04.28.2016

15 helpful tips for cooking & cleaning your kitchen when you’re chronically ill

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The following article, “15 helpful tips for cooking & cleaning your kitchen when you’re chronically ill,” was first published on Prohealth.com. It is being reprinted here with permission from the editor. 

Cooking and cleaning can be challenging when you're living with chronic illness. These 15 tips help make these daily tasks more manageable.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Disclaimer: One of the most important things I’ve learned about fibromyalgia, ME/CFS and Lyme is there is a wide spectrum of disability among our patient groups. Some of us lead pretty normal lives in spite of the pain, fatigue and other symptoms, and some of us have symptoms so severe that we can’t get out of the bed, much less load the dishwasher. Given that spectrum, it’s impossible to come up with tips that apply to everyone. So, in reading these, I ask that you apply the tips you can use based on your abilities and ignore the rest.

I’ve always been into time management and finding the most efficient way to do things, but I’ve become even more aware of wasted energy and movement since developing fibromyalgia. I’m much more deliberate about daily tasks now. I’m continually looking for ways to simplify my household duties, so I can get as much done as possible without increasing my pain and fatigue levels.

In December, I wrote an article for Prohealth on “20 helpful tips for cleaning and organizing when you’re chronically ill.” Now I’d like to drill down a little further and focus on tips for cooking and cleaning the kitchen.

Plan ahead

I work during the week, and I’m usually exhausted by dinnertime. That used to mean ordering takeout or throwing some preservative-laden frozen dinner into the oven.

But I’ve learned that eating unhealthy food aggravates my fibromyalgia symptoms, so I’ve tried to find ways to prepare foods ahead of time when I’m feeling more energetic. On weekends, I sometimes spend an hour or so prepping food for the coming week. I’ll marinate a pork tenderloin and stick it in the fridge to be cooked later in the week. I’ll precook ground beef for spaghetti or tacos. I’ll make a pot of soup or chili that I can eat for several days. I’ll roast a pan of root vegetables, so I can have them as a side dish during the week.

I haven’t tried this personally, but some people package their smoothie ingredients into freezer bags, so they can grab a bag and dump it into the blender.

Another timesaver is freezer cooking.

Keep meals simple

I love to try new recipes, but I steer clear of anything that requires a long list of ingredients or more than 30 minutes to prepare.

I’ve also given up the idea that every meal has to include a protein, starch and two vegetables. That’s just too much work!

These days, our typical dinner is some sort of grilled, baked or slow-cooked meat served alongside a sizable portion of roasted or sautéed veggies. It’s easy, and it’s fast (especially if I precooked the veggies earlier in the week).

Go frozen

If you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, ME/CFS or Lyme disease, then you’ve probably been told to eat a more whole foods-based diet. That’s great advice, but chopping and dicing all those vegetables and fruits takes energy – something a lot of us don’t have.

I save time and effort by using inexpensive frozen veggies/fruits in my cooking. (I also sometimes purchase fresh chopped produce for the convenience, but that’s usually more expensive.)

My favorite is frozen chopped onions. I always keep a few bags of these in my freezer, so when a recipe calls for chopped onion, I just dump out what I need, and toss the bag back in the freezer. Best of all, no more tears!

I also use frozen chopped peppers for easy stir fries and steam-in-bag veggies or rice for quick side dishes. (Just make sure to read the ingredients list if you’re trying to eat a healthier diet. Some of these contain preservatives and unnecessary fat/sugar.)

Make more than you need

When you cook, consider doubling or tripling recipes. That way you can have a meal now and leftovers for later. This works great with things like soups and casseroles.

If your family isn’t a fan of leftovers, pop the extras in the freezer. When you pull them out of the freezer in two weeks, they won’t know the difference!

Invest in a slow cooker

My slow cooker is my favorite kitchen tool. I ladle at least one or two meals out of my slow cooker every week. I love it because I can dump the ingredients into the crock in the morning (when I have more energy), and dinner is ready for me by the time I’m finished with work.

