Sorta MRE - ideas

bbstxJune 20, 2014

I have a good friend who will be hospitalized in a distant city for the next 3 - 4 months. She has leukemia and is undergoing the treatments necessary for a bone marrow transplant, and then will be having the bone marrow transplant. While she is in the hospital, her husband will be in a nearby apartment. Although I am fortunate to have never been in such a extreme situation, on the occasions when my husband has been hospitalized, I often find it difficult to eat. By the time I leave the hospital, I'm exhausted, and in the mornings, I'm in a hurry to get there.

I would like to send a care package to my friend's husband containing easy to prepare food. I'm sure he will be exhausted when he gets to the apartment and will not have the mental or physical energy to prepare any thing complicated.

I've thought of sending homemade energy bars like these or something more cookie-like that might serve as a grab-and-go breakfast.

Not everything has to be homemade. I'm game to consider anything that would be good, quick, and easy. (This is food for a man who is needing sustenance. He's not looking for a gourmet experience.) Because I do not buy a lot of prepared food, there may be things out there that are fairly good but of which I'm unaware.

I'm looking for all kinds of suggestions.

P.S. for those of you who may wonder about the title, MRE is military-ese for Meals Ready to Eat.

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I'd suggest calling the hospital where your friend will be staying and if they have a cafeteria open to the public, get him a gift certificate to it. He could get a meal to eat with his wife while visiting or grab one on his way back to his apartment.

He could probably do that anyway but the GC might nudge him into eating so it doesn't go to waste.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 5:35PM
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I think the hardest thing in that kind of situation is getting enough fruits and vegetables. Too many sandwiches, not enough fresh. Besides the hospital cafeteria, maybe you can find out (the nurses probably know) if there's a good place nearby where he can get hearty salads and soups that he can take away, maybe set up an account for him there. Perhaps you can also send him some better quality soups and dried or dehydrated fruit and veg.

The bars are a good idea. There are all kinds of ways of sneaking nutrition in. Whey powder for protein, as well as black beans (high protein beans) which also retain moisture and a good mouth feel. The ones you linked are more about the sugar. There are lots of protein bar recipes if you do a search. You can also use reduced juiced kale and other vegetables for your liquid to add some nutrients. Too many nuts aren't a great idea for someone who is stressed and eating irregularly, especially if he's over 40. Nuts can be very binding. Use a few for flavor and texture, as you would in a brownie, rather than as the main substance.

You could also make up little kits from canned products. Like a personal sized, pull top can of tuna, a packet of mayonnaise, and a baggie of dried blueberries and almond slivers, measured seasoning and herbs, with wrapped crackers. Or a can of refried beans (low fat, low salt), a small jar of very chunky salsa (not fresh vegetables, but at least something that looks like it), and a bag of salt free chips. Give him a picnic salt and pepper set (the cardboard ones they sell at the market), but stress and salt are bad together, and with a lot of "out" food and cans he's going to be getting too much sodium, so it's worth trying to help.

Most of the things I know to do don't travel in the mail very well. You might also see if there's a volunteer auxiliary at the hospital or in the community. You might be able to contract with one or two of the volunteers to make fresh meals for him a few times per week.

Best of luck with it and all good thoughts to your friends for good outcomes and speedy recovery.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 6:31PM
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For reasonably healthy, sort of edible meals that are ready in a few minutes with no cooking skill or interest, I'd go with a freezer full of Lean Cuisine meals. Rather high in sodium, but absent a medical condition, that should be tolerable for the period involved.

Alternatively, I like the idea of credit at the hospital cafeteria.

I can't think of anything I could make at home, then mail to a distant friend, that would be suitable as the main daily meal for months. Eating energy bars stops being fun after 48 hours.

How about a case of Soylent? Not in jest. This is exactly the situation this product is meant for: minimal fuss meal replacement for when he doesn't want to sit in the hospital cafeteria. He'll probably lose some weight. The only cautionary thing I've read is some, um, gas in the first few days.

This post was edited by johnliu on Fri, Jun 20, 14 at 20:56

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 8:52PM
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OMG! I never heard of Soylent, other than, "It's people!!" I'm not sure open source nutrition replacement drinks created by software engineers are any more appetizing than the fictional subsistence food it's named after, but there is something appealing about the you-can-make-this-at-home-ness of it, providing you can find the ingredients somewhere besides a commercial supply house.

I have to agree with John that Lean Cuisine is fairly acceptable subsistence food if one has no kitchen, but it's also a trope in the movies for sad, lonely people, and perhaps something cheerier is in order?

