help me eat while I'm sick
December 31, 2011 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Sick with an ongoing fatigue/pain issue and I can't cook for myself anymore. I need some help eating healthy still.

Here is the crux of the issue. I've got some medical condition the doctors are still working out that leaves me fatigued and in pain. It's progressively gotten work in the past few months and now I'm finding it nearly impossible to cook for myself. So I've fallen into eating food that isn't great, either take out or really unhealthy processed foods that take no time to prepare - cereal, lunch meats, crackers. Not healthy, for sure. Other times I'm eating takeout.

My diet has never been great and the past year or so its been worse (because of the fatigue) but I at least prepared somewhat healthy meals a few times a week like baked chicken breasts and a vegetable side dish for dinner or a sandwich wrap with lots of veggies and a low fat meat. I now am unable to do that most days.

I do have a husband who can help out but he doesn't know how to cook and isn't great with picking out healthy food choices. So part of this will involve him getting up to speed on these things, but to start with I don't know how much he will be able to do on his own. (Suggestions there of what he can do to learn about cooking and food related health would also be appreciated.) My husband also works during the day so can't help out with breakfast or lunch unless they're pre-made.

Right now, I'm not concerned about being on any kind of diet, but I want to make sure I'm getting a balanced, healthy diet.

Complicating matters, I'm not working now, so money is tight. Which eliminates some options, I know. I had considered the idea of hiring a chef temporarily, but its not in the budget.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Avenger at 9:29 AM on December 31, 2011

Crockpot. Seriously.

I have a sort of similar problem (RA, when it flares up I can't do much of anything but lie around, and eating crap food makes it flare up, so it can be a wicked vicious cycle.) The crockpot is brilliant because five minutes of unwrapping and chopping (which is totally doable for your husband) will yield two to four portions of something tasty and healthy that has both vegetables and meat. Stews, soups, roasts, whatever - there are a million recipes on the internet and the most complicated thing they involve is browning the meat (and then only sometimes.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:32 AM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Frozen meals, like Lean Cuisine? That could be a good choice for entrees, and you could pad them with fresh fruits, veggies, crackers & cheese, etc.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:34 AM on December 31, 2011

pre-done poached salmon and spinach is my go-to!
posted by misspony at 9:38 AM on December 31, 2011

oh! and oatmeal, yogurt and fruits... easy to toss together and very good for you.
posted by misspony at 9:39 AM on December 31, 2011

Bean burritos are good when you have almost no energy for cooking: use whole wheat tortillas, spread them with canned refried beans (with or without jalapeños), top with a slice of cheese, roll up and microwave until they're warm and the cheese melts.

restless_nomad is right about the slow cooker. The easiest recipe: put a pork roast in the slow cooker, pour a cup or so of bottled barbecue sauce over it, and cook all day until it falls apart. On better days, you can start with raw chicken thighs early in the day, and now and then spend five minutes more to throw in chopped onions or potatoes and carrots or a can of cream of something soup as you get enough energy to do so.

Use 100% whole wheat bread or rye crispbread as a healthy substitute for junky crackers.

Vegetables are a lot of trouble when you're sick, but you need to eat them. Pre-made salads and baby-cut carrots are helpful. Frozen vegetables are healthy to eat and don't require cutting and peeling, just heat them on the stovetop or in the microwave. Instant mashed potatoes are not as good as those you boil yourself, but it's worth it because they take almost no effort.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 9:57 AM on December 31, 2011

Homemade oatmeal and slow-cooker food is easy to make and store in quantity and hard to screw up. Much, much cheaper than take-out, fast food or hiring a chef, too. Consider buying a large crockpot and spending some time on Epicurious, or any number of other food blogs (there are some great metafilter threads on crackpot cooking as well, if I recall) and then making and freezing meal-sized portions of whatever you like, so that there's always something easy and healthy in the freezer.

Using fresh herbs whenever possible can make even a marginal cook look like a rock star too, and having some fresh thyme and rosemary around is pretty easy.
posted by mhoye at 10:03 AM on December 31, 2011

Does your husband take direction well? Do you have enough energy to direct him? If so, on weekends I would get him to make up big batches of yummy healthy things, and then freeze individual portions for the week. Chili, soups, that kind of thing.
posted by looli at 10:39 AM on December 31, 2011

Similar to restless nomad, I have psoriatic arthritis. Fatigue is a component, so I have some down days. My "go-to" healthy meals include:

pre-chopped vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, celery, peppers, etc) and hummus

greek yogurt, berries, honey and ground flax seeds

sliced apples and cheese or peanut butter

pre-packaged salad greens, with chopped veggies and chick peas.

smoked salmon and rye crackers

pre-packaged soups (my whole foods has a 2 for $8 special every Monday on their soups).

raw kale and WF zesty tahini dressing.

