(41) Are You Cookin’? Part I – Cooking for your veteran

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


This is another two-part blog. Part I is about cooking for your veteran with consideration for his/her special needs. Part II, which will run in Friday’s Molly blog, is about cooking for your service dog with consideration for his/her foodie appetite.

Caring for a disabled veteran requires adjustments for both the veteran and the family caregiver. In the case of Vietnam veterans, many combat veterans risked exposure in the bush from Agent Orange—a chemical dropped by the US to kill foliage (especially along the rivers) to destroy the hiding places of the enemy. Unfortunately, for those American soldiers and Marines, who came in contact with Agent Orange, disease befell many. Consequently, many diseases are presumed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange, including Diabetes.

Approximately 25 percent of all veterans being served by the VA are diabetic. The VA estimates that another 25 percent of veterans have diabetes but do not know it. Diabetes requires a diet different from what many non-diabetic people eat. The diabetic diet requires replacing foods high in carbohydrates with vegetables, whole grains, and foods high in fiber and protein. Foods must be lower in fat. Finally, meals should not exceed 35 mg of carbohydrates. Nutritionists describe a serving as the size of a fist.

November is American Diabetes Month

My husband and I became emotional eaters somewhere along the way. We used food to calm nerves and help us cope—William with PTSD and Penny with a high-pressure career. His diagnosis of diabetes at 63 meant I needed to find a new way to cook.

On top of diabetes, my husband experiences mega food allergies that prohibit eating some of the best chocolate sundaes one could imagine. Taking Warfarin for blood clots, dark green vegetables (unless consumed in the same amount daily) and some fruits top the prohibited list.

How do you meet the special dietary needs of your disabled veteran?


The internet provides a bottomless pit of recipe information for diabetic recipes. Because American obesity rages on, big box retailers and bookstores carry innumerable cookbooks, with nutrition information. I purchased the Better Homes and Gardens (BHG) and Betty Crocker diabetic cookbooks when my husband received his diabetic diagnosis. They offer tips for preparing food and information about the disease.

Yesterday we purchased the Better Homes and Gardens Diabetic Recipes for 2014. For $10, I now have 165 new recipes that are diabetic friendly. As a new magazine, Diabetic Living from BHG offers a two-year subscription of quarterly recipes and health tips for $16 (plus shipping).

Creativity in Cooking

To feed my hubby meals he likes, my creativity kicked into high gear. Occasionally, I bake him diabetic cookies, substituting the chocolate with premium white chocolate morsels (make sure they do not contain cocoa powder if allergic to chocolate). Adding craisins sweetens any cookie or bread recipe and satisfies the sweet tooth.

Kelly Cooper wrote a book titled, Cookies for Grown-Ups. While it does not include nutritional information, the cookies are made with Habanero peppers, salami, eggplant, olives, and other additions that are designed to cut the carbohydrates and satisfy the sweet tooth without eating a lot of them (because they are so flavorful). Cookies freeze easily. Wrap two or three cookies in plastic wrap for portion control.

We use salt-free seasoning in soups to avoid the high sodium in canned soups. Freezing leftover broth allows the addition of low-calorie taste to rice, quinoa, and gravy.

Resources for You

For the family caregiver, cooking for the disabled veteran reaches the overwhelming level quickly. Make the transition slowly so you and your veteran adapt to the new foods.

Plenty of help exists from a VA nutritionist, to cookbooks, to the internet. Local resources through our city, county or nonprofit may serve your neighborhood several days a week to give you a break and offer your veteran a change of taste. Goggle “Meals on Wheels” to find if the organization serves your area. Your local church may provide a similar free service.

The VA conducts a program called “Move” that is designed to help veterans lose weight and reach a healthy lifestyle. It is tailored to each participant.

If you work another job in addition to your role as caregiver, consider preparing several meals at a time and freezing for later. Several websites offer recipes to make ahead and freeze in a gallon bag for the crock pot. Just thaw and drop in the pot on your way to work. My daughter-in-law got me hooked on Six Sisters’ slow cooker freezer meals.  Diabetic recipe books include slow cooker meals. Combining those recipes with a crock-pot liner, cooking and clean up make the adjustment a snap. My hubby likes the crock-pot meals because all he needs to do is scoop the food and eat, offering more independence than waiting for me to get home and cook for him.

Some grocery stores will deliver to your door, although typically not in rural areas. The service is helpful and the cost is affordable. Try your local grocer on-line to see if delivery service is available.

Molly Loves the Diabetic Diet

In an earlier blog, I talked about our foodie service dog, Molly. She loves eating what we eat but her veterinarian warned us that eating human food adds pounds quickly, which is not healthy. We overhear the veterinarian warn other dog owners that their dogs are obese, likely from either too many treats or eating human food. We are limiting her consumption of both so she’s always hungry.

I cook and bake with unsalted butter. We buy the one-pound blocks. If left anywhere on the counter, she’ll nab it and lick it. Lately she’s taken to licking it on the counter so I can’t tell she’s been into it but when I get ready to bake I’ll see holes from her claws or a tongue depression in the middle. Sounds desperate to me! The lessons learned are never leave food on the counter—especially unsalted butter and NEVER cook with butter that has been drooled on by a dog.

God Bless the Caregiver

May God bless the family caregiver! He knows that our roles challenge us and stretch our patience. He always makes sure we have the resources we need to be successful in caring for our warriors, who fought to keep us safe and free.

Stay tuned for Part II: Are You Cookin’?:

Baking for your service dog . . . on Friday

Post your Comments:

What tips do you have for cooking for your veteran? Do you have a favorite diabetic cookbook you like to use? Please comment below. 

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.