Edit: Y'know... I get it that you want to send a care package, and all these suggestions for how to send money instead must be frustrating, but I just thought of something. In some cities there are companies that cater meals daily. Some do it for reducing diets, and others do it for people who are working wild hours or otherwise can't cook. The usual schtick is three meals and two snacks delivered in a cooler bag before dawn with instructions for heating. Put the bag out at night for pickup when they drop off tomorrow's. If that's not available where your friend is, they also have them that are sent anywhere a couple of times a week by FedEx. Do a search on daily food delivery and you'll find a number of these companies.

This post was edited by plllog on Fri, Jun 20, 14 at 21:24

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 9:11PM
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    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 9:27PM
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My food co-op sells these and I've bought a few of them. They are from France and are quite tasty - can be eaten without heating and even include a little spork type thing on the pop open lid to eat on the run. Look below this one on amazon to see more varieties. The one I have in my cupboard is Whole Grains with Beans and has 300 mg of sodium. The first ingredients are wheat, carrots, corn and kidney beans.

The only downside is that they can't be microwaved in the can, so if you decide to buy some, I'd get some kind of containers to include that he can heat in the micro, either glass or cups that he'd have to wash or maybe microwaveable disposable paper bowls (I won't micro in plastic).

Here is a link that might be useful: French Bistro Gourmet to Go

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 9:34PM
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John, you are a dear and always a good source of information, but I simply cannot get past "Soylent" knowing the background of the name.

plllog, I would love to find a service like you describe, but maybe scaled back to twice a week. So far, all I can find are diet plans.

olychick, my friend's husband will be in an apartment and have access to a furnished kitchen of some sort. I'm sure it will be basic. Your link may be just the ticket.

What I would really like to do is cook up some casseroles and freeze them in small portions for him. But that isn't practical because of the distance.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 10:43PM
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You know, you could freeze meal-sized portions, pack them in one of those sturdy foam boxes used for shipping frozen seafood, and send it express.

Is all that trouble going to be worthwhile? Some men just won't lift a finger to eat a healthy meal. SWMBO spent weeks cooking and freezing meals for her uncle and mother, drove the meals up to Yakima, then on her next visit found those meals untouched. They kept eating canned and instant foods. Just too much trouble to thaw and heat a meal. If your friend is like that, he may get takeout fast food instead of any healthy option you provide.

Plllog, here is the prior thread on Soylent. Weird as it is, I suspect it's better than a steady diet of fast food and takeout, which is what its intended audience would otherwise resort to . . .

Here is a link that might be useful: Thread on Soylent

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 10:57PM
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John, I totally understand what SWMBO encountered. For a while, my husband and I worked in cities 6 hours apart. When I was home, I would spend the weekend cooking and freezing dishes I knew he liked. The next time I was home, those same dishes would still be in the freezer. It was frustrating. DH would rather eat ramen noodles or PB&J, than spend 30 minutes cooking.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 11:15PM
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About hospitals.... There are "coffee shops" aimed at casual visitors, and then there are the employee-oriented cafeterias. Aim for the cafeteria for real food, and it's usually a really healthy array of good food.

And most hospitals can also fix a tray at regular mealtimes for family members, if they are there to order it. Just ask the nurses.

For you friend's husband, what about ignoring the idea of meals and send a care package of great cookies or fudge or banana bread that he can take to the nurses' station and share? It will be appreciated, I know!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 12:13AM
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I also think that meals are going to be impossible to arrange/ship/store.

Personally, I think the energy bars are a good idea, as well as some nutritious snacks. I like the idea of small packages of ready to eat items, like cans or pouches of tuna or sardines and crackers, nuts, string cheese, individual packets of peanut butter with crackers, dried fruits and trail mix, etc.

Sometimes it really does take too much energy to even think about preparing the simplest of meals. Those are times a handful of peanuts, some cheese and crackers, a tin of sardines, comes in handy.

In addition, even if he eats meals at the hospital cafeteria, or dinner with his wife, when he goes back to that apartment he might just want to sit and have a snack. Some homemade cookies or energy bars or granola could be welcome.

Just knowing that you are thinking about him will be nice, so when he hauls out that energy bar, he'll know someone is trying to help and is thinking about them.

Camping stores like Cabela's and Gander Mountain do actually sell a type of MRE, although I've never had the nerve to actually try one....


    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 12:31AM
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Thanks, John, for the link. I missed that one...

