Being part of the "Sandwich Generation"

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How to balance eating when you are part of the “Sandwich Generation” This will be the last in a series about nutrition challenges at different stages of life. I am ending with the stage of life I am in.  My current nutrition challenge is that I am a member of the sandwich generation.  The sandwich generation can be defined as adults between the ages of 35-59 that are caring for both young children and aging parents.  How does this affect my nutrition?  Well, I have recently started to make more 3 hour trips to my parents, which means that I am not home as much to do the food prep and cooking. Also, I am on the road a lot and do not eat the best because I have not thought ahead to pack something because I was busy preparing for my time away. Some of this has left me disappointed in myself and feeling guilty if I do not always have the perfect homemade foods for my family.  I have been trying to implement a few practices in my life to balance my health and nutrition while I tackle this stage of my life and I would like to share them with you.

Give myself a break. If I have just come back from a 3 hour drive and the kids need help with their homework or shuttled to an activity I am not going to beat myself up over not having a home-cooked meal for them. I would rather focus on spending time with them.  If they can help make a meal, that is great, but if they have homework I would rather devote time to that.  Some of the convenience items I may use on nights like this include:

  • Frozen ravioli or tortellini with pasta sauce from a jar served with fruits and vegetables.
  • Utilizing quick prepare rice that you can find either in the freezer aisle or the grocery shelf as a base for a quick stir fry or topped with an Indian Sauce (Aldi makes a great Tikka Marsala sauce that I will simmer canned chickpeas in to serve over rice).
  • Scrambled eggs (with additions like chopped veggies and cheese), toast, and fruit.
  • Boxed macaroni and cheese with some vegetables added and served with fruit. Yes, I use boxed mac and cheese as a quick meal because my son can start dinner for me more easily if needed.
  • Choosing a restaurant to eat as a family. The reason for this is sometimes it is the best way to spend time with the family and the kids can get homework done while we wait for the food. Plus, after a long drive I am not always in the mood to cook.

Be active. I know the recommendation is at least 30 minutes a day, but if I can get 20 minutes in that is better than nothing. I like to get activity in the following ways: taking the stairs rather than the elevator, parking your car farther away from a store on purpose, finding an exercise videos on-line, taking a walk, or playing outside with the kids.  This can be a stressful time of life and exercise is a very healthy way to manage stress.

Drink plenty of water.  I always keep a glass of water or water bottle handy to sip throughout the day.  Would suggest that you stay away from fluids containing caffeine later in the day (coffee, tea, or soda) so it does not interfere with your sleep.

Plan ahead. This does not mean I plan out what we are eating weeks in advance. I have found that my best strategy is to make sure I have items to make about 3 meals per week for dinner and then the rest of the time the family can have left overs.  I also make sure that there are fruits and vegetables ready to eat.  This is great for the kids to grab and encourages me to grab something healthy too.  Also, when I am traveling to my parents I try to pack some healthy snacks I can eat on the run as well as plan what meals I will make for my parents when I am with them.  Depending upon the challenges your loved ones face, meal prep may be difficult and having some kind of plan for when you visit will help everyone stay healthy.  If I am staying at my parents for a few days I will check with my parents to find out what food they have at home that needs to be used up and start planning a grocery list of foods to prepare for them while I am there.  This allows me and my parents to eat well.

I hope some of you that may also be in this stage of life have found this helpful. I wish all of you the freedom to feel the balance in your life.