I also use the slow cooker for bulk cooking. For example, I slice up a few apples, sprinkle them with some cinnamon, add a bit of water, and in a few hours, I have homemade applesauce.

You can also “bake” potatoes in the slow cooker. Just stack them in the slow cooker with their peels still on, and in a few hours, you’ll have baked potatoes (or sweet potatoes) for future meals.

Simplify grocery shopping

Grocery shopping is a big struggle for me because it takes so much energy, so I’ve been looking for ways to make it easier. We have several pets, and they eat a lot! Their bags of food and litter are super heavy, so I’ve started ordering those from Amazon, and the mailman now delivers them to my front door.

When I can find reasonable prices, I order food and household items online as well.

Some Walmart locations and grocery stores now offer pick-up and delivery services for a small fee. (I’m hoping this will be available in my area soon!)

Let someone else cook

If your spouse or kids offer to make dinner or “fend for themselves,” let them. Sure, they might burn the meat, but even that is palatable if you didn’t have to cook it.

Hire someone to cook

I’m not suggesting that you hire a private chef. Not many of us could afford that, but there are companies that sell premade meals. Schwan’s and Personal Chef to Go are just a few examples. (Google “premade meal delivery” for others.)

Have a seat

Keep a stool or chair handy in the kitchen, so you can do as many tasks sitting down as possible. This helps conserve energy.

Use helpful tools

Some of us with fibromyalgia have lost strength and dexterity in our hands. I struggle to open jars, so I invested in an Oxo Good Grips Jar Opener. This little tool has saved me more than once when hubby wasn’t around to open a jar of whatever.

I’ve also bought good kitchen shears, which I’ve found are easier than knives for cutting things like meat and fresh herbs. A food processor can speed up chopping/dicing, and a handheld mixer alleviates the repetitive stress of stirring. I don’t own one myself, but a lot of people also find electric can openers helpful.

Clean as you go

While dinner is cooking, I try to load the dishwasher, put items away and wipe the counters down, so there’s less to clean up after eating. This helps to keep the kitchen reasonably clean from day to day.

Everyday chores

I don’t always feel up to cleaning, but there are certain chores that I try to do every single day just to keep my house in some semblance of order. I always try to load the dishwasher, rinse out the kitchen sink and wipe off the counters.

I admit I don’t always get these done; sometimes hubby does it for me. But forcing myself to at least do the dishes and clean the counters keeps things from piling up.

Eliminate scrubbing

I hate having to deal with baked-on, caked-on cooking messes, so I avoid that whole chore as much as possible.

I use slow cooker liners in my slow cooker. (These are sold at most big box stores alongside the aluminum foil and plastic wrap.) When I’m ready to clean the slow cooker, I tie a knot in the plastic liner and toss it in the garbage. Usually I just have to wipe the inside of the crock with a paper towel.

Whenever I cook something in the oven, I line my pans with aluminum foil. That way, I can just ball up the used foil and toss it in the garbage. I’ve had my cookie sheets for years, and they still look practically new.

Never clean your microwave again

I saw the following tip online a few years ago, and it’s seriously life changing: I keep a plastic pie plate cover in my microwave to cover foods we’re heating up. (Here’s an example from Amazon, but I found mine at the Dollar Tree for a buck!) Any food splatters are trapped by the cover and don’t explode all over the walls of your microwave. It’s genius!

Rethink your stuff

Give some consideration to how your kitchen is organized. Try to place frequently used and heavier items in lower, easier-to-access cabinets. This eliminates extra reaching, climbing and straining.

Store like items together. For example, if you drink coffee, group your coffee, filters, sugar/creamer and mugs all in one place, so that you don’t have to move from cabinet-to-cabinet to gather supplies.

Look for ways to eliminate wasted movement and steps.

Consider purging kitchen items you no longer need or use. When you own fewer things, there is less to clean and maintain.

Wrapping up

Even when I was healthy, cooking and cleaning was a real chore. It’s even more so now that I’m living with a chronic illness. But finding ways to simplify and streamline these daily tasks make them more manageable. It just takes some forethought and planning.

