Tips for Meal Prepping with a Physical Disability
A few weeks ago, a member of my Instagram community sent me a message and asked me to write this very blog post. To be honest, it was a request for a post that is NOT within my scope. I felt completely unqualified to write it.
But I IMMEDIATELY agreed to do it.
I was asked to write a post about my best tips on how to meal prep with a physical disability.
This is a tricky topic for me to write about for a number of reasons:
1. I have no personal experience here (Unless you want to consider being 9 months pregnant and waddling a disability ;)), so I would need to put myself in the shoes (or in this case, the wheelchair) of another individual and view my kitchen workspace from a completely different light.
2. Not all physical disabilities are the same: This means that the picture may look quite different from one individual to another. One person may be unable to stand while another may be unable to use one side of their body. Someone else may only be able to do work for a short period of time before needing a break. In short, I can only provide IDEAS to consider in this post which would need to be modified and tweaked to YOUR unique situation.
So with all of that in mind, let's discuss!
Before you shop
- Have a plan: Knowing what you'll be making throughout the week BEFORE going to the grocery store is important for those without a physical limitation, but I would consider it essential for those with one! Why? One forgotten ingredient and you could be without dinner! By creating your meal plan and shopping list well in advance, you can be sure you'll have everything you need when it's time to start cooking!
- Have some go-to recipes: Sometimes the hardest part of meal planning for me is thinking of what the heck I'm going to make! One thing that may be helpful is to keep a little list of your go-to meals and snacks that you know are doable for you. Ensure you've got the ingredients for a few of them on hand every week, just in case things go awry and you need something quick and delicious to fall back on!
- Keep variety in mind: Go-to meals are important, but a varied diet is still an integral part of keeping your immune and digestive system healthy and happy! It can be hard enough trying to navigate a kitchen with physical disability, and now I'm asking you to step a touch out of your comfort zone even more by always trying to add something different to your diet. I promise it's all for good reason though, and it could be as simple as trying a different type of fruit, or picking a different type of greens than you had the week before!
At the grocery store
- Look for easy options in the produce department: There are excellent options available in most grocery stores for prepared vegetables and even pre-portioned meats! My local grocery store has pre-riced cauliflower, veggie noodles (beet, zucchini, squash or zucchini, to name a few), pre-washed berries and even pre-cubed butternut squash which can eliminate the frustration of attempting to wash, peel, chop and de-seed everything. Sometimes it's so nice to just dump everything on a pan and call it a day.
- Choose frozen pre-chopped veggies: Not only is this an option I'd recommend choosing over canned for health reasons, it's also one that is likely much easier to work with than both fresh AND canned! (And it's affordable - Score!) Frozen produce is typically picked and frozen right away at peak freshness, preserving a good amount of their vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. As a matter of fact, much of the fresh produce you'll see at the grocery store may have been picked weeks before when it was underripe in order to travel to where you are! This means that those frozen bagged veggies that are easier to work with could potentially provide MORE goodness than the fresh stuff! This doesn't mean you want to avoid fresh food altogether, but it's definitely another great tool to keep in your back pocket!
- Consider foods that don't require prep at all: Mother nature created some amazing foods that require absolutely no prep time! Most notably, things like fresh greens (think of the softer kinds that are easiest to work with, like spinach, arugula, butter lettuce and romaine), yellow and green beans, berries, plums, and apples! Take advantage of the simplicity of whole foods whenever it suits your situation. (And as an added bonus, simplicity in the diet can be much easier for digestion than an extravagant meal, anyway!)
When you get home
- Make use of helpers!: I know that this post is about how YOU can prep with a disability, and I'm not going to turn it into a post about how other people can help you do it all. I believe there is empowerment in planning, prepping and cooking for ourselves. That being said, I do think that whether one has a disability or not, they should make use of the help that is offered to them! :) If someone helps you with picking up your groceries, perhaps they're also able to spend a bit of time helping to put things away, wash and/or chop some produce right away so you can much more easily work with it when hunger strikes.