Granted these are all more "snacky" type foods, but I can generally make a meal out of a few of them if I'm not starving or combine a couple if I'm hungrier.

If you have a little more energy, my favorite quick meal is turkey andouille sausage sliced and sauted. Remove from pan and add kale and cannellini beans until the kale has wilted and the beans are warm. Add the sausage back in for a minute and then remove from heat. Add salt, pepper, and squeezed lemon wedge to taste. It takes about 10-15 minutes, including chopping the sausage and can be cooked in one large saute pan, so there is minimal clean-up.

Hopefully the pre-made stuff can keep you and your husband going while he gets up to speed on cooking. As a side note, I've always felt that if you could read and follow directions, you can cook. Maybe not complicated Cordon Bleu type recipes, but practically anything else. That's how I learned to cook. My mom died when I was young and I had no one to teach me. Look at online cooking sites or go to a bookstore and find a few cookbooks that feature food that the two of you enjoy. Start with straightforward recipes with a minimum of ingredients. He'll make some mistakes, but that's all part of the process.
posted by kaybdc at 10:58 AM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

My partner is getting up to speed on cooking as well. Tonight is the fouth night of him doing the cooking and it's going great so far. What worked for us is picking out just one cookbook that was most compatible with the food he likes to eat and at the same time is easy. For us as vegetarians this is The Quorn Cookbook. I know I'm going to get sick of quorn eventually but for now he's doing great.

So my suggestion is pick out just one cookbook together, and then he gets to flip through it and choose which recipes to make. It need to be something simple and healthy, but by choosing one cookbook you turn something that seems overwhelming (learning to cook) and makes it manageable (following a limited set of directions). Best of luck to you both!
posted by hazyjane at 11:05 AM on December 31, 2011

Oops, fourth not fouth. I made the mulled wine myself!

For you and your husband, how about trying Cooking Light: 5 Ingredient 15 Minute Cookbook
posted by hazyjane at 11:07 AM on December 31, 2011

Personally, I just wouldn't bother to cook. Protein shakes made with whey protein and milk and fruit if you like. The protein is the important part, and frankly, I just wouldn't bother trying to cobble together meals. Your husband can probably manage to toss a salad and bake some chicken for your meals together, but during the day--snack on fresh fruit and sip those shakes.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:30 AM on December 31, 2011

Lots of shortcuts, like the pre-chopped veg, pre-bagged salads, canned tuna, rotisserie chicken, microwave popcorn. Pre-bagged coleslaw with your favorite salad dressing(not just slaw dressing; try Trader Joe's goddess dressing, or any asian dressing). Oatmeal is really easy, can be combined with dried fruit, bran, etc. I have it for breakfast with brown sugar, dried apricots and some almonds. I make real oatmeal, but you can make quick oats by putting them in a thermal cup, adding boiling water and letting them sit for 2 minutes. I make coffee in a carafe and warm up 1 cup at a time.

Rice + leftover vegetables and whatever else was dinner the night before. Many people are getting good results with eliminating gluten & wheat. worth a try. Trader Joe's has rice tortillas - bean burritos can be made ahead and frozen for quickly microwaved lunch.

Frozen meals - Lean cuisine, and others that meet your preferences. Check for excessive fat, salt & sugar. Frozen vegetables are easy, and allow you to keep up healthy food easily.

Canned foods - some canned veg are just fine, like beets and corn. A can of sliced beets with vinegar is tasty and nutritious. My grocery has jarred sweet/sour red cabbage that I like a lot Canned fruit is easy - mandarin oranges, pears, peaches packed in juice. This can help you get the needed fiber and vitamins, and I find it to be an easy snack when I have a sweet tooth. Canned chili on top of a baked potato or rice, some canned soups are really full of salt, but some are fine.

Celery doesn't take much work, and is crunchy. 'Baby' carrots, radishes. I like cabbage, and slice it up to munch on plain, or with dip.

Make a big batch of soup, stew, roasted veg., etc., and eat it for 2 meals a day. Freeze some for next week. Whatever you make, add extra veggies to bump up the vitamins.

