Cooking as a person with a disability and chronic illness can be difficult. With limited abilities, dietary restrictions and often a tight budget, it can be overwhelming. But with some planning, set-up and tips and tricks behind you, cooking can become more manageable.
Make a list of recipes
When you’re having a clear-thinking day, sit down with your favourite cookbooks and write a list of your favourite recipes into three columns: quick and easy, bulk meals, and special. Quick and easy meals involve little to no cooking and can easily be assembled. Bulk meals can easily be frozen and reheated – think stews, soups, sauces and curries. Special meals are favourites that you can’t afford to make often, or that take a lot of energy to make. If a friend or carer offers to cook you something, head to this list. It will be a lovely and practical present to savour.
Keep this list somewhere obvious and easy to get to, like on the fridge. Next time you’re overwhelmed by what to cook and are tempted to break the budget with pizza, you can check this list for what you could easily throw together, or be reminded that you have food in the freezer you could reheat instead. Keep adding to this list with new recipes as you come across them to maintain variety in your diet and to keep things interesting.
Read recipes carefully
Before you start any recipe, take the time to read it the whole way through. Mark places where you can rest without compromising the meal, such as when sauces simmer or while a meal is baking in the oven. If a meal requires closer attention, break it into two parts – prepare all the ingredients, then have a rest before the cooking begins. Think about how much time you’ll need to be by the stove and have a stool or chair close by in case it still gets too much.
Frozen is fine
Don’t be afraid to buy frozen vegetables. They are picked and frozen at their most nutrient dense, they save chopping, but they also allow you to mix up the vegetables through the different combinations available. You’ll also only use what you need so you won’t throw anything away, but you’ll have vegetables to use when you cook without going to the shop too.
Stand by staples
Think about what your pantry staples are and stock up when they’re on special. These might include jars of pasta sauce, gluten free pasta, microwavable rice cups, tinned vegetables and fish, etc. Having these on stand by at home will help you throw together something quick and easy when you’re tired, plus you’ll save a few dollars along the way.
Kitchen equipment to make things easier
Food processors or blenders are great for making smoothies and sauces, but they can also be used for preparing ingredients. Peel and cut an onion into quarters then pulse it a few times for a finely chopped onion. This is also good for celery, capsicum and for making your own cauliflower rice. Use the grater attachment to prepare carrots, zucchini or other vegetables to add extra vegetables and bulk to stews and sauces.
Opening jars and cans is often troublesome when you have depleted strength or abilities. Invest in a good can opener and jar opener – either from a homewares or independent living store. Make sure your knives are sharp to cut down energy and strain required from chopping. Pull-through sharpeners are a good option – they’re easy and safe to use.
Meat can get expensive when you’re on a tight budget, and often repetitive too. Think about ways you can switch up protein sources in meals you make often: switch beef for kangaroo in a stew or pasta sauce, use tofu instead of meat in a stir-fry, use chicken or turkey mince in a chilli con carne, or try using half or the full amount of lentils for meat such as in this cottage pie.
Make sure you freeze any leftover prepared ingredients as well as leftover meals. Chopped onion, florets of broccoli or cauliflower, corn on or off the cob and cooked rice all freeze well and can be used straight from the freezer. Save them in snaplock bags that are carefully labelled with the name of the item, the date, and the portion size. Then next time you need half a chopped onion, or a cup of cooked rice, you can throw it straight in a pan or in the microwave.
Do you have a favourite recipe to share or some tips and tricks of your own? Get in touch with us at [email protected]