- Bulk prep alone or with company: Only YOU know whether you can manage doing a bulk prep (stocking the fridge and/or freezer with pre-washed, chopped or cooked goods) once every week or two on your own, or whether you might require support here. Enlist the kids, your spouse, your physical therapist or even a close friend if need be!
Whether you're tackling it on your own or with a crew, here are some meal prep ideas that might work in your weekly bulk rotation:
Pre-boiled and peeled eggs
Mason jar salads (Great to just dump on a plate and enjoy, and they can last 5-6 days in the fridge!)
Mason jar overnight oats (keeps well in the fridge for 4-5 days!)
Hummus and/or guacamole for dipping (which can always be purchased pre-made, too!)
Washed and chopped melon
Raw veggies for dipping or to easily dump on a sheet pan to cook!
A sheet pan of your protein pre-roasted for the next few days (chicken, turkey, fish, legumes, etc)
Pre-steamed or roasted veggies
I also love using tahini (sesame seed butter, which can be found at most grocery stores) mixed with a bit of water as an easy sauce for just about everything. For example, on top of a buddha bowl: Add some pre-washed greens, pre-cooked veggies from prep day, a piece of pre-cooked protein (turkey, fish, a boiled egg, etc), a grain of your choosing if you want (quinoa, brown rice, etc) to a bowl. Add a big drizzle of tahini on top and dive in. Delicious!
-Think outside the box: Or in this case, think outside of the Grocery Store! Meal prep services, personal chefs and personal shoppers (some of which are non-profit, by the way!), can be much more affordable than you think! A smoothie bar recently opened in a neighbouring town to mine (of maybe 5,000 people!) which creates the most incredible prepped healthy meals that suit all dietary limitations! Pre-made smoothies, energy balls, salads, pad thai, waffles, pastas, soups and more! The prices are shockingly good, and they'll make just about anything you could imagine. While I do think that cooking is a beautiful act that ALL should be able to enjoy, there are also days where I just don't want to cook! Do some digging and see if there are any hidden gems you can connect with once in a while!
In the kitchen
- Consider your workspace: Do you find your kitchen cupboards too cluttered and difficult to physically navigate? Are there bigger, bulkier items like cutting boards blocking your everyday necessities? Are certain things completely out of your reach? Does your budget allow for some helpful kitchen gadgets that could make a world of difference for you? Would working with a small food processor be much easier than working with your giant blender? Organizing your kitchen in a way that can help YOUR cooking process flow best can save time and frustration.
- Let your normal find you: Do you find it easiest to use a cutting board down on your lap? Would it be helpful to have a small end table nearby to work at a lower height? Do you like to keep a small Ikea cart with wheels nearby to hold your spices, cutlery or gadgets? Would a small toaster oven be easier to work with than your big oven for roasting veggies and prepping proteins? Do you require more light or pull handles instead of drawer knobs in your workspace? Just because your cooking situation might look different from your average Joe doesn't mean it is wrong or won't work. As a matter of fact, it can make things SO much more enjoyable! My suggestion: Find what works for you and go with the flow, baby!
- Work from a recipe: Instead of making 10 trips back and forth to the fridge, check over your recipe first and grab all of your ingredients in one or two trips (A little cart or table might be helpful for this too!). Remember that very first suggestion I listed above? HAVE A PLAN. It's helpful when you hit the grocery store, and it's helpful in the kitchen too!
In your head
- Go at your own pace: Take breaks when you need to. It might even be helpful to keep a chair close by in the event that you might need a rest. Listen to your body and go at a pace that works for you.
- Remember that you have got this!: If you're reading this blog post, I hope it's because you feel that you absolutely CAN cook. I believe that many, many people dealing with physical disabilities can still enjoy the process of preparing a meal. It doesn't have to be a thing that reminds you of what you CAN'T do! If anything, I hope that you feel empowered to get creative, enjoy the process and have fun with it! Again - Your normal might look different from someone else's version of normal, but who cares? It certainly doesn't make your way the wrong way!
And finally, know this: You are entitled to this experience, just as much as anyone else.
You, my friend, are capable.
Do you have any helpful tips to add to the list? What has worked best for you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!