Most of all, let people know you need help. It's a sign of friendship.
posted by theora55 at 3:21 PM on December 31, 2011

V8 is a good way of getting some veggie servings in. I like to heat it up in the microwave to make a healthier version of tomato soup. Lately my lunch at work has been an apple, a wedge of cheese and a cup of hot V8 juice. Healthy and satisfying.

I can't think of anything easier to cook than baked chicken... it's one of my go-to meals when I absolutely don't have the time or energy to actually cook something. Line a cookie sheet with non-stick foil so cleanup is a snap. Slap your chicken parts on the cookie sheet, sprinkle with season salt (like Lawry's) and bake at 400 for about an hour. Microwave a bag of frozen veggies, and if you feel like you need a starch you can microwave a baked potato in about 4 minutes. If you don't have the energy for that, it is at least something super-simple your husband could fix.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:32 PM on December 31, 2011

Hi, I went through this exact thing from last December to April. DO NOT let this escalate. Don't eat junk. I ended up in the ER.
When my mother came to visit me, my house was in terrible shape, I had 3 laundry baskets full of dirty dishes that I had no energy to wash for months.

If you have any family or friends whatsoever, beg one of them to come cook for you once a week.

Stay as far as possible from USDA recommendations, the worse I got, the more and more I tried to follow the government's diet recommendation. The government recommended diet is terrible for your health.

When I got out of the ER, I had family to help me, and since I was helpless I was eating the food they made me, and I got better. It took one month and I got 100% well! I've been healthy since May/June!


Get a family member to come cook for YOU once a week. Your husband, you know, the one who I assume swore he would care for you in sickness or in health, can either help you or he can fend for himself. You're not in a position to be worrying about him now. Trust me, I know!

If you're willing, do what my mother, and my boyfriend's mother, did for me. If you can manage to do this, great, if not, get a friend/family.

Fat steaks, pork and beef roasts, pork shoulder, fatty burgers. Don't be afraid of the animal fat.
My mother told me I should eat lard and I'd get better, and I was so angry at her, I yelled and yelled at her. But turns out she was right... I'm so sad that I got angry with her.

You are weak and fatigued, you need all the energy you can get, and saturated fat will help you with this.


Here's some easy food examples. You can even keep these in individual serving containers, then all you have to do is microwave them.

Sunday morning, take out 6 roasts out of the freezer: 3 beef, 3 pork.
When they're thawed, put your favorite spices on them (mix spices in bacon fat or olive oil, for example, then pat it on the meat.
Set the oven to 400 and put all the roasts there, 3 on top, 3 on the bottom.
After 30 minutes, move the top ones to the bottom, and the bottom ones to the top.
After 30 minutes, flip them again, and set the temp to 200F. Bake for two hours and check if done.
When it cools, slice thin. Keep in Tupperware.

Speaking of bacon, Sunday morning, make a big batch of bacon, and a dozen hard boiled eggs. You just made yourself enough breakfast for the rest of the week.


Buy full fat coconut milk in cans.
Buy chicken breasts.
Buy a small bag of cooked shrimp.
Buy curry paste.


Shrimp curry: This is easy, your husband can do it, really. Use a really big pot, this makes lots.
Slice two onions, slice two red bell peppers.
Cook them in the pot with olive oil or coconut oil or butter.
Add the curry (about two chunks, when you open it you'll see it comes in separable chunks).
Stir until it's blended. Add the shrimp and cook.
Then add a can of coconut milk. Stir, stir, stir, simmer for 20 minutes.
You can serve by itself, or with white rice on the side.


Chicken curry, takes a bit more prep than the shrimp curry, but since you can make lots at once, it's not that bad:
Cube 3 chicken breasts and two onions.
Cook in a big pot with olive oil or coconut oil or butter.
Now, if you want to, you can add a small cubed sweet potato, a small cubed white potato, one chopped carrot. If so, brown the vegetables for a bit.
Add 3 chunks of curry paste. Stir to blend in.
Add 1 or 2 cans of coconut milk, depending on how much it takes to cover the ingredients in the pot.
Simmer for 30 minutes.


Buy some strawberries or other berries, and they'll be good for breakfast too (WITH the meat/eggs, not by themselves, or you'll be tired)


For vegetables:
Peel 3 white potatoes, and 5 sweet potatoes (assuming they're the same size).
Cube the potatoes. Add to a pot of water, with 5 tablespoons butter (not margarine!)
Boil until soft, then mash.


