Chronically IllAnybody with food allergies and intolerances already have a lot of work to do in the kitchen. But the challenge becomes even more intense when you are also struggling with a chronic illness or are aging. Combining a limited diet with feeling sick always makes it hard to get the motivation and energy to cook. Healthy food is a must for someone ill or in later stages of life, but it’s the last thing you want to do.

I have been fortunate that my cancer has gone away after years of fighting “diets” in the kitchen. Through those years, I worked a full-time job and raised my 2-year-old daughter, which was a serious struggle.

During those times, I learned how to cook right and I put together some tips and tricks that helped me along the way – things that I still do today despite feeling well. The trick is to learn to make the most of your time cooking and get the most from your meals. Prepping, making big batches, eating whole foods and getting help from friends are just a few ideas. Here are some favorite things I learned, and I hope they help you too.


Tips for Cooking As You Age or Become Chronically Ill 

Make big batches and freeze the leftovers. Make big batches when you’re having a good day or have help from a friend. 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. Prepared foods like soups, veggie lasagna, casseroles, burgers, meatloaf, grilled chicken and meatballs freeze amazingly well. Use zip-top freezer bags or a FoodSaver to vacuum package all foods for the freezer. Then when you’re super busy or having a bad day and can’t deal with being in the kitchen, reach in the freezer and get something nourishing!

Get friendly with quick to prepare whole foods.

  • Green beans cook quick very quickly and don’t require pre-soaking.
  • Winter squash is nutritious and easy to bake, and you can eat them for days.
  • Sweet potatoes can be baked whole in the oven or microwave and stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
  • Most vegetables can be eaten raw if you don’t want to deal with cooking them. Make a meal of cauliflower hummus, raw vegetables and soup.

Steam vegetables. Steamed vegetables take only minutes to prepare, are easy to digest, and can be eaten any time of day with other foods. You can steam vegetables on the stovetop with a steaming basket in a pot or purchase electric vegetable steamer appliances if you don’t trust yourself with an open flame.

SaladMake salads and get comfortable eating raw—the most accessible food in the kitchen. Use a bag of pre-washed baby greens, some protein (meat, fish, nuts), and a handful of other vegetables. Add some salad dressing or a little oil and vinegar, a drizzle of seasoned rice vinegar or lemon juice, and you’re done in a few minutes. If your body tolerates raw vegetables well, learn to love eating raw veggies with your meals – they’re less prep work and are good for you too!

Eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods. Don’t cut back on calories and fat. Make sure you eat enough during the day. Eating every few hours helps keep your blood sugar stable and your metabolism going. Assuming that your body can digest fats well, you should eat healthy fats throughout the day. Not only will it help your brain’s nerve coatings, but it will also help your body tissues and give you a sense of satisfaction. Make bone broth, which is a good source of natural fat and nourishing gelatins if you can. Cook with coconut oil or ghee, and add olive oil, flax oil or avocado oil to salads or over-baked sweet potatoes. Eat plenty of avocados, nuts and seeds, coconut milk and high-quality olives. While you are healing, it is essential that you keep your body well-nourished, and eating quality fat can help.

Make smoothies. This involves little to no prep time and gives you amazing nutrition in a very easy-to-digest way.   I make green smoothies for any meal of the day, adding whatever raw or cooked vegetables I have on hand and anything else from coconut or almond milk to protein powders or random superfoods.   I often make savory smoothies, but if you can tolerate fruit, add fresh or frozen fruit for a sweet twist. If you can’t tolerate refined sugar, things like lemon and lime juice, fresh ginger, cranberries and flavored Sweet Leaf Stevia drops add bite without the sugar, and fresh herbs like parsley and mint add great flavor. Smoothies are the easiest no-preparation meal.

Don’t have the energy or strength to peel, chop, and dice fresh vegetables? No problem! Many grocery stores sell packages of cleaned, chopped and peeled raw vegetables in the produce or deli section, and there are many excellent frozen ready-to-cook vegetables.   Look in the freezer section, and you’re bound to find a wide variety of vegetables, from cooked squash to spinach to broccoli to cauliflower rice.   While fresh, whole veggies are always best, these pre-cut and frozen options are AWESOME if you need to give yourself a break in the kitchen.

Eat meat? Buy rotisserie chickens. Rotisserie chickens are a lifesaver and money well-spent – so many meals, and so good!

Purchase individual-size containers. We talked about big-batch cooking or cooking with a friend. When you don’t want to eat the whole big batch in one week, store complete meals in individual-size containers in the freezer and pop them out of the freezer when you’re ready for a quick meal.

Choose quality pre-made pantry items. It is great to have your pantry well-stocked pantry with high-quality pre-made foods to choose from when you can’t cook for yourself! Choose minimally processed frozen and canned goods.

High-quality protein powders or shakes. Talk to your doctor about what the best protein powder or shakes would be for your particular ailment. You can add a scoop of the powder to a smoothie or use the shake as a meal replacement. Such an easy option!

Food ProcessorGet a Food Processor. I think a food processor is the best kitchen appliance you can ever buy! I use mine multiple times a day for chopping vegetables to making smoothies, sauces, vegetable purees, hummus and soups. It makes working in the kitchen so easy and so fast.

Get a Crock-Pot or slow cooker. You can’t start fires, you don’t have to keep checking on it, and you can just throw a bunch of stuff in the crock and forget about it all day. It’s so easy. If you aren’t good at coming up with recipes, there are many great slow cooker cookbooks out there.

Use a kitchen timer. Worried about setting things on fire or burning your food because your brain fog is so bad you forget that you’re even cooking? Give your chronically ill and foggy brain a break. Set a timer. Your food, pots and pans, house and smoke detector will thank you for it.

Don’t cook, and hit up the salad bar or deli. Go to Whole Foods, a local salad place, deli or your local grocery store and make a big salad from their salad bar and deli. It’s so easy, nutritious and so good.

Don’t cook at all, and order take-out. In a pinch, it works. If you have dietary restrictions, talk to the manager of your favorite local delivery place and tell them about your needs – if they know you’ll order a lot from them, they might be willing to do special orders for you.

Don’t cook at all, and ask for help. There is nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it. You might be too sick to do any cooking for yourself, and you might have to rely on others. If this is what you need, don’t feel bad about it – just do what you need to nourish yourself. Here are a few ideas!

Ask neighbors, friends, or family members to prepare meals for you, bring you an extra bowl of whatever they are making, or ask if you can go over to their house for dinner a couple of nights a week. If you can get a few people to help you, each person may only need to help out once or twice a week! Offer to pay them a weekly amount for their help in exchange, or see if there is something you can do to barter!

Ask friends to grocery shop for you or use Instacart and make a good grocery list for them to shop from.

Look into local meal delivery programs. Many non-profit organizations cater to chronically ill people; you may qualify with a letter from your doctor or case worker. Depending upon your illness, reach out to your local support group for recommendations.


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