- Hiya Images/Corbis
Energy-Conserving Cooking Strategies
Even if you struggle with fatigue because of multiple sclerosis (MS), making the effort to cook meals yourself can pay off. Home-cooked meals are often more nutritious than restaurant meals or packaged foods, and they’re often less expensive. Cooking can also be a way to stay socially connected if you invite others to eat with you.
But how do you cook or entertain if you’re frequently tired or in pain?
“Figure a way around the difficulties,” advises the Everyday Health columnist and former chef Trevis Gleason, who's been living with MS since 2001. “We may have to do things differently than we once did," he says. "That doesn't mean we shouldn't still do them.”
The energy-saving meal prep tips that follow can help you make the most of your time in the kitchen.
- Cristian Baitg/Getty Images
Organize Your Kitchen
“If a kitchen is poorly organized and items are not stored in convenient locations, then more energy will be required to move around and get what is needed,” says occupational therapist Marcia Finlayson, PhD, the vice dean of the School of Rehabilitation Therapy and the director of the Occupational Therapy Program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
To make things easier, first get rid of unnecessary duplicates and things you never use. The less cluttered your kitchen, the less time it will take to find what you need. Then place the kitchen gadgets, tools, and dishes you use most often within easy reach. Store special-occasion dishes on harder-to-reach shelves.
- Getty Images
Have a Game Plan for Your Meal
When planning a meal, take note of the amount of time you need to prepare and cook each dish. If you’re going to make one complicated or time-consuming dish, keep the rest of the meal simple.
Avoid serving several dishes that all require last-minute preparation or additions. Instead, combine menu items that can be made ahead — such as a salad, which only needs to be tossed with dressing before you serve it — with items that should be eaten hot off the stove, such as an omelet.
If you’re using the oven for more than one dish, make sure they call for the same oven temperature. That way, you can put them in the oven at the same time or in sequence, if one can wait while the other cooks.
You may want to write out a step-by-step plan for your menu so you can stay on track with prep and cooking.
- Yagi Studio/Getty Images
Wash, Chop, and Mix Ahead of Time
Some meal-preparation tasks can be done in advance, allowing you to budget your time and energy. For example, sturdier vegetables such as onions, broccoli, and winter squash can be peeled, chopped, and stored in the refrigerator in plastic bags for several hours or even several days. For even faster prep times, buy prechopped fresh or frozen vegetables.
Another task you can do ahead is to measure out all the spices called for in a dish and place them in a small bowl. When it’s time to cook, you just empty the bowl into the cooking pan.
If your meal includes a sauce, marinade, or salad dressing, you can make that ahead, too. Store it in a plastic or glass container in the refrigerator until you need it.
Strategic grocery shopping is a key part of healthy meal planning. Start with a shopping list that follows the layout of the store. That way, you can minimize the amount of walking and doubling back you have to do to collect your groceries.
Even if you use a scooter to shop (which some stores provide), it saves time to go down each aisle once, rather than go back and forth across the entire store multiple times.
Some grocery stores offer delivery or curbside pickup, which will cost more but can help you conserve your energy for cooking.
- Brett Stevens/Getty Images
On Busy Days, Plan on Reheating
When you look ahead at your schedule for the week, you may see days when you won’t have time to cook. For those days, consider making a dish ahead of time that can be reheated.
“Stews, soups, and braised dishes are often even better if they're made a day or two ahead of time, chilled, and then reheated for serving,” Gleason says.
Using a slow cooker is another option for busy days, as long as you have some time in the morning to add ingredients to the slow cooker and get it started. Your reward: coming home to a delicious hot meal.
- Getty Images
Build a Recipe Box
As you experiment with cooking, you will find meals that come together relatively easily and taste great. Create a file of your favorite recipes. Include notes about the sides, salads, and other foods you’ve served with them.
When you have a few go-to menus, your meal planning will be easier, and you may even feel like entertaining more often.
- Hero Images /Corbis
Refresh Before Dinner
Even if you’ve used lots of energy-saving techniques to put a meal together, you might still need to relax a bit before you eat.
“A nap and a cool shower in the afternoon before you begin final preparations can make all the difference in the world,” says Gleason. This might be particularly necessary if you’ve been spending time in a hot kitchen or are feeling worn out by the preparation.
- Dieter Heinemann/Corbis
Invest in Adaptive Kitchen Tools
Energy-saving kitchen tools, such as a small food processor to chop ingredients or an electric can opener, can make meal prep easier. Ergonomic tools with large, padded grips, like those made by OXO, are easier to hold on to, if you tend to drop things.
Some of these tools are readily available at cooking-supply or big-box stores. Others can be ordered from retailers that specialize in adaptive products for the home. Since kitchen tools and gadgets can be expensive, consider your cooking habits and which tasks are most difficult before buying lots of new things.
One tool that both Dr. Finlayson and Gleason recommend is a comfortable stool so you can sit while doing prep work.
Peter Cade/Getty Images
Recruit an Assistant
Ask the members of your household to help out with meal preparation, or invite a friend to come over to cook — and eat — together. If you have children or teens in your home, this can be a chance for them to learn how to cook.
Ask your helpers to do the tasks that are fatiguing or painful for you. This could include shopping, pulling out all the ingredients and cookware to be used for a meal, slicing and dicing foods, lifting heavy pots and pans, taking finished dishes out of the oven, or washing dishes when the meal is over.
- Last Updated: 05/22/17
- Last Updated: 05/22/17