If I didn’t have a child but still had AS, I probably wouldn’t bother to cook. I guess that makes me pretty lucky that I have a three-year-old. Not only do I have to make something he’ll enjoy, but I also have to keep myself in the best health for him. What is especially difficult about cooking for a toddler, is figuring out how to make a meal we can both enjoy without overdoing it in the kitchen. With AS, making two different meals is not an option.
I used to make bland, easy meals and found myself dropping pounds as I listlessly picked at his leftovers. One day I decided to take a big chance and prepare an anti-inflammatory meal for both of us. To my surprise and delight, Sawyer ate every drop on his plate. I finally discovered that there is middle-ground between adult and toddler meals and there are ways to cook and prepare during the week that make them feasible for AS parents to manage.
Meal Hack 1: Use frozen fruits and veggies
If you have AS in your hands, you know how difficult it is to open cans - even with an electric can opener. On top of this, you know how difficult it is to stand in one position for a long time, constantly repeating the same movement. These are the obstacles to preparing veggies and fruits. I avoided frozen for a long time, thinking that fresh was better until I researched how wrong I was. Not only is frozen a nutritional equivalent1, it saves you energy, frustration and pain, helping you be a better parent. To get you started, here is one of my favorite anti-inflammatory recipes that is better for having frozen ingredients:
Meal Hack 2: Set-up your kitchen for success
These simple tricks will stop AS from getting in your way in the kitchen.
- Get a grip: Keep your electric can opener in clear site on a countertop at all times. Why? It’s a constant reminder to ask the next person who comes over to open a few so you can store the contents. Don’t want to ask for help? No problem. I have a circular grip pad that helps me use all of my kitchen tools-including the can opener. It helps me open doorknobs, jars and my coffee pot (which we all know is essential to a parent’s existence).
- To reach or not to reach: there are two main spots in the kitchen that are completely useless to AS parents - bottom shelves and top shelves. Reaching and bending down are the movements our AS flares love the most and our bodies loathe. If you must store something out of reach, safely use a stepladder or a reacher (they can be bought for next-to-nothing). Trust me, there’s nothing so humbling as ending up in the ER reaching for a bowl.
- Bigger is better: your utensils and any other tool in your kitchen should have a big grip. There are specialty brands with products made for us, but I find them generally overpriced. Just go for the cheapest, fattest handles you can find. Our illness is expensive enough without buying the Rolls Royce of cutlery.
- Cooking together brings people together. At three, Sawyer already knows how to make three healthy meals all on his own. That’s called raising an independent human being, not codependence on your child. And if he is ever unimpressed with a healthy meal, I’ve found that even the healthiest desserts go a long way in bribing him. So do adventures to the park after dinner.
Meal Hack 3: Party time
Just because you have AS doesn’t mean you can’t have people over for dinner anymore. Here are a few tips to make it easier for the host.
- R-E-L-A-X: we all know what us ASers are most famous for and it isn’t our bamboo spines. That’s right, it’s cancelling plans. It’s annoying how much people tell us this - I know that first-hand. Try not to stress. Meditation, yoga, video games - I don’t care what you do to relax, but do it the day you are expecting company. Yes, the day of. Any preparations, shopping, preparing food, cleaning and setting places, should be done prior to the event.
- Sharing is caring: potlucks or buffet-style dinners are wonderful for taking some of the burden off the host, letting you sit back and enjoy company rather than playing wait-staff. If things did not get done before you flared? Ask your friends to pitch in. People love feeling useful.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff: chances are, your friends have been missing you and care more about seeing you than checking if there are dust balls under your couch. The only one who will relate things being unfinished or messy to your disease is you.
Meal Hack 4: Meal plans are not the Ten Commandments
With how busy life is, I think it’s sensible to have a set meal plan for breakfast and lunch for the week to cover all of your and your child’s nutritional needs and tastes. Dinner, however, cannot be the same every Monday. I’d suggest, taking your favorite cookbooks and writing down a type of protein for each day. For each protein, write down a different page number from your cookbook (see table below for an example), then buy groceries according to the ingredients needed for your favourite recipes, making sure nothing is forgotten on your weekly trip. This way you do not need to decide exactly what your meal is until either the weekend before or the night of. This ensures a week of delicious anti-inflammatory foods for yourself and your child without sacrificing adventure or taste.
Meal Hack 5: Groceries are a pain in the AS
Getting groceries and planning meals is key to eating well with AS. Add a toddler or any child to the mix, and this becomes an Everest-like challenge. Many ASers shop every day for little bits so that they never need to carry a big load. I strongly advise against this because every shopping trip, no matter how small, is a large toll on the AS body.
- Make it a family affair: Sawyer and I have made grocery shopping fun. We go with my parents once a week with our meal plan and we always pick him out a toy at the same time. It’s quality time with grammie and grampie and Sawyer helps pick healthy choices that will stay with him through his life.
- Ask a friend: maybe you can still drive and can take yourself but I still recommend bringing another adult along for the ride to help carry and load. Most grocery stores have electric or manual wheelchairs inside if need be and be sure to have a cane on you - just in case.
- Call it in: there are also grocery delivery and handicap transportation services. Take advantage, they were invented for us.
Cooking is tough, parenting is challenging and AS can feel insurmountable. Putting it together can make it seem impossible but honestly, it is the combination that makes it doable. There is much parenting to be done through cooking and illness reminds us to savour every meal eaten on plastic plates.
1. Bonwick G and Birch C. Antioxidants in Fresh and Frozen Fruit and Vegetables: Impact Study of Varying Storage Conditions. University of Chester.
This article was written by Bjillian MacKinnon, a regular contributor at ThisASLife.com. A social site helping the whole AS community to: Learn. Share. Inspire. Discuss.