Blog, Lifestyle, Living With Chronic Illness

Cooking With Chronic Illness: How to Make It Easier

cooking and chronic illness


Cooking with chronic illness can be one of those things that just takes away your spoons and drains your energy. No matter if you love cooking (or baking — like me!) or if it’s just another thing to get done on your daily to-do list, cooking might be one of the things that you struggle to do with your chronic conditions. But fear not! As someone who can struggle in the kitchen too, I have some tips to help make cooking with chronic illness easier. 


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Lucky for me, my husband is the chef in the house and does most of the cooking for us. But there are times when I do cook dinner, and one of our favorite things to do together is to cook a nice meal. So, I’ve had enough experience cooking to realize that it can be hard on my body with POTS. But there are ways to make cooking easier on myself and my body that I’ve found really help me.  


Sit When You Can


As I said above, cooking is hard on my body because of POTS. This is because cooking often means being on my feet to get the job done, and sometimes for a long time, depending on the meal. If it takes me an hour or more to cook, from prepping to serving up the food on plates, that means I could be on my feet for an hour. Standing for that long, especially after a tiring day or after I’ve exercised, can send me right into a POTS flare, raising my standing heart rate and causing fatigue and pain. 


That’s why I’ve learned that I have to sit down as much as I can while cooking. If I’m chopping or cutting food, I’m sitting down while doing it. If I’m mixing cookie dough batter and scooping it out onto pans, I’m sitting. Basically, unless I’m working at the stove or getting all my ingredients out, I’m sitting. Try doing as much as you can seated at a table, or get yourself a stool that you can push up to your countertop. 


Plan Out Your Meals


Going to the grocery store multiple times per week to pick up ingredients can be another drain on your energy. Before going to the grocery store, plan out the meals you want to cook for the next week. That way, you can pick up everything you need for a week of meals in one shopping trip. This saves you time and precious spoons that you could use elsewhere during busy weekdays.


Honestly, we struggle with staying consistent with this in our house. But the weeks when we actually manage to do it are way better than the weeks when we have no plan and need to make grocery store trips for each meal. Something helpful we’ve done to stay on track? Writing our meals for the week on a dry erase board we placed right on our fridge. We also have a shared list on Google Keep where we input our shopping list and can check things off as we get them (since we often shop together). 


Shop dry erase magnetic meal planner


Keep a Collection of Easy and Fast Recipes


When it comes to making cooking easier with chronic illness, having a collection of go-to easy and fast meals on hand is key. This makes planning out your meals easier, especially on days when you don’t have a ton of time to cook. For us, this is usually a combination of slow cooker dishes, one-pan meals, soups or stews, and easy pasta dishes. I’ve even started saving good recipes on a note in my phone and also on recipe cards. This way, I can quickly scan meal options to pick something to make or help us plan out weekly meals and grocery lists.


Shop my recipe tin box and recipe cards


Choose One-Pan Meals


Speaking of fast and easy recipes, don’t forget about one-pan or one-pot meals! To me, the best part about these meals isn’t even that they’re easier to cook — it’s that they have such an easy clean up! On the nights when my husband cooks, I’m on clean-up duty, so I appreciate when there aren’t half a dozen pots and pans to clean up before closing the kitchen for the night. After all, it’s kind of hard to clean up while sitting!


There are plenty of one-pan and one-pot recipes out there to try. You can never go wrong with roasting a sheet pan of chicken, potatoes, and veggies with different spice blends.


Shop Nordic Ware large baking sheets 


Invest in Helpful Cooking Tools


One of the best ways to make cooking easier is to get the right tools for doing so. For example, slow cookers are the best for busy workdays because they cut down on your active cooking time. Air fryers are also great because they make healthier food and are a breeze to clean up. You can toss the cooking tray right in the dishwasher! A large sheet pan or two for those one-pan meals also comes in handy. Of course, there are lots of helpful cooking appliances and tools out there, but these are just a few of my current favorites. What are some of yours?


Shop Hamilton Beach slow cooker

Shop Instant Vortex 6-in1 air fryer 


Space Out Prep and Cooking


If it’s possible to do so with your schedule, space out when you prep your meal and actually cook it. That way, you can get some rest and time off your feet in between prepping and cooking. If your schedule doesn’t allow for this during the week, consider taking time on the weekend to chop some veggies or portion out your meats for different meals for the week.


Cook Enough For Leftovers


Every time you cook, make it a habit to whip up more than you’ll need for one night. When my husband and I cook, we make enough to last us for at least two dinners — even a lunch, too! I understand this gets trickier if you have kids or a bigger household to feed, but even making enough extra for your lunch the next day saves you some time and energy on that meal. 


Freeze Meals For Tough Days


Let’s face it: Those days come around when you just don’t have the energy to cook. To combat that, we almost always have homemade soup in the freezer. It’s a super easy back-up meal because all you have to do is put it into the fridge the day of, let it thaw, and heat it up in a pot. You can freeze other meals too, like lasagna or casseroles, but soup is one of my favorites! Right now, we have chicken and dumpling soup and homemade ramen broth in the freezer, as well as pre-made ravioli.  


Enlist a Helper


If you live with other people, ask if you can get some help with cooking, even if it’s just one part of the meal-making process. It can be a fun way to spend time with other people and make memories. My husband and I love to cook together, and most of the time, I’m his helper! (I call myself his sous chef.) We make it into a date night, so we get to spend valuable time together and help each other make a delicious meal. It’s a win-win!

Get Comfortable


Standing and moving around to cook can take a toll on your body. To make myself comfy for the task, I’ll wear supportive slippers or indoor shoes. Currently, I have a pair of Crocs slides I bought last year (and that Crocs sadly doesn’t sell anymore) that provide a lot of cushion for when I’m cooking and cleaning. They are strictly my indoor shoes! I also have a cushy mat that I can move around and stand on while I’m cooking or washing dishes. 


Both of these items help with foot and leg pain, which I get as a POTS symptoms from standing a long time. If you deal with pain while standing for extended time with your chronic condition, too, it’s really helpful to find ways to support your body and get comfortable while doing upright tasks. 


Shop anti-fatigue kitchen mats

Shop Crocs slides (Amazon still sells the exact kind I have!) 

There are many ways to make cooking easier when you live with chronic illness. Planning out your dinners for the week, freezing meals for tough days, and doing as many tasks as you can while seated can help you save energy for other things in your day. Have any other chronic illness cooking tips? Let me know in the comments below! 

XO,

Laurie

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