What are your favorite tips for cooking and cleaning the kitchen? Share in the comments below.

If you liked this post, then you might also enjoy:

“20 helpful tips for cleaning & organizing when you’re chronically ill”

Cleaning is hard work - especially if you're chronically ill. These 20 tips will help you keep your home as clean and organized as possible given the challenges of living with a chronic illness.

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Comments

  1. Christine says:

    Hey Donna,
    I really like your blog and this post is perfect! 😊
    I thought I had my kitchen well organized… well, I was wrong. So many good ideas from you, thanks 🙃
    One thing that became “vital” for me is the table and the chair in my kitchen. I love to cook but since I can’t stand on my hurtig feet (and my back too) for more than ten minutes, I do the chopping and everything else possible while sitting at the table. It really helps me to follow my passion for cooking.

    Thanks and greetings from Germany

    Christine

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      So glad you found the kitchen tips post helpful! I have an in-kitchen table too, and like you, I use it all the time to sit and do tasks. Gentle hugs to you!

  2. I live in N Florida and Publix grocery stores have started something really fantastic, I think. In two serving portions, they prepare fresh meat chicken and seafood dishes in the fresh meat counter in small containers wrapped with a label of the ingredients and the cooking instructions on it. I buy a half dozen or so of these dinners (they freeze well!) then go to the produce dept and pick out several different bags (2-3 servings) of fresh veggies that go in the microwave for a few minutes to cook. Prior to dinner we pop one of these prepared meals in the oven, none of them take longer than 45 minutes total, either bake a potato or make some quick rice or couscous on the side and a few minutes before the meat is ready microwave the veggie. Good healthy food with very little cooking and almost no cleanup!

  3. Arlene says:

    I think you post a lot of good information here. I just wish you could eliminate the wordblock ads and other advertising that cover up a good bit of useful information.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      Thank you for letting me know. I’m trying to find out why that’s happening and how to fix it.

  4. MARION STANFORD says:

    I don’t think using a plastic pie plate is a good idea. That plastic at nuked Temps is leaching into your food. Ewww. The other day went to visit a friend and wanted a tea. She produced a electric kettle made from plastic. I couldn’t drink boiled water from that. Ewww. Re think putting plastic in your microwave. Anyway my daughter almost 18 has had juvenile fibro. She doesn’t want meds. Looking forward forward for medical Marijuana in Canada.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      The plastic doesn’t touch the food at all. It’s a plastic dome that’s placed over the plate/bowl containing the food – it’s just there to catch the splatter. We use glass containers for our food.

      Hope your daughter finds relief w/ MM. I’m in the process of applying for my license here in Delaware.

  5. These are definitely must-do’s when battling fibromyalgia! Even if one follows just three of the ways, it will make a significant difference. I love slow cooker meals because my pain levels are lower in the morning than in the evenings. If I can get my dinner basically done prior to breakfast, it is going to be a better evening regardless of what unexpected things come up.

    Thank you for sharing at Chronic Friday Linkup! I pinned this to the linkup board.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      I’m in love w/ my slow cooker, too. It is one of the best things that I own. Thank you for sharing my link!

  6. I use an OXO hand pump salad spinner to dry leafy greens (so it does not water down the dressing) and I keep the salad spinner in the fridge with salad in it so I always have salad at my fingertips. I just replenish a bunch as needed and the salad stays fresh for many days. I also cook from my rolling office chair…without it, my love of cooking would have gone away like so many others things due to fibromyalgia.

  7. Such a useful post, thank you! I never knew you could get slow cooker liners, hope I can find them here in the UK!! 😊

  8. I’ve been using a lot of the tips for years thinking I was just being lazy. Last month I found out that I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and everything made sense. Great post! I’m pinning this one 🙂

  9. Brenda Jantz says:

    I love your posts n emails!😃💜 I find them very helpful.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Brenda. Receiving comments like yours keeps me motivated. 🙂

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