, soup, a cookie, shrimp, and that's about it. I looked in the freezer and he has things in there from when my mom was alive (which I told him it's time to clean out).

After he was recently released from the hospital, he is on a severe sodium restricted diet. I cooked him stuffed shells w/ zero salt pasta sauce and froze the rest for him. I recently bought him low salt ham and roast beef lunch meat and he's been living on that. He doesn't know how to cook like my mom did (from scratch).

I am more than happy to cook him some things he can freeze and heat. But he refuses to use the microwave I bought them (it's still in the box unopened from last Xmas). And I'm not a great cook either. Nor do I know what to do with prepared foods.

Do you cook it all the way like meat loaf, breaded chicken and then freeze it or do I put the mixings together and give it to him to freeze and cook on his own. Trust me, he needs minimal effort.

He won't go to a restaurant (plus high salt issues) and he won't get a delivered low salt diet plan. So it's home made I have to rely on but I'm clueless on what to cook and how to cook it. I can make pasta anywhich way and stew but that's about it. I was thinking of mini meatloaves but I don't know at what stage to freeze them. Or I make a decent stuffed chicken breast (similar to cordon blu) again, when do I freeze it?
posted by stormpooper to Food & Drink (23 answers total)
Pinterest might be a good resource here: Check out boards that have links to freezer meals. You might need a crock pot for a bunch of them, but a crock pot is so easy that it might be worth it if your dad is willing to dump things in a pot and turn it on in the morning. You can omit the salt in the recipes.

*note: I haven't tried these meals, so I don't know how good or bad they are, or how successful they are from freezer to plate. Hopefully other MeFi-tes will have some reviews!
posted by absquatulate at 7:18 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can make raw meatloaves, put them in those precious individual aluminum containers and freeze them. Your Dad can pop them in the oven with a potato, and have a nice meal that way.

If he'll use the oven, roasting things is easy and a nice way to get a bunch of leftovers.

Roasting a chicken is pretty straightforward. You can get him one of those beer can stands, then he can have leftovers for lunch.

How about a George Foreman Grill for hamburger patties, salmon filets, chicken breasts?

What's the issue with the microwave? This could be such a godsend to him. You can get the veggies in a bag, frozen brown rice in a bag, etc. Why won't he use it?

At some point you have to have a come-to-Jesus talk with him. "Dad, I love you and I know you're missing Mom. I miss her too. I want you to be healthy and to do that you have to eat better. I want to help, and I want you to help yourself. Using the microwave will make a HUGE difference in your life. So let's work on this together, because I love you and I want you around. "
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:27 AM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ah, also: The Mayo Clinic has a bunch of recipes for heart health. Now, if your dad is anything like my dad, he probably won't eat half of the things on here. BUT, as the cook, you can read through them and get a feel for what a heart-healthy recipe looks like and take note of some of the substitutions they might make. E.g., instead of sour cream, try fat-free yogurt. Instead of salt, Mrs. Dash, instead of white bread, use whole wheat or whole white wheat, etc.

You're a great child for helping your dad out like this. Try to get his buy-in on the method of cooking (oven, crock pot, etc.) and meet him half way by giving him frozen meals.
posted by absquatulate at 7:29 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you should give him cooked dishes if at all feasible for the dish. Meatloaf I might let him cook after freezing, but if something has a sauce at all, it should be fine cooked, frozen in single servings and heated up.

When I was cooking low sodium I used to cook a lot with wine; don't know if this is OK with you. This would allow you to make braised and stewed dishes which are durable. Like once a week, I would brown a lot of chicken pieces, put in pepper, garlic, herbs, vegetables (sauteed mushrooms; thinly sliced celery/mirepoix, caramelized shallots, leeks, whatever). If you are allowed fat, using dark pieces, leaving skin on and using olive fairly liberally to brown is a bonus. Pour white wine and some (optional) low-sodium chicken broth over the whole thing and cook it for a couple of hours in the oven or for however long you cook in a crock pot. I also like to put small peeled potatoes on top, which will break down and thicken the sauce. Or add flour in the early cooking stages (see: roux).

I would vary this recipe a lot and serve it to the whole family, letting people add salt if they wanted. Not as tasty as a dish that is properly salted to begin with, but not that bad either. You can add dry marsala or madeira to the white wine for a richer, sweeter sauce, but don't use those for all the liquid; they are too sweet and overpowering, even the dry ones.

You can do something similar with beef and red wine.

