Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cheap, Healthy, Sick: 10 Easy, Nutritious Foods for When You’ve Contracted the Plague

Picture it. You’re curled into a fetal position on your living room couch, inhaling ibuprofen, mainlining cough syrup, and praying for something – ANYTHING – to dissolve the sticky ball of evil living in your sinuses. You’re vaguely aware the TV is on, and somewhere in the distance, Drew Carey hands a Plinko chip to a lovely librarian from northwest Wyoming. Alas, you never discover where it falls, because you’ve been addled by a hacking fit so violent, your lungs nearly come out your nose. The last time you took your temperature, it was either 103 or 301. You don’t know, because there’s a distinct possibility your fever is SO high, you are now dyslexic.

Does this sound familiar? If so, you, like millions of Americans, have experienced a sick day. They’re not fun. And when you’re suffering through one, the last thing you want to worry about is food. Because really, you’ll cram anything down the red, raw tube posing as your throat, as long as involves zero effort.

So, sickies – here you go. Ten modest meals that require negligible thought, very little money, and no extra stressing about calories and such. Oh - and if you have any suggestions, add ‘em on in the comment section. I’d love to know: what’s your favorite sick food?

(Disclaimer: I’m not a physician, and none of this should be taken as expert medical advice.)

10. Heat-and-eat dinners. While I try to avoid microwave cookery as much as possible, there’s something to be said for a square meal prepared in four minutes. Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, and Amy’s Foods tend to have better-for-you selections, and sales pop up frequently in my local supermarkets. Just be sure to check the sodium levels – one of these babies can plug you with enough salt to feed a herd of deer.

9. Mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, oatmeal or any easy-make starches. When you’re sick, tea and toast isn’t always the answer. Sometimes (like when you decide to go to work anyway), you need a few calories to keep you going. Stuff like spaghetti or potatoes are easily prepared, and can be as bland or mushy as you want, depending on your specific ailment (upset stomach, toothache, etc.).

8. Tea. Speaking of tea and toast - yeah, you knew this was coming. Still, the temporary healing powers of hot liquids should never be overlooked. For fun and variety, try adding ginger, lemon, or that glorious liquid gold, honey.

7. Smoothies. Do you have yogurt? How about fruit? And a little bit of sugar? Excellent. Pop those suckers in a blender and go to town. Inside of two minutes, you’ll have a healthy, delicious shake that with any luck, you’ll be able to taste. (Damn those headcolds!) There’re a slew of recipes online, and lots can be made with frozen fruit – a cheaper alternative to fresh produce come wintertime.

6. Eggs. Ahhh, the incredible, edible, cooked-in-60-seconds-dible egg. Easy on the wallet and infinitely adaptable, it’s the perfect comfort food when you’ve been confined to the house. For something a bit more filling, pair ‘em with English muffins, cheese, or …

5. Steamed, roasted, pureed, or fresh vegetables. “What? You want me to get out of bed, slosh downstairs, and steam/roast/puree a vegetable in my delicate state? You’re out of your diseased little mind.” Wait! Before you dismiss fresh produce, consider: ounce per ounce, they contain more vitamins, minerals, and immune-boosting elements than ANY OTHER FOOD. Many can be made palatable in under ten minutes, and even the ones that can’t (roasted squash, etc.) can generally be popped in an oven and left alone for an hour while you attend to your meds. To quote a Scottish lass I once met, “THAY-INK AH-BOOT EET.”

4. Simple sandwiches. There are few sick foods as soothing as the sandwiches you ate in elementary school. Whether you prefer PB&J, grilled cheese, ham and swiss, or hummus and vegetables, they’ll do wonders for your brain, and sate your stomach for time being.

3. Fruit. Nutritious as all get out, cheaper than dirt, and no assembly required. ‘Nuff said.

2. Soup. If it’s hot and eaten with a spoon, odds are it’ll do your body good. And while chicken noodle soup is the end-all be-all (no arguments!), there are about a billion other varieties, homemade (extra credit) and canned (if necessary), that will substitute very nicely.

1. Takeout. Look, you’re sick. If you really want veggie dumplings, no one’s going to judge you. And this handy guide should provide a few good suggestions.

Readers, how about you? What quick, but relatively healthy meals do you down when you’re out of order?


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Alicia said...

Vietnamese Pho. Brothy, meaty (or veggie), noodley, some veggie, salty, and you can make it SPICY to clear out your head! And it's cheap, too.

Calidaho said...

What is it about mashed taters? I was very, extremely anemic several years ago (hospital stay and two weeks off work anemic) and I craved mashed taters.

I particularly like Spaghettios when I am sick. Partly because it reminds me of my grandma and partly because I really do like them but have to find an excuse to eat them.

Emily said...

It sounds weird but toasted banana sandwiches always make me feel better when I'm icky but with my latest, going-on 5 weeks pneumonia I've been loving minestrone - fry up some onions, garlic and spicy sausages then add basil and green vegetables (I'm loving kale or spinach) then add two large tins of chopped tomatoes and a couple of handfuls of pasta (I love large macaroni). Yummy and quick!

Money Maus said...

I love me some (canned) tomato soup & grilled cheese... and all the tea I can drink! (Which is what I did all of Sunday/Monday in trying to get over my head cold/congestion.)

Love this list!

Rebecca said...

I exist on broth and noodles when I'm sick. I'll cut up whatever quick-cooking vegetables I have in my fridge (mushrooms, green onions, radishes, shredded carrot, cucumber -- you name it) and put them in the hot broth with soba noodles.

For those days when you're just really cold and miserable, try hot chocolate (as in real chocolate melted in simmering milk; soy or otherwise). If you like it spicy, add cayenne, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Monroe on a budget said...

My favorite "sick day" tonic is half orange juice / half 7-Up (diet pop acceptable).

Amanda said...

Ditto on the Pho.

And don't forget jello! Super fast to throw together, even toss in some fruit for extra nutrition (heck, some shredded carrot is good in there, too) and it's one of my favorite sicktime snacks.

Warm apple cider or lemonade, too. With or without mixing with hot tea. Yummy. Soothing.

Cold ginger ale. Candied ginger. Anything ginger.

Thanks for a clever and amusing post. I had no idea what that Scottish Lass even was, but it made me laugh!

Juliana said...

Greek Lemon Rice soup is the best thing for a cold- full of deliciousness, vitamin C and can also be vegetarian- simply omit the chicken. It's what i crave when ever I'm sick. (plus it's super simple to make!)

Anonymous said...

Think of Vietnamese pho or Japanese ramen but replace the noodles with plenty of spinach.. very comforting..

In Singapore there is a local eating place that sells this dish called Boon Tong Kee. They add assorted of eggs (century egg and salted duck egg).

Scotts Singapore