Cooking With a Chronic Illness
Last updated: September 2022
Living with a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis can make the most mundane of tasks incredibly difficult. Fatigue, mobility issues, pain, and cognitive dysfunction can all conspire to sabotage the most basic of daily activities. One such task that is often problematic for me is cooking. While preparing food isn’t always easy for me, it’s still something that needs to get done (living on take-out alone simply isn’t feasible or healthy).
Tips for cooking with MS
I’ve come up with some tips that help me in the kitchen, so I thought I’d share!
While this may sound obvious, it’s important to have a game plan when it comes to the meals you’ll be eating during the week. Plan out your meals ahead of time and ensure you have all the necessary ingredients prior to the day you’ll be cooking. Taking care of all the mental planning ahead of time ensures that you can go on autopilot when it comes to cooking and mitigating any cognitive stumbles you might encounter.
Plan for your plans to fail
One thing I’ve learned while living with MS is that things will go wrong, and it’s important to plan for that. I’ve had many days where I had planned to cook a nice meal, only to wake up feeling awful, making cooking near impossible. So it’s important to have some easy options available, perhaps something frozen or canned that can be easily microwaved. It may not be the healthiest of options, but you still need to eat and get through the day.
Consider grocery options
Cooking can be difficult, but grocery shopping can be even more so. Fortunately, there are many options for grocery delivery these days. Some grocery stores, Walmart, and apps like InstaCart can make life so much easier. Some stores also allow you to order online and do a car-side pickup, which is also an appealing option. There’s also no shame in asking a friend to pick up some items for you, they have to grocery shop anyway. How many times have friends asked if there was any way they could help you? Picking up a few items while they are already shopping is a way folks can help you a lot with minimal effort on their part.
The afternoon and early evening are tough for me. I’m at my best in the morning and gradually begin a slide for the rest of the day. Waiting for the evening is a good way to make sure I fail at cooking dinner. I get around this by cooking dinner much earlier, even in the morning, and then simply reheating it around dinner time. This may not sound ideal, but it’s made a huge difference in my life and allowed me to do a lot more cooking.
Pay attention to temps
Using an oven can warm up the house. If you are like me and have increased sensitivity to warmer temperatures, that can be a disaster. I try my best to take the weather, the temperature in the house, and the amount of activity cooking will be into account when planning my meals. It also means that I may change into a cooler outfit while cooking.
Pre-cut anything is a life-saver
I’m always looking for ways to minimize the amount of work I need to do when cooking. Purchasing pre-cut meats and veggies is actually incredibly helpful for me. It may seem lazy to many people out there, but for someone like me, that few cents more for something already pre-sliced and trimmed is well worth it. People don’t realize how difficult cutting up ingredients can be for someone like me. This isn’t only due to the energy involved, but the sheer difficulty of trying to slice up ingredients with numb and often weak hands is both difficult and dangerous. When I can’t find pre-cut items, I try to tackle the job of cutting them up prior to using them (even days before).
Try different gadgets
There are a ton of kitchen gadgets that can be very helpful. Number one in my book is the crockpot. Using a slow cooker can make life easy. Most recipes involve tossing the ingredients in and turning the knob. A single pot means fewer dishes to worry about. It also fits in well with my cook early strategy as it usually requires starting in the morning with it finishing closer to actual dinner time. There are a ton of great crockpot recipes online too, allowing you to make just about anything.
Plan for and utilize leftovers
Most recipes are designed for families. Even though I’m cooking for only me, that’s still to my advantage. I go right ahead and cook family-size meals and then subsist off the leftovers for as long as I can. Sometimes I plan to use part of the leftovers in new dishes. For example, some cooked chicken in one meal can easily be used to jazz up some ramen or other similar dish. Creatively using leftovers can really minimize your effort. It’s also a chance for you to get creative!
Do you have any tips or gadgets or anything to add to this conversation? Please let me know in the comments below, this is a great chance to share your cooking strategies or even recipes!
Thanks so much for reading and feel free to share!
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