Too Tired to Cook: Tips to Eat Well With MS
Eating Well Despite MS Fatigue
Sticking to a nutritious, balanced diet is an essential part of any MS management plan. Why? According to the National MS Society, healthy eating can help you manage MS fatigue, control your weight, regulate bowel and bladder function, increase bone and muscle strength, and keep your body working at its full potential. While there’s no specific MS diet, a focus on fresh vegetables, healthy proteins, and whole grains is key, says Carrie Hersh, DO, an MS specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.
However, whipping together a healthy meal at the end of a long day is often easier said than done. When fatigue — or lassitude, an extreme fatigue particular to people with MS — kicks in and you’re too tired to cook something healthy, you may be tempted to turn to a quick (and less nutritious) meal. This can become a vicious cycle, says Dr. Hersh; if you eat poorly or don’t eat at all, you’re likely to feel more fatigued because your body is deprived of essential nutrients and the energy to keep you going. “Food is fuel, so skipping meals can compromise energy levels," she says.
With just a little planning ahead — and some help from assistive devices, your friends and family, and even grocery delivery services — you can eat healthy every day.
Get a Head Start
On weekends, map out a dinner menu for the rest of the week. Then on weekdays, try to do some of each day's dinner prep when you wake up, like chopping vegetables and marinating chicken. “Energy levels tend to be higher in the morning, so it may be worth taking a few extra minutes to prepare for dinner in the evening,” says Kristi L. King, RD, a clinical dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and a clinical instructor of pediatrics for Baylor College of Medicine in the gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition section.
Fuel Up With Frequent Snacks
Accustomed to eating three big meals a day? Some habits are meant to be broken. Try eating five to six small meals throughout the day to keep your energy levels even and avoid the big dip in energy induced by heavy meals, Hersh suggests. Make sure you get the most out of every bite by choosing nutrient-rich foods like low-fat dairy, veggies, dried fruit, cereal, nuts, seeds, or other high-fiber choices. Include at least two different food groups per snack, and try to make one of them protein, King says. Also try to keep each snack to 200 calories to avoid overdoing it.
Opt for Energy-Boosting Foods
Foods that help battle inflammation can also give your energy level a lift, says King. Opt for foods rich in inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, nuts — especially almonds and walnuts — and seeds like flaxseed, she suggests. Iron-rich spinach, beans, and lentils are also a good choice, according to the National Sleep Foundation, as are eggs, which are high in B vitamins. When you need a quick burst of energy, turn to a piece of fresh fruit. Lean proteins, such as chicken, turkey, and fish, can also boost your energy, King adds.
Be Smart About Stocking Your Kitchen
When you’re tired and hungry, you don’t want to be caught without options. Keep your kitchen stocked with nutritious foods at all times so you can quickly put together a healthy meal or snack. King suggests having nut butters, crackers, hummus, yogurt, eggs, and low-sodium canned vegetables and black beans on hand. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends buying dried peas, beans, and lentils in bulk. In addition, you can stock up on extra meat when it’s on sale and freeze it so that you always have protein sources available.
Choose Simple Recipes
Preparing nutritious, delicious food doesn’t have to be complicated. “Keeping meals relatively easy and quick to prepare is a useful strategy for minimizing energy expenditure,” Hersh says. Make one-pot recipes or rely on a crockpot to do the work for you (another plus: less cookware means less cleanup). “Crockpots, in general, are completely underutilized by most people," King says. "You put in the ingredients in the morning and, by the time you come home from work, dinner is done. I love recommending crockpot meals for my patients with chronic conditions that affect their energy level.”
Fix a Feast, Freeze the Leftovers
When you’re feeling enough energy to cook a healthy meal, make extra helpings. Then, pack any leftovers in individual portion sizes and freeze them for nights when you’re too tired to prepare food. That way, you can ensure you’ll have something nutritious on hand to eat when you’re having a tough day, Hersh says. “Be sure to label the foods you freeze with the date they were prepared so it’s not a guessing game,” King recommends.
Cook off Your Feet
Use a stool when you’re cutting, chopping, and mixing to conserve energy, King suggests. Arrange your kitchen so that essentials like cookware and utensils are near the stove and easy to reach. And consider assistive devices, like grabbers, and electric appliances such as mixers and can openers so you aren't taxing your hands.
Get Your Groceries Delivered
Even shopping for groceries can deplete your energy, leaving you with little left to prepare the food. Consider a grocery delivery service, King suggests. “Many times the selection is limited," she says. "However, for basics, delivery might be a great choice.” Companies like Blue Apron deliver pre-measured ingredients with recipes to your home for quick and easy meals that you cook. And delivery services like Peapod and Instacart allow you to shop for groceries online and have them delivered right to your door. If delivery services aren’t an option in your area, consider hiring a neighborhood teenager to run the weekly errand.
Ask for Help
When it's all said and done, don't be afraid to enlist help for cooking meals. Recruiting a friend or loved one to help prepare a meal or handle kitchen cleanup duties can even be a fun collaborative way to minimize the amount of energy you use, Hersh says. “If you have kids, get them involved in the cooking," King suggests. "Make it a family event." It’s important to have support when you’re not feeling well, she adds, so let others know exactly what you need.
Video: EASY VEGAN RECIPES FOR LAZY PEOPLE (10 minute dinners)
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