At some stage, all of us will take care of a loved one who is convalescing. I’ve had the privilege of caring for both of my parents up until they passed away. I truly treasure those times and I’m ever grateful that I got the opportunity to return a little of the care that was always given so lovingly to me.

Having once worked as a nurse, I’m now a food columnist and author. While it may seem like I’ve veered on a completely different track, my training and work as a nurse has greatly influenced how I cook for my family, and, in turn, how I develop my recipes.

For anyone convalescing from an illness, it’s paramount that their daily intake of food aids in the building of their strength. Chicken, turkey, eggs, cheese and nuts all boast a high protein content, while foods rich in calcium, vitamin C, D and K, such as dairy products and spinach, are also advisable.

In the early days, if your loved one is not yet ready for the introduction of solids, or is unable to tolerate meals, encourage plenty of fluids and slowly introduce freshly-juiced oranges, or an easily-digestible soup, such as a light chicken broth.

The dishes don’t need to be complicated, a simple serving of scrambled eggs on toast would present well anytime of the day.

My recipes are family-friendly and never complicated. I hope they’ll be as pleasing to your family as they are to mine.

  • • Nessa Robins grew up on a farm in Moate, Co Westmeath, where she lives with her husband Diarmuid and their four children. Her first cookbook, Apron Strings: Recipes From A Family Kitchen is published by New Island, RRP €22.99.
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    Chicken Noodle Soup

    Serves four

    My dad spent much of his final two years in and out of hospital. While I would cook meals that would be nutrient-specific for his needs, it was essential that whatever was in the pot would be eaten by the rest of the family, especially my children.

    This chicken noodle soup is nutritious and tasty, while also being relatively plain in flavour and easy to digest. Once topped with chillies, scallions, basil leaves and an extra splash of soy sauce, it’s transformed into a flavoursome dish that my spice-loving boys adore.

    A great benefit to making the broth or stock is the delicious, moist chicken that, when cooled, will pair perfectly with a salad for tea or for sandwiches the next day. This actual recipe serves four, but the possibilities for leftovers leave many more fed.


    Chicken broth/stock

    1 medium free-range chicken

    3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

    2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped

    1 onion, peeled and cut into large chunks

    5 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole

    10 peppercorns

    1 tsp salt

    3 sprigs of thyme and 3 sprigs of parsley, tied together with strings

    Chicken noodle soup

    25g butter

    2 carrots, finely diced

    1 onion, finely diced

    1 stick of celery, finely diced

    Freshly-ground pepper

    900ml chicken broth/stock

    Small knob ginger, peeled and grated

    75g rice or egg noodles

    Breast of cooked chicken, shredded into strips

    75g spinach, roughly chopped

    2 tsp soy sauce

    To serve (optional)

    2 scallions, finely sliced

    1 small red chilli, finely sliced

    A small handful of basil leaves

    1 Put all the ingredients for the broth/ stock into a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for an hour and a half.


    2 Carefully remove the whole chicken to a plate. Then pass the stock through a sieve into another saucepan. Only one of the breasts of chicken and 900ml of the stock will be needed for the following dish, so reserve the remaining chicken for another chicken dish or for sandwiches and cool the remaining stock, then either pop in the fridge or freezer for using again.

    3 To make the soup, melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat. When it begins to foam, add the carrots, onions, celery and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir to combine with the butter.

    4 When the vegetables are soft but not coloured, which will take about 10 minutes, add the stock and ginger and simmer for 15 minutes.

    5 Add the noodles, shredded chicken, spinach and soy sauce and simmer for five minutes.


    6 Ladle into four bowls. If serving to those who like a little heat, sprinkle a little fresh chilli, scallion and basil leaves over each bowl.

    Cod & Cauliflower Gratin

    This cod and cauliflower gratin is packed with lots of beneficial nutrients, which are recommended for those nursing a fracture. As with all fish, cod is rich in healthy omega oils, while the vitamin K in the cauliflower is beneficial for helping to ease inflammation.

    In a quest to avoid becoming anaemic, iron-rich foods such as spinach make a great addition to any diet. The spinach makes a nutritional addition to the calcium-rich white sauce. The creamy coating of sauce over the cod and cauliflower lends a little luxury to this nutritious midweek dinner.

    50g butter

    1 onion, finely diced

    50g plain flour

    600ml milk, warm

    200g cheddar cheese

    Salt and pepper

    100g spinach, roughly chopped

    ½ head of cauliflower, divided into florets

    400g cod, boned and cut into bite-sized pieces

    To serve: Steamed potatoes and 1 lemon, cut into wedges

    1 Firstly, make the white sauce. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan, add the diced onion and sweat for about 10 minutes, until the onions are soft but not coloured.

    2 Using a wooden spoon, add the flour and stir for two minutes to allow the flour to cook a little, but be careful that it doesn’t burn.

    3 Turn up the heat and slowly add the warmed milk. Stirring constantly, bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer for a minute. Season with a little salt and pepper and stir in the chopped spinach. Take off the heat but cover to keep warm.

    4 Steam the cauliflower florets for about seven minutes.

    5 Place the diced cod on a baking tray and add the par-cooked cauliflower.

    6 Pour over the white sauce, making sure to cook the fish and cauliflower well. Sprinkle over the cheese.

    7 Place in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbling and the fish is cooked through.

    8 Serve straight away with cooked potatoes and a slice of lemon, for squeezing over the fish. CL