It is my understanding, though, that a lot of meat has tons of salt either naturally or because it's been added to plump up and prevent freezer burn. Low-sodium cooking was much more hardcore than I initially understood.

Some of the recipes on this page look good for the kinds of things you can add to chicken when you are cooking it without salt.
posted by BibiRose at 7:47 AM on December 6, 2012

Response by poster: He's just....weird. I have no clue regarding his idiosyncrasies on not using a microwave or anything modern. I bought my mom a Foreman grill. When she died, he gave it back to me.

For example, the only modern thing he owns is cable tv. No call waiting, answering machine, microwave, dishwasher. I mean they even have a fridge with auto ice maker. He refused to hook it up. It's not a religious thing either. He's just odd.

I think the crock pot is great but I honestly think he is sooooo used to my mom doing everything for him, this is a huge culture shock at 80 years old. I would have to crock pot things and bring it over.

Not fighting any of your suggestions, he's just a brick wall to making life easier. So in turn, I need recipies/method to make my life easier since I'm the one doing all of it and running it over on the weekend. Again, w/ a toddler, full time job, husband, and my own life/chores to do, I also don't want this to be overly expected amount of work. He is very grateful for what I am doing (esp. the doc appts and the ER drives at 2am) but he overworked my mom to the week she died (she was cooking home made meals then too). I don't want anything of their lifestyle and expectations transferred to me. But I really want him to eat better.

As an aside he's basically 100% alone minus my daily calls after dinner. I think he has some sort of social anxiety issues or anti social issues. He has zero friends, no neighbors since it's the ghetto now (only original on the block), barely leaves the house due to dizziness from meds/CHF. His "social" time is either me or when he goes to the hospital. He's wayyyy depressed and on Lexipro but failing health and grieving my mom just sent him in a tailspin of concern mentally on my part. He's doing "ok" just completely lost now.

(And getting someone in the house or him going to a home is out of the question too.)
posted by stormpooper at 7:52 AM on December 6, 2012

He might need you to go set up the microwave and give him a cheat sheet and a lesson or two. He may just be intimidated by it. If he is willing to learn how to use the microwave then you can portion out meals for him - maybe three in the refrigerator and four in the freezer?

I love the mini meatloaf and potato idea. If you add in a single serve microwave veg you've got a whole meal. Good luck.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 7:53 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Good suggestions above, but, also, is there a meals on wheels in the community that could take over a day or two?
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:56 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Would he like quesadillas? A crude version is to get canned refried beans, spread it on one side of a tortilla as you would with peanut butter on a PB&J, sprinkle shredded cheese on it like you might on a pizza, put it under a broiler or in a hot oven for a few minutes, (like, seriously, less than five minutes if you're using a broiler) fold in half and cut into triangles, and serve with sour cream.

Of course, you'd want to get the low-sodium version of all the ingredients. absquatulate mentions sour cream substitutes and fancy whole-wheat tortillas and flatbreads are available (though they are more expensive and taste nowhere near as good as regular flour tortillas, if you ask me.)

It's a real shame that he hasn't been able to relate to the microwave, since steam-in-the-bag frozen vegetables are affordable, quick, and tasty.

I, personally, really like stir-fried dishes based on chopped cabbage. They're amenable to lots of different sauces and flavorings mixed in - peanuts and shredded coconut for a Thai-type dish, wine sauce as BibiRose suggests, fish sauce, tomato-based sauces, really just about anything goes; it can be cooked in a saucepan on the range or even in a microwave, and doesn't really taste much different if overcooked or undercooked; and things like canned chicken chunks or canned whole clams can go pretty well in it, though that would add salt of course.

Cabbage is some sort of freakish immortal fresh vegetable and an unsliced head of cabbage will last well more than a month in my fridge without significant spoiling. I actually wouldn't be surprised if it survived freezing and thawing pretty well though I have never tried that. If he were to cut it up himself rather than you chopping up a bucket of it ahead of time, you could get him one of those plastic knives if safety is an issue with his arthritis (though they're still sharp, of course.)

Another thing: Ramen noodles have tons of sodium as do all soups (even, honestly, the ones labeled as lower-sodium) but my impression has always been that most of the salt is in the broth. You might confirm this with a doctor or nutritionist but I like to make them with only half the packet of seasonings, then drain off all the broth and just eat the noodles to try to avoid too much salt. If any Asian markets are within reach, they often have an entire aisle of dried noodle products in a dizzying array of varieties.

