9 Kitchen Must-Haves for the Chronically Ill

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Trying to find the time, energy and ability to prepare healthy foods can be a challenge to those with chronic illnesses. Odds are, if you have the strength to get to the grocery store, you won’t have the energy to make anything for dinner.

This has been one of the hardest struggles for me.

9 Kitchen Must-Haves for the

Through years of trying to make this process easier, I’ve found there are certain things I just can’t live without.

  • My crock pot. There’s an abundance of healthy meals that can be created in the slow cooker. You can jump over to Pinterest and look at some I’ve pinned to a slow cooker board. Most recipes are simple to prep as well – dump and go. Here’s the one I have!
  • Freezer meals. I know most freezer meals aren’t very healthy. However, there are a few brands that are a pretty good alternative on a night you’re not up to making something for dinner. Try checking Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for some great meal alternatives.
  • Post-it notes to label leftovers. I keep a pad of small 2×2 sticky notes and a pen in my kitchen. When I put leftovers in the fridge I jot down the Month, Day and day of the week. That way I don’t have to rely on a foggy brain to know whether or not that sloppy joe meat is going to give me e-coli. (Yeah, it happened. It wasn’t pretty. Three days in the hospital allowed me time to come up with this little tip.)
  • Aluminum foil & parchment paper. The worst part of cooking is the cleanup. I wrap almost every baking pan in aluminum foil and line every cookie sheet with parchment paper so I can just pull it off, toss it and put the pan back in the cupboard.
  • Ninja blender. On my worst flare days, I depend on my blender. I can make a smoothie or protein shake in a matter of minutes and give my body some needed nutrition. Here’s the one I have!
  • Paper plates and plastic cups. I fought this for a while. I do worry about the landfills, I do. But there are days I’m lucky to throw together a sandwich let alone empty and fill a dishwasher or wash a load of dishes in the sink. Our local community picks up the recycling on our trash day. I make sure to do my part.
  • Freezer bags. I try to keep some homemade meals in the freezer at all times. I’ve found the easiest way to accumulate some frozen dinners to double up on whatever I make. I’ve shared this recipe by Joy Bauer for Italian Turkey Burgers on Facebook. I usually triple the batch, cook them on the griddle and freeze whatever we don’t eat that day. They warm up in 40 seconds in the microwave and they’re healthy and delicious. I also have a board on Pinterest for freezer meals to get you started.
  • Frozen fruits and veggies. I hate chopping onions so a true highlight for me was finding frozen diced onions in my local grocery store. I always keep a bag of those along with a bag of diced green pepper. A number of dishes call for one or both of those items so saving my hand and wrist the necessary chopping is a plus for me. Also, frozen fruit works great in smoothies and frozen veggies are always a quick side dish with any meal.
  • Phone & take-out menus. Yep, some days there isn’t any cooking going on. My energy is needed elsewhere or there isn’t any energy available. Either way, knowing your local carry out favorites is a must have!

Now it’s your turn! What’s your best tip kitchen tip? Let us know in the comments below!




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53 thoughts on “9 Kitchen Must-Haves for the Chronically Ill

  1. Great list of must-haves! One must-have for my kitchen is snacks that are quick to grab. When my blood sugar is dropping or I am too weak and tired to prepare a snack, it is helpful to have healthy snacks ready-to-go. Some snacks I like to have are: grapes, bananas, dried fruit, nuts, granola bars, tortilla chips and salsa, and pretzel sticks.

    • That’s a great one Rachel! Having something you can grab and eat immediately is a must as well. Thanks for adding and listing some great snack ideas!

      • I use crockpot liners, no more scrubbing the crockpot after making a simple meal in one. Rotisserie chicken is a great way to make anything that requires cooked chicken as an ingredient like casseroles and enchiladas. The meat is tender and pulls off the bone easily. I love my electric pressure cooker. If I am having a bad morning I can wait until late in the day to cook anything I would make in the crockpot.

        • Thanks for the tips Karen! I have never used a pressure cooker. I think they scare me after seeing a few blow their tops when I was a kid. LOL The Rotisserie chicken is a great tip – so easy and so many ways to use it!

  2. Love, love your tips! It has helped that through the years my DH has learned to cook some nice meals for us. We also *work as a team preparing and cleaning up the more simplified meals we now eat (due to my dietary restrictions) which can actually be enjoyable.

