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8 Cooking Hacks For When Illness Makes Cooking Seem Too Overwhelming

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

As a chef, I take pride in my culinary creations. I spend an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen cooking intricate recipes to accommodate the guests who dine at my establishment. My goal is to make our guests, even those with a myriad of complex dietary restrictions, feel special and cared for. I do it willingly and with all of my heart. But … when it comes to feeding myself, many times there’s nothing left in my gas tank to prepare anything to eat that takes more effort than opening a package or ordering a pizza.

Partly I just don’t have the energy, partly I just don’t seem to give myself the care I give to others. But sometimes it’s as simple as my depression and exhaustion from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) nightmares and lack of sleep render me completely incapable of doing anything more than the bare minimum. It’s on days like these that some of these tricks and tips can really come in handy. Some of these can also be useful for those who may be dealing with chronic illness or physical disability that makes a lot of chopping, cooking, and cleaning either difficult or not feasible. 

1. Purchase pre-cut fruits and veggies.

Almost every grocery store has a salad bar and most grocery stores now sell pre-cut fruits and vegetables of all kinds in the produce section. Having these on-hand makes for a lot less prep work, saving time, energy, and cleanup.

2. Freeze individual servings of fruits and veggies in freezer bags.

Having single serving size portions of fruits and veggies in the freezer for easy access is great for purchasing in bulk to save money while also creating a stockpile of fresh produce for quick and easy use. You can always turn frozen fruits into a quick smoothie and frozen veggies can be used for a quick stir-fry, soup, or casserole.

3. Store-bought rotisserie chickens.

Especially if you live alone, a store-bought rotisserie chicken goes a long way. It’s great for wraps, tacos, salads, soups, sandwiches, or just a quick bite of protein. And the whole chicken can be cut up into individual servings, put into freezer bags, and frozen for later use. These have been a great time saver and it spares me the hassle of dealing with the cleanup and mess of handling a raw chicken. (Pets love them too as a special treat, as my almost-19-year-old cat can attest to, just don’t give them the skin or pieces with spices on them.)

4. Disposable cookware/aluminum foil.

Part of the thing that I hate the most about cooking is the cleanup, especially unruly pots, pans, and baking dishes. You can get many different shapes and sizes of disposable aluminum foil-ware and keep them on hand for when you really don’t want to deal with the cleanup. I usually have the lasagna pan size, square 8-by-8 size, pie pans. and cookie sheets ready for a rainy day. Part of me feels a tiny bit bad about the waste, but when it comes to my self-care, that’s a sacrifice I am willing to live with. Alternately, you can line your metal, glass, or stoneware with heavy-duty foil that’s easily discarded after use, leaving you with a clean pan afterward. I hate doing dishes so this is maybe my favorite hack.

5. Disposable plates, napkins, utensils, and cups.

Along the lines of the easy cleanup … having disposable plates, utensils, etc. for use when you just can’t deal with a mountain of dirty dishes is a lifesaver.

6. Invest in a mini chopper.

There are a number of different brands of mini choppers available at varying price points with a myriad of attachments. These are super helpful in cutting prep time in half and eliminating the need for dealing with sharp knives and cutting boards. Most are dishwasher safe for a quick cleanup and some even double as blenders for making smoothies.

7. Don’t forget your microwave.

I’ll be honest, I rarely use my microwave for anything other than making popcorn, but … it can be a super easy and quick way to cook numerous things without having to turn on your stove or oven. You can use it for eggs, baked potatoes, or veggies, and I’ve even seen some clever recipes using mason jars to bake things like brownies and cakes in the microwave, that are ready to serve straight out of the mason jar.

8. Grocery shoppers and delivery services.

If there’s one thing that the last year has shown us, there are a number of services that are available to those of us who may not want to or cannot leave the house. Chief among them are services like Instacart and Amazon Fresh, but smaller local chains will also offer online shopping and delivery services so you can order what you need without ever having to set foot into a grocery store. On some days, when I just really want to avoid people, this is the best thing for my mental health. It may cost a bit more, but again, if it’s a part of my mental health self-care toolbox, it’s worth the extra cost.

The thing I most struggle with is not judging myself for what I am and am not able to do when it comes to feeding myself, especially on days where I literally just want to open a bag of parmesan crisps or popcorn and eat the whole thing in one sitting as a meal. Having been in recovery from an eating disorder, I can struggle with self-criticism for not making “healthier” choices. What I’ve discovered as I’ve learned to honor my needs is that sometimes, the healthiest choice in a given moment is to just eat something, whatever that might be. Eliminating the idea of good and bad foods and making peace with the fact that there’s always the next meal and the next day has helped me to be more mindful of where I’m at both physically and mentally and honoring what that might be on any given day. The ability to do that has been remarkably freeing and it has enabled me to refocus a lot of that negative energy into doing or not doing things that can help fill my energy reserves back up.

Photo by Stepan Kulyk on Unsplash

Originally published: September 27, 2021
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