It sounds like a sad situation. He's really lucky to have you to help him out. I hope that things get better for him.
posted by XMLicious at 8:15 AM on December 6, 2012

My Dad (same age, had a quad bypass, eats low-fat and probably low salt too) seems to eat mostly salad and chicken. Would your Dad eat salads? You could pre-portion out some nice mixed salads for him, so he just has to grab a ziploc or a tupperware from the fridge and add dressing and some pre-cooked chicken or whatever meat.

Can you talk to him, and ask him what he doesn't like about the microwave? Try to gauge if he's freaked out by the idea of a new thing that he doesn't understand (and doesn't want to try and learn) or if its some kind of Microwaves Are Evil Radiation! thing. He sounds really depressed, and like he probably doesn't care that much about what he eats or his health :( That means he has no motivation to learn to cook, or even use a microwave. Is there any possibility he could move in with your family?
posted by Joh at 8:28 AM on December 6, 2012

Response by poster: We talked about him moving in. He won't have it. (I think it's because of my DH). For salads, not sure. I can try. For the microwave, its' hard to judge. I don't believe it's a radiation thing at all. I think it may be a technology thing, something new, I have no clue. He isn't a person who expresses feelings or reasoning. I think he just is very old fashioned that a woman takes care of you 100%. This is why I want to feed him w/out being 1950s housewife-style thinking. Because honestly, I am not. I purposely never was into cooking after seeing my mom cook every meal from scratch from 2pm until we ate at 5:30. F that noise. :)
posted by stormpooper at 8:48 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Obviously, your dad isn't going to learn to cook at this stage in his life. So in your shoes, I'd take my cues from what he DOES fix and eat on his own.

Chicken nuggets and shrimp? Unless he's buying fast food, they probably come frozen in a bag. That suggests he's willing to toss fully prepared "something" on a cookie sheet and slip it in the oven for a few minutes. So extend that to frozen single servings of any cooked entree. Cook a little extra when you make a meal for your family. After the meal, toss one or two servings into freezer bags and he can heat it up in the oven at will. If he'll boil water, consider investing in one of those seal-a-bag things so he can do boil-bag heating, too.

Soup? So he's heating liquids stove-top. The canned stuff is obviously too salt-laden, but homemade soups and stews are amazingly easy for you to make, crockpot or stovetop, while you do other things at home. A rotisserie chicken or some leftover roast can be the start and almost anything in your fridge is good to toss in. Just make a big potful, then pack in serving sized, screw-top containers; freeze a few for later and put a few in his fridge for the week. My folks, also in their 80s, eat soups and stews every day of the week as their main meal, with just a half-sandwich or salad to round out their nutrition.

Cookies? If he likes 'em, make sure he has fresh cookies always available. Odds are he can use the calories. If you're not a baker, find one where you can pick up a dozen for him every week.

Second the idea of preparing salads for him, and also make sure he has his favorite sandwich fixings always on hand. A few cold cuts, some sliced cheese, a wedge of lettuce and a loaf of bread are easy to add to your own weekly shopping list. Also keep an eye on his supply of simple staples like mustard, light mayo or other dressings he likes. You can choose the low-sodium versions and he'll use what is on hand.

You don't need to become his replacement housewife, but with a bit of extra planning and shopping and maybe a couple hours of prep work a week, you can make a major difference for him. Good on you for wanting to.
posted by peakcomm at 8:52 AM on December 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Have you considered some sort of assisted living center? It sounds like he really cannot take total care of himself and he'd be better off not having to depend on you for everything. Another possibility would be for him to move into an apartment much closer to you. Or is there any way you could convert some part of your home into a separate space for him, with its own bath and own door to the outside?

Low-sodium canned soups are a good staple. Is he willing to use a plain old toaster? If so, make sure he has a couple of loaves of good bread in the freezer, he can toast a slice or two at a time and eat with peanut butter or some other nut butter. Does he like nuts, especially unsalted nuts? Make sure he has bags of them for snacks. Also put bags of cut up raw vegetables he can eat with a low-salt low-fat dip. And fresh fruit every day. Does he have a double boiler? I'd bet that some of those frozen meals that come in bags to be nuked would heat up just fine in a double boiler, out of the bag of course.

