The day you or your loved one is discharged from the hospital, you’ll want healthy things at home for both of you to eat. For the patient, it’ll be a huge relief having choices beyond hospital food, so you’ll want to have some healthy snack foods on hand, along with meal choices you and they will enjoy, to get off to a good start.
One of the ways you can prepare for the heart healthy part of this new, integrated lifestyle is to stock up on seasonings that are salt free. Pepper, and some combination of Mrs. Dash’s 14 different blends, will become your new best friends. You’ll also find that lemon (or lime, or other citrus) juice is a great flavor alternative, and balsamic vinegar will be a lifesaver. If you love Cajun food, try salt-free Cajun seasoning.
Look for a variety of salt free seasonings and seasoning packets. You will want to have plenty of options on hand so you can try different tastes. This will also help distract you (or the patient) from the impact of a reduced salt lifestyle.
For salt-free seasonings, here are some suggested options to look for:
- Benson’s Table Tasty: this is a delicious blend that actually tastes salty without the use of sodium or potassium chloride. If you buy only one new seasoning, we recommend this. See Products we love for more information.
- Mrs. Dash: as many flavors and seasoning packets as you can find. Some will be in your local grocery store. You can learn what flavors are available, but to order online, visit the My Brands website.
- Penzeys: offers seasonings of all kinds, including many salt-free. Penzeys publishes a list of all of their salt-free seasonings (check www.penzeys.com for a local store, or order on their website)
- Specialty vinegars: aged balsamic vinegar is another new best friend you’ll want to make. A good olive oil and vinegar store will offer both products in a wide variety of flavors, and often allow you to taste before you buy. Some vinegars are so mild, they almost don’t even taste like vinegar, so don’t be discouraged if you normally don’t like vinegar flavors (look locally or online for specialty olive oil stores; many sell special vinegars too);
A note about salt substitutes: Potassium chloride is a main ingredient in some salt substitutes. It doesn’t taste exactly like salt, but might offer some relief from the blandness of no seasoning at all. Some people like it, while others find the aftertaste bitter. Check with your doctor before using a product containing potassium chloride, because some patients are instructed to avoid potassium chloride altogether.
Here are some other pantry staples you might want to have available:
Olive oil: for everyday cooking, light tasting olive oil is affordable and easy to find in most grocery stores. This can be a very satisfying substitute for some of the saturated fats you need to avoid. Olive oil specialty stores offer a wide variety; some are infused with other ingredients, such as basil, cayenne pepper, chipotle, citrus juices and many other flavors. Even without infused ingredients, there is a wide range of olive oil tastes, from very light to heavier.
Avocado oil: this is also a healthy and delicious oil. It is a little pricier than some olive oils, but it has the advantage of having a very high smoke point. Searing is one of many strategies for bringing out the flavor of foods without adding salt, but you will need an oil that can get very hot without smoking.
For more information comparing the pros and cons of butter versus margarine, see our Resources page. You might want to switch from salted butter, if you use it, to unsalted butter or to a butter substitute that is free of trans fats, but there are trade-offs to consider.
Fresh and frozen foods
Fresh vegetables: you will want to be ready to make a wide variety of your (or your patient’s) favorite vegetables. This will be a weekly task, because some keep for only a few days, but there are others that keep reliably for weeks (assuming they are fresh when you get them).
Fresh or frozen chicken, fish and turkey: for upcoming meals and weekly planning, you’ll probably want to have a week or more supply of poultry and fish on hand. Chicken has an endless variety of possibilities. Consider trying out several methods to find your favorites. If you alternate between chicken cooking styles, turkey, and whatever types of fresh fish you enjoy, it won’t feel like they’re getting the same thing every night.
Snack alternatives: another key to success will be having some snack foods on hand that will not sabotage your new eating plan. For diabetic patients with a sweet tooth, fruits are the first line of defense. For salty snacks, look for the lowest sodium versions. For example, instead of serving potato chips and dip, try low-sodium tortilla chips with a no-salt salsa or Pico de Gallo. Low sodium cheese, like mozzarella might also be handy in a pinch.
If you have the luxury of adding to your supply of kitchen equipment, you might find it helpful to be sure you have a steamer, at least a couple of good, sharp knives (for trimming and cutting vegetables), a good vegetable peeler, and a scrub brush. You might also find an immersion blender helpful (for soups), and an Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker) might be your next priorities, since these contribute significantly to making great soup, and a slow cooker is a big help for certain foods that benefit from long, gentle cooking, like turkey.