Wherever possible I try to include fibro food fairy tips in recipes with shortcuts that can be taken to minimise the effort required to prepare a healthy, nutritious meal. This may be when you are short on time or more typically, with spoonies, when you are chronically fatigued and have no energy to even contemplate cooking something from scratch. Ironically however, it is at these times when we are struggling with our symptoms that it is more important to ensure we are well nourished, giving our body the support, it needs to rest and repair. So here I have provided my top tips to make your cooking experience easy and enjoyable.
Tip one: food cupboard staples
Cooking for a diet that is free from dairy, gluten and soya may initially seem like a challenging task, but with a little planning and organisation it doesn’t have to be that difficult. As much as possible I have tried to use ingredients that you would be able to typically find in any supermarket however, there are a selection of basic and more specialist ingredients that are worth keeping in your food cupboard and that you will reuse time and time again as you progress with your fibro friendly cookery. Below is a list of ingredients that I always try to keep on hand.
*These are more specialist gluten free flours that may be worth considering if you like to bake.
** Coconut aminos is a gluten free and soya free alternative to soy sauce and can be used in a variety of dishes. If you can tolerate soya, Tamari is a gluten free soy sauce and is cheaper and more widely available.
In my experience when comparing high street supermarkets, I have found that currently, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose tend to have more of the specialist ingredients I require. In some instances, having more of a selection and better prices than some of the big high street health food chains. This is based on my experience of what is available to me locally and may differ in your area.
In terms of being able to compare prices, reviews and availability you can’t normally beat Amazon. They may not always be the cheapest option however I have found that once you factor in the delivery cost of independent suppliers it isn’t any more expensive. The advantage of using Amazon is that you can compare products and suppliers. You can also do most of your bulk buying in one session, all from the comfort of your own home. If you get it delivered to an Amazon locker you don’t even have to do be at home when they deliver and can choose to pick up your delivery at a time that suits you. There will often be deals that you wouldn’t get elsewhere, and you may also benefit from product recommendations. It is worth noting here that I am not tied to Amazon or paid to endorse them, I am only speaking of my own personal experience.
In addition to the suppliers listed here I would also recommend Earthfare, a wholefood shop based in Glastonbury. They have an extensive product range and are very competitively priced. They are online however their online product range is more limited.
Tip two: always read the label
In an ideal world we would cook and prepare all our food from scratch without having to rely on any processed ingredients. However, living with chronic fatigue can make this difficult. If there are products available that make our lives easier, this is worth considering.
My second top tip therefore is to read the label. If you have ever read the ingredients list on food products, you may be surprised at what you will find. For example, milk is commonly used in flavoured crisps such as Doritos, gluten is found in many condiments and sauces such as soy sauce and soya is frequently added to chocolate. In addition to this there are also artificial ingredients and preservatives to be mindful of. When buying processed food there are a few things to keep in mind.
Free from/allergen information: look at the ingredients listed. In the UK, I am not sure about elsewhere, all allergens must be listed in BOLD text, so you should be able to tell immediately if a product has something that you are allergic to or intolerant of. For example, dairy, gluten or soya. However, be warned, ingredients will not always be listed under these headings. Dairy may be listed as milk, butter or cream for example or gluten may be identified as wheat, malt or barley. The important thing to remember is that they will be listed in BOLD so if you are not sure and don’t want to risk it, don’t buy it. The other thing to bear in mind is that although the product appears to be free from allergens, they may be processed in an environment that contains allergens, so cross contamination is a potential issue. If you are extremely sensitive or have a food allergy, I recommend that you avoid these products.
Artificial ingredients and preservatives. When I buy any processed food, I try to buy organic where possible. I also check the list of ingredients to see if I recognise them. Are they foods that I would typically have in my food cupboard? Does the product contain lots of chemicals that I have never heard of? If the answer to the latter question is that it does, I don’t buy it. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because it is in the “free from” section of the supermarket that it is okay to buy. Many of the processed gluten and dairy free products are full of sugar and artificial ingredients. Ingredients are normally listed in order of their quantity within the product i.e. if sugar features as the first or second ingredient on the ingredients list then it is more than likely that the product contains a lot of sugar.
Tip three: pre-prepared
My third top tip is…if you can buy pre-prepared ingredients then you should consider it. Why use up valuable energy resources chopping and preparing food if you don’t have to? I can’t remember how many times I have seen dieticians state that frozen fruit and vegetables are just as good for us as fresh. They contain just as many vitamins, minerals and nutrients as fresh, you just need to avoid overcooking them. For me, buying frozen also means less waste, as a recipe may not always require a whole onion or an entire head of broccoli; I just use what I need.
Flavour enhancers such as chilli, garlic and ginger that can be bought pre-prepared and frozen can really make a difference to your cookery and bring a dish to life. Personally, I am not a fan of frozen herbs, except maybe for use in soup or stocks where the recipe requires the flavour, but not the texture that fresh herbs can offer. I have found that freezing compromises the texture of fresh herbs and makes them go limp and soggy, not very nice at all.