  3. Good list, and only thing I would add is kitchen scissors – easier to cut up leafy vegetables and also meat that you need to cut into smaller portions. Many times it’s just easier for me to use than a knife.

  4. my tip for having something in your kitchen is a battery operated can opener -I have problems with my hands and could not be with out this handy little gadget!

  5. I have to have my apron. I don’t have energy to treat stains or grease splatters and my apron has saved many a shirt.

  6. I used to use a hand-held can opener because the noise of an electric one bothered me due to fibromyalgia. Then, when the pain in my hands and fingers worsened, I went back to an electric can opener. I can now handle the short amount of noise better than the amount of pain my hands would be in. I had to learn to be flexible.

    • It’s good to be adaptable Susan! It’s a juggling act isn’t it? What works for a while may not work forever.

  7. Oh my favourite subject by far! I’m too fatigued for my own blog but one day I’ll do a guest post or three somewhere. I buy nothing that needs cooking within 3-5 days. While that seems limiting, that’s my recovery from shopping time plus there’s always a doctor’s appointment somewhere.

    I use bags of mixed veggies – Chinese, ready-for-chilli, Thai, Italian for all my dishes. If I have to cut anything I use my chopper – I bought a processor but my fog brain doesn’t handle learning new things and I can’t screw up my manual chopper. They won’t be pretty and diced but they’ll be edible! Next, I make dishes over several days with extra so I can eat the parts as I go. Day 1 – cook the ham (add an extra ham and some sweet potatoes in the same oven and I’ve got lots of dinners) Day2 – chop some ham and onion, etc. Fry the frozen hash browns (optional – I can also cook it frozen). Eat a slice of ham and some hash browns for dinner. Day 3 – Mix the eggs, add ham and onion, milk and voila! Egg casserole with all the food groups.
    Need it even easier? A potato in the over with pork and beans from the can on top works – this one came from a website somewhere… Struggle with salads? Pre-washed and cut cabbage or brocoli-slaw lasts longer than greens. I get enough for the week and only add what I can when I can. A little vinegar and oil tossed on top and it’s veggies and low-cal! No need to premix the dressing; do it a-la-French-style. Then, on a day when I can add some clementines and pepper? I feel like I’m really handling my limits.

    In between cooking, I heat up some frozen veggie mixes that have quinoi or grains, etc plus a bit of dressing already in it. A bowl is a complete meal and it only takes 4 minutes in my micro. The mighty-micro definitely being one of my favourite tools for days when I’m crawling not running. My snacks or “grab-meals” are all foods that need no prep. A whole carrot, piece of fruit, slice of cheese or ham – what can I say – ham’s been on sale for the holidays 🙂 I get my meal without any prep, sometimes without even a dish or cutlery.

    My last tool? Potty-breaks. I know, right? At night, when my dog asks to go out 3 times I don’t mind. I spend 3-4 minutes putting dishes in the dishwasher or soaking a dish knowing I have an hour or so to rest before a quick dish scrub and a counter wipe has me ready for tomorrow!

    Thanks for the write-up Kim! I’ve just found you – after 42 years I’ve been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome since childhood (plus my other lifetime illnesses). Good to finally have some company!


    • Hi Jayne! You sure shared some great tips! Thank you. CFS is one of my illnesses as well. I wish you didn’t have to live with it but I’m sure finally getting a diagnosis is a relief of some sorts. I always say you can’t fight the enemy until you know it’s name.

      • I am so glad to finally be finding a community. And yes, a diagnosis is like a flag announcing my state to everyone; and it’s planted firmly on the ground. No more “in your head” for me!

        I’m sorry you have it too and so grateful you made the time for this blog. I’ll be joining the book reading soon.

  8. I have 4 children so trying to get healthy family meals is even more of a challenge. I’ve been enjoying the subscription services that send ingredients and recipes to my house. Blue Apron didn’t send enough food per serving so we switched to Hello Fresh and so far so good. It is a lot of chopping but if that’s the only meal I prepare that day or space it out, it’s usually ok. There are some others that do more of the prep for you. I’m thankful that I don’t use any mental energy to meal plan and everything I need is in the box.