Is there any kind of senior center near him that has day programs? some of them provide transportation to and from, lunch, and activities/classes.
posted by mareli at 9:26 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just wanted to reiterate that canned soups labeled "low sodium"—at least here in my part of the Northeastern U.S.—still have tons of salt in them. Like, one serving (usually just half a cup, which is less than what I would normally eat personally even as a side dish) sometimes still has more sodium than an entire microwaveable TV dinner. So, probably still a bad idea for someone with congestive heart failure.
posted by XMLicious at 9:33 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know you said he won't get a delivered meal plan, but what if the meals were delivered to you then you redelivered them?
posted by postel's law at 10:18 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My dad had similar issues with old-fashioned palate and CHF. He would at least use a microwave, and had a great home health aide who cooked him a hot meal every day.

The rest of the time he would heat up things I made and put in his freezer, or microwave frozen dinners.

Let me suggest making your dad truly low-sodium soup he can reheat in a stovetop pot? As others have said, canned soups are sodium bombs, even "lower sodium" ones. I got pretty good at making a low-sodium analogue to Campbell's Chunky Burger.

Also, one way to get extra calories in for older folks is to have cold cereal with Ensure or Boost rather than milk.

There's a point at which you get to say "no". Don't forget that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:21 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think peakcomm has the best advice for you so far. Figure out what cooking techniques he's ok with, then give him things that use those techniques.

Similar to the individual meatloaf idea, you can also make individual servings of any baked pasta dish, such as lasagna. You'll have to reduce the cheese to limit salt, so you'll probably want to add extra spices. Toss in sturdy veggies like carrots and you've got an all-in-one meal.

When I go out of town, I often leave my husband a version of this recipe from another AskMe -- I chop up the veggies and put them in a small baking dish (I usually toss them lightly in olive oil first) in the fridge and put the chicken in a plastic bag. I tell him to put the chicken in the dish, then put the dish in the oven, THEN turn the oven on (this avoids the cold-dish-in-hot-oven problem) and leave it for about an hour. You'll probably want to goose up the seasonings in this (add a lot of thyme or sage to make up for not having salt).

Fried rice is also easy to make, and you can load it up with veggies. Most recipes include eggs, but if you leave them out, it's easy to reheat in a non-stick skillet on the stove top.

Does he belong to a religious community? If so, someone there would likely be willing to drop off a meal once a week or more. That would take a bit of the pressure off you. My church drops off hot meals for people who are house-bound -- this literally involves knocking on the door, handing over the food, then leaving. Unless invited in to talk or asked for other help, we don't do any more than that, so it's not at all the same as having someone come into the house to cook stuff.
posted by OrangeDisk at 10:28 AM on December 6, 2012

This is totally off the wall, but have there been any older ladies hanging around? We keep hearing stories about long-married men who lose their wives and seem to jump right into another relationship. I know my widowed dad has mentioned several of the church ladies seem to be "sniffing around" as he calls it.

Feel free to be offended and totally disregard this suggestion, but if it worked out, it would solve a lot of your problems.
posted by CathyG at 10:35 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I thought of some more stuff you could make.

Cassaroles, not disgusting glutonous jobbies, but nice ones. Bonus, you can make some for your family too.

Lasagne, loaded with veggies.

Arroz con Pollo-this one is a crock pot version. Just freeze and reheat!


Chicken Ala King


Then there are soups and stews, all of which keep really well.

Supermarkets now carry frozen Stew and Soup veggies, so you don't have all that prep.

1 lb stew meat
1 bag stew veggies
1 can beef broth (low sodum)
red wine (a few glugs) or some Stout/Dark Beer
Garlic powder
Flour to dust meat

Mix flour, pepper and garlic powder together and toss meat to coat. Heat oil in a pan and fry the meat to brown it. Move to cooking vessel (pot or crock pot). Add frozen veggies, broth and wine/stout to cover. Cook until it's stew.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:01 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: 1. assisted living. He won't do it. Too expensive in his mind.

2. moving closer. This was my ideal. He refuses saying "why move where I dont' know anything/anyone". Duh dad, the entire neighborhood is different now and you don't know anyone. At least you won't get shot.

3. little old ladies for relationship. He is very, very antisocial and there is no way. Plus my parents had a very dysfunctional/abusive relationship. I dread anyone getting involved with him. Bad idea.

I've offered to take him to the riverboat, Vegas, Florida, even to his BIL house since he occassionally talks with him on the phone. He refuses. Again, I think some very odd social issue that by now is never going to be fixed. My dad has never, ever had a friend or a hobby. The only one he was social with was his sister, when she died 10 years ago, I saw a dramatic shift in his social willingness. He stopped doing the riverboat with my mom. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, he wouldn't let her drive.

