24. How to Cook When You Have a Chronic Illness or long COVID

With the rise of long COVID, I have become more aware of the difficulties that chronic illness present. I spoke to a friend who suffers from a chronic illness and off the back of that decided that I would share some things that she found helpful. 

“Food is the very thing that makes us feel better.”

Want to cook but finding it hard due to lack of energy albeit physical or mental? Food is a very thing that to make us feel better, it gives us energy and strength to carry on. But how do you do that when you’re suffering from a chronic illness which leaves you depleted? In this podcast I’m giving some of my favourite tips. It’s a very long episode but I wanted to cover quite a lot of stuff to give you as much value as possible. Hope it helps 🙂  

chronic illnesses can make it hard to cook

People who are chronically ill sometimes have brain fog (difficulty in focussing and a lack of mental clarity) which can be tiring and compound the impact of lack of physical energy.

Chronic illness is becoming even more prevalent with the emergence of long COVID so this topic seems timely

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Hey and welcome to Virtuelicious. This episode of my podcast is all about how to cook when a chronic illness means you have little energy to cook. It’s based on a friend of mine, Karen, who finds it very difficult to cook because of a chronic illness and wanted some tips to help her. So the tips here are very much specific to the challenges she faces but I very much hope they will help you too.

 

People who are chronically ill sometimes have brain fog (difficulty in focussing and a lack of mental clarity) which can be tiring and compound the impact of lack of physical energy. This is becoming even more prevalent with the emergence of long COVID so this topic seems timely. 

 

Fatigue can present the following challenges: 

  • if you’re feeling fatigued it might only be feasible to cook a couple of times a week 
  • unable to plan when to cook as you don’t know when you will be feeling well enough 
  • fresh food goes to waste as it isn’t cooked on time
  • finding it hard to chop hard vegetables
  • unable to stand for long periods due to risk of fainting

 

Here are some practical tips that may help:

 

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Plan plan plan

  • Just deciding what to eat can take up so much energy so planning is essential.  
  • have a master shopping list – listen to the Virtuelicious podcast episode on shopping lists for more tips on how to save time shopping by making efficient shopping lists.
  • plan what to batch cook
  • plan your meals for each day
  • plan when you will cook 
  • if you’re interested in learning more about how create meal plans efficiently and stick to them then you might like my meal planner course.
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Cooking hacks

  • spread effort out during the day – get ingredients out from the cupboards and lay them out, rest and cook later on
  • use frozen veg, meat and fish 
  • use ready made sauces and blends – the Virtuelicious range of ingredient blends are perfect as they all have a prep time of just ten minutes
  • keep snacks and water around the house so you never caught without food or water
  • to deal with hard to chop veg, buy frozen chunks or cook whole then chop 
  • to increase the chance of using fresh food before it goes bad buy prepared veg that can go straight in the slow cooker or saucepan
  • soak overnight oats for breakfast…and any other meals too. Oats also are a quick and easy meal when microwaved
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Batch Cook

    • cook raw ingredients straight away instead of putting everything straight in the fridge after a grocery delivery. Batch cook sides too – boil quinoa and rice, cool then freeze in batches 
    • store in portions in the fridge, preferably in the bowl or plate you will eat it in. Freeze extra amounts in portions.
    • combine cooking the common elements for different meals e.g. cook up onions, garlic and veg and split into two. Use one lot to make a pasta sauce and the other to make a curry. 
    ^

    organise

    • reduce the amount of standing time:
      • use a chair at the right height for cooking
      • chopping doesn’t have to happen in the kitchen, go where you are most comfortable
    • organise the kitchen to reduce the amount of walking from one part of the kitchen to another:
      • kettle near the sink
      • tea and coffee near the kettle
      • bread near the toaster
      • take a bowl or trolley to the larder and fill with ingredients and take to where you will be cooking 
      • store things you need for a particular meal in the same place 
      • keep things close to where you will use them
    • store food so it’s easy to get to
      • use see-through containers or add a pretty label so you know what’s inside
      • keep a note of what is where on the inside of the cupboard door
      • store at a height that is easy to pick up
      • don’t be afraid of empty spaces
    ^

    equipment

      • Choose light equipment
        • stainless steel
        • light saucepans
        • small gadgets
      • embrace your gadgets
        • slow cookers – see my podcast on cooking with slow cookers
        • bullet blenders
        • food processors – consider different types: manual vs electric, different features e.g ones that cook, different price ranges (expensive does not always equal better quality or more features)
        • soup makers 
        • microwave
        • dishwasher
    ^

    Cleaning

    • clean up as you go and definitely before you eat – perhaps cook earlier and keep the food ready so that when it’s time to eat it’s just a matter of reheating
    • soak stubborn dishes
    • use non-stick foil to line baking tins and use roasting bags 
    • use equipment that is easy to clean
      • non-stick cookware
      • stainless steel bowls/graters – these are my favourites as they are light, cheap, easy to clean and are strong so won’t break when dropped. 

    I hope the tips have helped

    I know it’s difficult to juggle everything and cook delicious healthy food for ourselves and our loved ones.

    Since I created my ten-minute meal kits I’ve been laser focussed on cutting corners in the kitchen without compromising on quality.

    I started filming what I was cooking so that I can share my recipes and hacks on Instagram and Facebook. I filmed the recipes from start to finish so the length of the videos showed me how quickly I was able to prepare meals. When I realised just how much time I was saving with my cooking hacks I just knew I had to share my methods with everyone!

    So I went back over what I’d cooked that week and developed my 3 Hour Cooking Week plan – 7 days of breakfasts, lunches and dinners with just three hours of your time in the kitchen – that’s less than ten minutes per meal on average 🙌🏼🤩💪🏼

    The best way to get more tips directly from me is to join my daily Clubhouse show through the Cooking Hackers Club on Clubhouse.

    In case you don’t know, I set up my business to reduce food and packaging waste and that continues to be a driving ambition – I’m overjoyed to let you know that I now stock a couple of zero waste shops where you take in containers to fill up rather than buying things in plastic packaging.  

    3 hour cooking week

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    Do you remember a time when the milkman delivered milk in bottles which you rinsed and left out for him to collect and reuse once you were done with them? I do! Whatever happened to valuing the resource we have available to us, about respecting it and preserving what we have? It seems that now everything we buy is packaged in some form or other, sometimes triple packed, and we rarely give a thought to the necessity of the packaging. There have been steps taken to reduce packaging – the carrier bag charge goes some way towards it but nowhere near enough. Recycling initiatives are progress but recycling still consumes energy and resources. Best to not use it in the first place. I look forward to a time when we stop this mindless fixation on consumption, I dream of a day when we can take our own containers to the shop and decant our food and drinks…can you imagine decanting milk into your own bottle, buying chocolate by the gram and having no packaging to throw away? Please let your imagination free and help us to achieve a less wasteful future. Dare to dream.