    I also use the delivery service my local grocery offers. I place my order online and they carry it right into my kitchen.

    • Haly, thank you for mentioning your Blue Apron experience. After 5 shipments, I’ve just canceled my subscription, and your comment makes me realize it was that darned chopping that was getting me down! And I only have one to cook for! I have serious arthritis in both hands and wrists, plus a healing dislocated left wrist, so meal prep has been a real chore.

      As is grocery shopping! I’m just too tired (CFIDS & Fibro) to leave the house most days, so when I shop, I get home with 3-4 weeks supply of everything. That takes 3-4 days to get into the house and put away (I try to get perishables out of the car first, but sometimes I overlook a bagful and find it by the smell a week later!!) Maybe you can tell I’m attempting to be “funny” as in “amusing.” Because: I have lots of time regrouping my strength and will to keep moving when I get things done, and have to have “just a little nap”!!!!

      Kim, I’m so pleased to have “found” your blog today-not an accident, I’m sure! I look forward to learning and sharing more tips and tales of encouragement and keeping a light heart. Indeed, grace IS sufficient!!!

      • DeDe, thank you for reading and sharing with me. The chopping can be awful for arthritic wrists. I don’t have arthritis but I always keep a bag of frozen chopped onions and green pepper in the freezer, like I mentioned. Anything to avoid the pain chopping can bring. And trust me, you aren’t alone when it comes to leaving things in your car. 😉

    • Haly, thanks for sharing your experience with Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. It’s a great idea to use these services if you can. Also, I’m glad you mentioned the delivery service from your local grocery store. It would be worth the phone call for readers to see if their local store delivers as well. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Push through the pain to keep your kitchen clean, it makes it so much easier to prepare meals the next day. Also, I try to duplicate my meals so that I can serve one and put the other in the freezer.

    • I LOVE that tip! I totally agree with you – my day starts off right when the kitchen is clean. It makes it easier to make a healthy breakfast. And freezer meals, oh yes! Gotta have ’em!

  10. Thank you so much for this post!!! I have been living with Fibro for years and have had to figure out things on my own. Full-time work, commuting and part-time school made cooking extra difficult in the evening. I have a diabetic mother so I have to think about too, so these tips are amazing! I just wanted to add that microwaveable veggies are a huge help for dinners (as a side, ingredient, salad, etc.) To add sweetness to easy smoothies for a dinner (when I’m too achy/sick to eat) agave is the best! For an awesome Green Tea Frappacino copy I put 4 ice cubes, soy milk, 3 teaspoons of Agave and a 1/2 teaspoon of Teavana’s Matcha Green Tea powder. Saves me $ at Starbucks and less caffeine intake but enough for energy.

    • Thanks Genevieve – that’s a great one to add as a kitchen tool! Anyway you can make the job easier is better for your body!

  11. Rubberized jar opener.
    More than one pancake turner, large stirfry slotted spoons, serving spoons, so I don’t have to wash each one, can just rinse and accumulate in dishwasher till time to run load.
    Grocery delivery…pick out on line. The best.
    Frozen prepared veg.

  12. Great ideas in the post and comments. I’ve used them all at times. I try to prep my meals and slow cook or pressure cook or steam. My air-fryer is a blessing and I keep it simple where I can. Local food growers will deliver to my counter top and the extra prep is worth it for the quality. I try to be scrupulous about discarding uneaten food each week and try to do better, luckily nothing is wasted due to cats and geese. I make no excuses for pre-prepared foods at times and just have to do the best I can. If I can’t, I have a choice of take-aways, some excellent. Life is tough with chronic pain and disabilities but we can help ourselves and still eat well. I love Pinterest and use it lots. Good wishes to all who struggle.

  13. This is fantastic! I’ve been doing a few of these already – Frozen Meals is my favourite! I’ve not thought about using plastic plates though – may need to get a stash!

  14. I have one of those “grabbers” with a rubber handle to reach things on the high shelves and also a stool so I don’t have to constantly ask my boyfriend to get this or that from the cupboard.

  15. Found this via tumblr, and these are wonderful and useful tips!

    I keep juice/soda/gatorade near my bed, because there are days when I can’t manage to get out of bed often enough for food/drink, and that at least means I don’t worry about dehydration or blood sugar drops. Plus, I try to keep an extensive spice rack, and use cream instead of milk to help make flavors more appealing and add calories, respectively, when pain/depression/anxiety sap appetite.

