Any of us with food allergies and intolerances already have a lot of work to do in the kitchen. But when you are also battling with any type of chronic illness, the challenge becomes even more intense. Combining a limited diet with feeling sick all the time makes it hard to get the motivation and energy to cook. I mean really, when you don’t feel well the last thing you want to do is cook, right?
I have been fortunate that my Lyme symptoms have never made me totally unable to cook for myself. I have always been able to grocery shop and prepare my own meals. And while I've always been able to do it, a few years ago when I was very sick it was completely exhausting. I was so brain foggy and fatigued that preparing a meal took forever, and left me feeling trained. I lived alone and was working a full time job, and it was a serious struggle.
During those times, I figured out some tips and tricks that helped me along the way - things that I still do today even though I'm feeling better. The trick is learning how to make the most of your time in the kitchen and get the most out of your meals. Making big batches, eating whole foods, and getting help from friends are just a few ideas. Here are some of my favorite things I learned, and I hope they help you too.
Tips for Cooking when You're Chronically Ill
Make big batches and freeze the leftovers. When you’re having a good day or when you have help from a friend, make big batches. It is more work on the front end, but ultimately, it leaves you with less work. You can eat off your big batch all week or freeze the leftovers for later. Basics like cooked rice, quinoa, millet, or any kind of cooked beans can last for 5-7 days in the fridge if tightly sealed, and they can freeze very well for months. Prepared foods like soups, lasagna (with brown rice lasagna noodles!), casseroles, burgers and meatballs, and homemade breads and muffins freeze amazingly well. I use a FoodSaver to vacuum package all my foods for the freezer. Then when I am super busy or having a bad day and can’t deal with being in the kitchen, I can just reach in the freezer and get something wholesome!
Get friendly with quick to prepare whole foods.
- Split mung beans and lentils cook quick very quickly and don’t require pre-soaking.
- Whole grains like quinoa, millet, and buckwheat cook in under 20 minutes. Make big pots of a couple different grains at the start of the week and eat off them all week in salads, soups, or just plain.
- Winter squash are nutritious and so easy to bake, and you can eat off them for days.
- Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes can be baked whole in the oven or microwave, and stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.
- Most vegetables can be eaten raw if you don’t want to deal with cooking them. Make a meal of bean dip, raw vegetables, and miso soup.
Steam vegetables. Steamed vegetables take only minutes to prepare, are easy to digest, and can be eaten any time of day with any kind of other foods. You can steam vegetables on the stovetop with a steaming basket in a pot, or you can purchase electric vegetable steamer appliances if you don’t trust yourself (and your Lyme brain) with open flame. My rice cooker even has a vegetable steaming tray that I sometimes use if I don’t feel like using the stovetop.
Make salads and get comfortable with eating raw. The easiest food in the book. Bag of pre-washed baby greens, some kind of protein (beans, meat, fish, nuts), and a handful of other vegetables, or a scoop of quinoa or millet. Add some salad dressing or a little oil and vinegar, lemon juice, or sprinkle of vitamin C crystals, and you’re done! Under 5 minutes. If your body tolerates raw vegetables well, learn to love eating raw veggies with your meals – less prep work, and good for you too!
Eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods. Don't skimp on the calories and fat. Make sure you eat enough during the day, eating eveyr few hours to keep your blood sugar stable and your metabolism going. Assuming that your body can digest fats well, you should eat lots of healthy fats throughout the day. Not only will it help the your brains nerve coatings, it will help your body tissues, and give you a sense of satisfaction. Cook with coconut oil or ghee, and add olive oil, flax oil, pumpkin seed oil, and help oil to salads or over baked sweet potatoes. Eat plenty of avocados, nuts and seeds, coconut milk, and high quality olives. If you can, make bone broth, which is a good source of natural fat and nourishing gelatins. While you are healing, it is imperative that you keep your body well nourished, and eating quality fat can really help.