Bbstx, A lot of the fresh delivery services are advertised for people on diets because that's a big money maker, but they have options for people who just want to be fed. If you're interested in that kind of thing, it's best to look for one in the city he's in. A lot of them will ship nationally, but you're not getting fresh prepared at that rate, and it's comparable to the uneaten freezer dishes. The fresh delivery meals are actual meals, sometimes organic, packed in plastic catering containers. Some might be better zapped, but they could also be eaten straight out of the box if he has a tolerance for cold leftovers. :) The only effort is bringing in the bag, putting the food in the fridge, zapping, eating, and putting the bag outside. That might still be too much, but it's the least effort for the best nutrition I can think of.

Annie's idea of camping food was also good. There are a lot of products meant for backpacking that you just pour boiling water into. They're they opposite of fresh, but some have good nutritional balance. Olychick's French tins look more like actual food than anything I've seen in a can before! I just keep wanting to feed the poor man broccoli...

I don't have any experience of this kind of situation, and only of one hospital. The food there is pretty good, but very limited. They have whole fruit and other healthy snacks, some junk food, and a stand around waiting for it food service. Even when I've been there with no anxiety and no stress, it hasn't seemed worth the bother, usually, and while the hot food is well prepared, and not particularly bad for you, it is basic food service stuff: pasta, burgers, etc. That's why I keep thinking about the nutritional value. He's got to keep up his health to be strong for her.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 4:01AM
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Pot stickers are not difficult to make. You can put any delicious and healthy filling inside.

Pre-cooked ones can be frozen, and microwaved in a couple of minutes.

H-Mart, a Korean store here has more than 10 varieties that you can buy.

In a time like this, good interesting food can be a nice distraction.


    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 7:41AM
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What hospital is she going to? I ask because in Seattle there is a very large bone marrow transplant program and people travel there from around the world. If that is where she is going, some of us might be able to make better suggestions about choices for him. Plus, Seattle is a foody town and even the hospital food reflects that...he'll have lots of good choices nearby.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 12:08PM
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She is in St. Louis. Her oncologist said St. Louis and Seattle had the best programs for her.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 3:55PM
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I'm not trying to flog a dead horse, just providing information, in case you and some friends want to club together to provide some fresh meals:

  • Cassie, private chef
  • Metabolic Meals is a St. Louis company that does gluten free and seems to have quality ingredients. They have maintenance and performance plans, as well as weight loss, and might be able to customize an anit-stress plan for your friend. He can add bread if he misses it. :)
  • Feed Your Vitality has some reasonable looking food on their Paleo/Anti-inflammatory plan. They don't have a great website, but they do have some frozen options, and moderate prices.

Of course, I haven't experienced these foods, but they seem like well prepared, nutritious meals, even if they conform to less common eating styles. If I were in that situation, I think I'd like one of these services. There are also some that ship nationally, but I think that would be too much trouble for your friend to deal with receiving the boxes, etc.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 5:04PM
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p, You are not flogging a dead horse. I appreciate your investigative work. Thanks for the leads.

I had tried Google and Yelp with little success.

I had found Metabolic Meals and their prices seemed reasonable (breakfast and dinner for 5 days was $160). The only menu I could access online seemed a bit grain-heavy. While quinoa might be good for you, my friend's husband would rather have roast and mashed potatoes.

Casie, the private chef, might be my best bet. I'll give her a call on Monday and explain the situation and see what she has to say.

It is breaking my heart that these dear people are having to go through such tribulations. She is being well cared for in the hospital, so I've focused my attention helping care for him. It is a challenge when you are not nearby.

And, thanks to those of you who reminded me of cookies. Friend's husband is a chocolate chip fan. I can do that!
I've now got ideas for care package ingredients and a lead for delivered meals.

olychick, the French Gourmet to go meals looked interesting. Are they tiny? I noticed the salmon "meal" is only 105 calories and 6 oz.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 8:01PM
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bbstx, the French Gourmet are small. More of a lunch size to be supplemented maybe with added salad & fruit. But they are nutritious and tasty enough. Not filled with junk that you find in lots of frozen meals. Decently low in sodium. So, if he's a big eater (I'm thinking he may not have a huge appetite) and doesn't get most of his main meals at the hospital or nearby restaurants, he may want to eat 2 of them for dinner. Wash it all down with cookies! Or they may be the perfect size for a little something when he comes home and doesn't just want snack food.

What a dear friend you are to them both.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 11:22PM
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