You can also nowadays buy fresh pre-prepared fruit and veg if that’s your preference. It is, for obvious reasons, a little bit more expensive than buying the non-prepared kind, but it can be your best friend when energy reserves are low. Some of the better supermarkets have realised that people now want more variety and options available to them. Products such as courgetti (noodles made from spiralised courgettes), butternut squash or sweet potato chips and cauliflower rice are becoming more mainstream. Veg no longer has to be boring!
Tip four: food delivery-shop online
I have already indicated that for more specialist ingredients you may be better off buying them online. If you are struggling with chronic pain and fatigue why not reduce the drain on your valuable energy resources by doing your weekly food shop online as well. If you order well in advance or spend over a certain amount you can normally reduce or eliminate the cost of delivery. Once you get into the habit of doing regular shops you will build up a list of your favourite products which can then be automatically selected for you every time you begin a new shop. This means you don’t have to go through every department searching for individual products that you buy every week. This is a valuable resource when the brain fog creeps in and you can’t remember what you want or need from your grocery shop.
I have created an online shopping list which I add to throughout the week as and when needed. It is internet based and can be accessed by anyone in the household who may need to add to it. I can also access it when I am out and about if I need to. This has proven helpful to me time and time again as you can guarantee that by the time I have come down from upstairs I will have forgotten that we need more shower gel.
Lastly, the great thing about online grocery shopping is that if you explain to the delivery driver that you suffer with disability, or chronic pain and fatigue they will unpack your shopping for you making it even easier and less stressful for you.
Tip five: laboursaving devices
I must admit that being a bit of a foodie and a full-time cook I love my kitchen gadgets and laboursaving devices. However, I can appreciate that not everyone will have access to or room to store much in the way of kitchen equipment. There are a few pieces of equipment that I wouldn’t be without and would be particularly useful for people with chronic fatigue. Here are some kitchen tools that I have, which help me:
- Sharp knives: cutting with dull knives can make a job twice as difficult. If you can’t afford to purchase a full set a good chopping knife, a serrated bread knife and a small paring knife is probably a good start. Also consider buying a knife sharpener to improve the quality of what you have currently.
- Food processor: turns beating, chopping, blending and grating into a quick and simple process saving time and energy. If you can, I would also recommend buying a mini food processor as well, as they are great for small blending/chopping tasks such as making pesto, curry paste or breadcrumbs.
- Hand blender/stick blender: ideal for liquidising sauces and soups or making smoothies. These can be purchased relatively inexpensively however if you spend a little more you may find that you are provided with additional attachments. For example, the one that I have has a potato masher which is a great laboursaving device for anyone with chronic fatigue.
- Slow cooker/Instant pot: a slow cooker is an easy way to prepare wholesome soups, stews and casseroles. Minimum effort required, just pop all the ingredients in at the beginning of the day and hey presto, you have a lovely, nutritious, healthy meal by teatime. You may also wish to consider purchasing an Instant pot cooker. I have listed it here as mine also incorporates a slow cooking function. More popular in the US, Instant pot cookers incorporate many great features in one product. Depending on which product you buy you can use them to; pressure cook, slow cook, steam, grill, bake, roast and air crisp, which is a healthy alternative to frying. I have the Ninja foodie and can prepare an entire roast chicken dinner, including roast potatoes and steamed vegetables in one pot. Faster than using a conventional oven, less effort and minimal washing-up. The only thing I haven’t tried yet is using it to make the gravy!
- Other basics include measuring equipment, a reliable set of kitchen scales and measuring spoons. Pots and pans, baking trays and tins, lemon squeezer, garlic press, whisk, spoons, spatulas, sieve, silicone pastry brush, cooling rack, measuring jug and a mixing bowl. Consider your pressure points in the kitchen. For example, I always purchase equipment with chunky handles or grips as I struggle with fine motor skills. I also have plastic mixing bowls as they are lightweight and easy for me to hold.
Tip six: brilliant batch cooking
Although this is my last top tip, I wonder if it should really be at the number one slot as it is something that I do continuously and has been a lifesaver to me and my husband time and time again. 3 or 4 of our evening meals each week are likely to be meals that I have prepared on another day and frozen extra portions. Wherever possible I will endeavour to make extra meals that can be eaten in smaller portions as a lunch on the next day or can be put in the freezer and defrosted on days when you have nothing left in the tank.
Our batch cook tomato sauce is a great example of this and is one of our Friday night favourites. Organic, gluten free meatballs placed in a medium casserole dish, pour over source, and place in the oven for half an hour. Serve with gluten free pasta and a pre-prepared salad, job done! Minimal effort, tastes amazing and so much healthier than a takeaway.
I hope you find these top tips useful. I will update this list with any new pearls of wisdom that I can offer as regularly as possible.
If you can add to this list, it would be great to hear from you. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org