It was a total messed up dynamic in our home. While most would say 'why bother' with him, I separate the pain of the past and just see a totally alone 80 year old man who will more than likely have a fatal cardiac event in the house and I"ll find him the next day when he doens't answer my daily phone calls.

So for now, I live in the precise moment of "well, what can I make him to eat". Our phone calls literally last 5 minutes. And for meal on wheels, he isn't qualified due to income. He can afford anything, he's just frugal.
posted by stormpooper at 12:13 PM on December 6, 2012

Meals on wheels are not the only meal delivery service that could come to your home instead of his.
posted by postel's law at 12:33 PM on December 6, 2012

I actually think the weight of "I know you asked about this thing but have you thought about this other thing instead?" answers here is not that helpful. You can't make your dad evolve or move or accept deliveries or anything else, and it's only been eight months - you pretty much have to meet him where he is right now. If the best thing you can do for him right now is feed him, fair enough, great, fine.

I would do the following:

Buy a deep freezer, for your house. Buy a bunch of handi-foil trays. Buy a freezer marker to write on them. Consider adding a slow cooker to your kitchen.

Plan dinners for 28 days. He can eat the same 7 meals in rotation, trust me, so whatever: chicken stew, meatloaf, Shepherd’s Pie, lasagne, grilled chicken breasts, baked ham, etc. Make sides (mash and one veg) as sides for the chicken, meatloaf, and ham. One day a month, cook all of this at once - one of everything, if not two (it is as fast to make two lasagnes or pies as one.) Portion it out into single meal sizes in one container per meal he can re-heat in the oven. One portion servings are not that big and you may find you actually get five or six weeks out of all this cooking. With the deep freezer, they will keep and store easily.

When you go over there each week, bring him seven days of dinners - six frozen one thawed. Stop at the grocery store and buy him seven days of lunches. He can pull them from his own freezer one at a time to reheat. Write the temperature and time on the top of each one. Will he heat soup on the stove? Can he make toast? You can buy him two packs of ham and two packs of turkey and he can freeze one of each, taking them out of the fridge on Wednesday. Same with bread if you're going to toast it. They'll be thawed the next day.

For breakfast you can make or buy him muffins (which freeze and thaw well) or he can eat cereal but he'll need milk more than once a week. Can he go out at all? Will he accept grocery deliveries from anyone other than you?

Basically, I think this is very doable if you cook things in advance and the only thing he needs to do is reheat in the oven. For what it's worth, the internet is FILLED with mothers of 17 children who LOVE to talk about bulk buying and cooking and there is nobody who knows more about freezing and reheating then these women. Google "bulk cooking" pick and resulting forum and meet your new best friends.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:01 PM on December 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

My 84 year old FIL had CHF and he was a widower and he also had progressive dementia caused by his condition. He was very set in his ways, but one night, after yet another ER visit, my husband simply brought him home and he didn't protest. So there may be a point in time where you cannot leave him on his own, regardless of his wishes. For instance, he was very resistant to things like us getting him new shoes, even though his shoes were so worn that the flapping edges were causing him to trip. We had to take over at a point and just do it. That is what you are looking at down the road (has he been screened for dementia?). One reason my FIL didn't want new things was because he knew his memory was going, so he would try to hide it. It could be an aspect of dementia so please take that into consideration before you write him off as old and cranky.

That said, you can make a great healthy meat loaf using ground turkey instead of ground beef. I add onion, garlic, shredded carrot, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce, which is surprisingly low in sodium, along with maybe some dried thyme. An egg and some plain bread crumbs. Cover the top with tomato paste. I would bake it first, then slice into individual portions into foil pans with some veg (dividing up some frozen bags), along with instructions on how to heat.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:40 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are you near any meal-prep places where you could go to batch-cook for him, so that all he has to do is re-heat?

I feel for you. My FIL has been in a similar situation for the past year, and what DarlingBri has laid out for you there perfectly is what we had been doing mostly with Supperworks meals; and every time I made my family dinner, I'd freeze a portion or two for him. My SILs did the same.

Your Dad's down with, and down to, living a simple life. peakcomm has it too - you have to work with what he will do, not what he should or could do.

I will say - if the microwave has a simple set-up, he might learn to love it. The only button my FIL uses on his is the "pizza" button. He'll hit it to heat what he wants to the right temperature in multiple three minute increments - but he can do that much. Set it up for him, show him one thing, and he might surprise you.
posted by peagood at 9:16 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

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