  16. I make sure to have ingredients for at least one of the following 1-2-3 meals for the days when the migraine is still biting at dinner prep time or my feet are two hot loaves of pain. Add 1 fruit or vegetable, whatever’s available, to any of the below and there’s a square meal for a family of five. And I can sit on the kitchen bench while the meal pretty much cooks itself, keeping steps to a minimum.

    Can of fancy baked beans-the last of an odd-weight package of ground beef-something bready heated in the toaster or microwave
    Jars of pasta sauce-pasta-any of several fresh or leftover meats, whatever I got
    Hamburger patties-toast-cut up a watermelon (set out the hamburger fixins)
    Ground beef-can of Manwich-whole wheat something
    If I have a little less migraine pain, so I can bend over to tend the oven: Roast a chicken with some butter on the top-put on a pot of rice-open a bag of salad or nuke some frozen veggies in the microwave
    If I have a little less foot pain, so I can stand and chop things: Put black-eyed peas in slow cooker, cook cook cook; saute some bell peppers and onions with garlic in a lot of olive oil, stir in just before serving with some sage; pot of rice in the meantime.

  17. Thank you for this post! I need all the help I can get, and sensible ideas for the kitchen are very welcome. Pre-cut frozen veggies are wonderful for sparing my hands from more pain. We like using parchment paper – nothing sticks!

    We used to use our crock pot often, but since my husband now does almost all of the cooking, he uses an Instant Pot. It’s an electric pressure cooker that can also be a crock pot. If you’re interested, put Instant Pot into a search bar. It has its own website, and we got a good price on one on Amazon.com. My husband loves using it!

    I would add plastic utensils to #6. Over the years, we would buy paper plates, etc., now and then when I was going through a rough time with fibromyalgia. Since it’s gotten so much worse in the last couple of years, we buy and use them regularly. There are still dishes for me to do (we don’t have a dishwasher), and I do some when I can, but paper plates and the rest help a great deal. Also, paper plates and cereal bowls are much lighter than even the plastic plates we have, so my hands and wrists get a break.

    Thanks again!

    • Thanks for all your tips Susan! Plastic utensils are a great idea! Especially if you’re hand washing everything. Washing silverware is a pain. I’ll look at that Instant Pot. I’ve never heard of it.

  18. I’d add some healthy soups. I’m not a cook so I buy the lite Progressos (I always have their chicken noodle on hand) & Trader Joes low salt soups. All delicious & filling with grilled cheese or just cheese & crackers.

  19. I completely agree! I use my crockpot almost daily! I’ve even considered doing a fundraiser to buy crockpots for other people with chronic illness, they are just such a life saver! As long as I can muster the energy to throw something in my crockpot, I know dinner is taking care of itself and I’ve accomplished something. Freezer meals make this even more convenient. When I’m having a good day I will prep meatloaf or meat balls, or put some chicken and veggies in a freezer bag with some marinade, then all of that can just go in the crockpot when I need it. Little things like this make life easier when juggling chronic illness, and help me feel like I’m still a productive member of the family no matter how crappy I feel.

  20. I live in a very rural area, so delivery services are rare. However, I credit Pizza Hut delivery for keeping me alive during a 7 month super flare! My greatest tip is on line shopping. I started buying my cat food and litter through Wal Mart, because they weigh down the cart so much in store. Shipping is free if you order $50 worth. I then began to buy can foods and staples. They now have a program where you can order your entire grocery list..Including meats, dairy, frozen, and produce. They gather it, bag it and you just pick it up. I live in the middle of nowhere and my local Wal Mart offers this now. I had to ask, but my aunt who is almost 90 uses it and notified me. She loves it. I long for the day when someone develops a totally balanced, healthy, energy boosting kibble for those like us! Hope it tastes like potato chips…All flavors! 🙌. Hang in there my friends and seek laughter!!

    • Great tips – thanks Carole! Pizza delivery has kept us alive many a night as well. I’ve just begun some online shopping of staples. My husband and kids are great at picking items up when we need them but if I can do it with a click of a mouse and free shipping then I feel like I’ve helped a bit more. 🙂