by Denise Nowack, RD and Ann Mullinix, OTR/L
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Having the desire and motivation to eat well is one thing, but the process of actually carrying it out, from purchasing the food to placing a meal on the table, is another. Obstacles are real, such as limited time and energy, or challenges from cognitive and physical changes. Here are four simple strategies that can help you have more success in the kitchen, eat well, and feel better, with more energy and confidence.
- Sketch out your weekly meals in advance, including recipes, shopping lists(categorize items by shopping route in store), supplies…and who will help.
- Keep your menu simple. Make a realistic goal of adding 1-2 food items in your day that promote healthy eating
- Delicious dishes don’t need to be complex or difficult to make. Look for recipes that have 5 ingredients or less and keep preparation steps to a minimum.
- Create a shopping list. Keep a piece of paper near the refrigerator and note the items you need. This will save time at the market and ensure you won’t forget key ingredients
- You can make meal preparation lighter by including dishes you can prepare days, weeks in advance. Use freezable dishes for part of your menu. Some sauces or dips even taste better when the flavors get to blend for a few days in the refrigerator. Buy already washed and cut fruits and vegtables, and ask the butcher to pre-cut meat as needed.
- Manage your time, by scheduling meal preparation into your day. Do this when your energy is good. Also, limit how long you want to commit so you don’t use up all of your energy and not have any left for other tasks. This may mean you perform a little every day, freezing and stocking up.
- Use a timer to help you transition activities and keep on a schedule. Even when you have the energy to perform tasks, it is important to pace and keep an energy balance.
- Recruit a partner. All good chefs have assistants. Find a family member or friend who will work beside you helping to gather the things you need, clear the clutter and clean as you go. Enlist the kids to set and clear the table.
- Collect your stuff. Avoid running around the kitchen by gathering all your ingredients and equipment before you start meal preparation. A cart with wheels may assist in making collection easier. Then take a seat! Once you collect everything you need, pull up a stool to the counter, or sit down at the table to assemble your ingredients. This will help keep you from tiring before the meal is even served.
- Keep heavy appliances, pots and pans on the counter/stove top instead of storing them in a cabinet. Use electrical appliances instead of manual ones whenever possible.
- Slide heavy objects instead of lifting.
- Use adaptive tools to compensate for weakness, tremors, vision challenges. Enlarged handles on utensils, Dycem, a sticky material in form of a mat, to hold objects in place, or one handed knives. The list is numerous. Search “adaptive equipment for the kitchen” to learn more, or talk to a rehab specialist through your doctor.
- Be realistic and take on only what you can comfortably accomplish and ask others to help with the rest. A potluck can be a great way to share the load and enjoy your time together rather than stressing over the stove.
- Buy ready-to-use. Purchasing pre-cut produce, shredded cheeses, jars of chopped garlic and other products of convenience can cut cooking time by 15 minutes…and save even more of your energy.
- Know where you can opt out of cooking. Instead of trying to make everything from scratch, relax and be merry with the help from your local market. You can pick up party trays, side dishes—even a complete turkey dinner from the deli section of your grocery store
- Start your grocery shopping in advance. By purchasing ingredients that can be stored in your freezer or cupboards you can make shopping more manageable and help minimize the time. Try to shop during a low traffic time to avoid crowds and use an electrical shopping cart to save energy, placing your attention on obtaining your food items, not on your balance and strength.
- Go online shopping. The task of grocery shopping can be exhausting. Save your precious energy by calling on the help of your local supermarket. Many offer low-cost delivery services and are as easy as a click of a button at your computer.
Pack it Up
- Enjoy the fruits of your labor in the days ahead. Wrap up leftovers right after dinner in meal-sized portions. Pop into your refrigerator or freezer for instant dinners that can be easily reheated.
- Do a “Leftover Makeover.” Have an idea on how to use the leftovers in a different recipe. Current technology is terrific for this in finding new recipes from a list of existing ingredients.
Living with MS is about finding options, using your creativity to remove obstacles, and being open to change the process to achieve the results you want to see. Be flexible-take control of what you can and let go of what you can not. Small changes can make a big difference in eating habits, with the end result of feeling better with more energy and greater confidence.