Have your husband slice bell peppers and keep them in the fridge. Then you can just microwave, or add to scrambled eggs. This goes for other vegetables too. He CAN slice veggies, right?


Keep lots of broccoli and green bean in the fridge. When you want to eat them, all you have to do is put some in a bowl with a tablespoon of water, garlic powder, and butter. Microwave for a couple of minutes, and they're delicious.


I know you are reading all this and thinking "But I don't want to gain weight!". You won't, I promise. You won't, unless you're eating junk like cereal or bread or granola bars. But I believe you will get better, like I did. I'm so thankful I got over my fatigue so I can lead a normal life again.

Best wishes and hope this New Year won't be as bad for you as mine turned out to be last year.
I really stress that either your husband or someone else (ANYONE else, neighbor you barely know, grandma up the street: it doesn't matter who) must help you.

Please send me a metafilter message if there's anything I can help you with.
posted by midnightmoonlight at 4:29 PM on December 31, 2011

Oh and by "junk" above, I mean, among others:
bread (even whole wheat), subway, lean cuisine, pizza.

Don't fall into the trap I did. You're tired, so you're likely to overeat these because of convenience.
These foods offer NO nutrition, and nutrition is what you need right now.
posted by midnightmoonlight at 5:10 PM on December 31, 2011

Here's another easy recipe for your husband:

Beef stew
1 package beef stock/broth
Spices (I know you don't have much money right now, so feel free to skip on spices):
salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, bay leaf, cumin.

Cut in bite-size chunks:
2 chuck steaks
1 onion
1 potato
2 carrots

Cook beef in olive oil or butter.
Add spices, then add the chopped vegetables, and cook some more.
When well browned, add the beef stock (just enough to cover meat and vegetables), and bring to a boil. Then turn the heat to lowest, and simmer for 1 hour.

And here's a list of "The Basics" of cooking (it's not very organized though, he'll have to browse for a bit):
posted by midnightmoonlight at 5:43 PM on December 31, 2011

I have the same issue due to pain etc for the last 4 + years-many days I am unable to cook a meal.The crock pot is a great suggestion for days you can manage what is needed to use it.

For days where you cannot do much of anything...try diabetic meals in a can.That way you at least get vitamins and nutrients needed-most are not bad either (life saver for me)
posted by plumberonkarst at 7:52 PM on December 31, 2011

Canned soup is a lot better than it used to be; spend just a little more for the organic brands and you may be pleasantly surprised. But you have to read the labels: look for low sodium, and make sure all the ingredients are actual foods. Many of them are even better when you customize them--mix two flavors together, add beans, rice, extra veg (frozen), your own spices.

Just a caution on the all-carbs-are-evil-just-eat-fat-and-protein advice above: this isn't for everyone. Like they say, check with your doctor. If you have any kidney impairment, a high protein diet could send you right to dialysis. I've tried lots of different diets, and I'm definitely less fatigued with a good proportion of whole grains in my diet, and no meat. We're all different. Listen to your own body, and eat what makes you feel best.
posted by Corvid at 8:39 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been there (still am some days). Frozen healthy meals. I like Michelangelos veggie lasagna, and some of the Amy's line. Try miso soup. Microwave a cup of water and stir in a spoonful of miso. If you're feeling energetic, add noodles and cabbage. Celery and peanut butter. Olive tapenade (always in a different place in the grocery, but they always have it) on bread. Deli meat sandwiches of you're not veg. Bagged salads. One of those $6 precooked chickens from the grocery. Throw a potato in the oven to go with it. Fruit. Yogurt. Hate to say it, but when you can't stand for five minutes at a time (me before surgery), frozen meals, frozen burritos, and fruit were what got me through the worst of it. Now that I'm some better I make and freeze soups, usually legume, on the weekends. I find a crockpot no easier to use or clean, just safely time efficient if I'm going to be gone all day and want dinner when I get home. Then again, I rarely make meat. Maybe that's the difference.

On the weekend get your husband to throw a bunch of root veggies I'm a roasting pan with salt, pepper and a drizzle of oil. I like brussels sprouts, carrots, & potatoes. No watching , no fussing, and those veggies will last all week.
posted by thelastcamel at 11:06 PM on December 31, 2011

I also love this stuff. It's cheaper than it looks, because it makes a TON. I put a cup on the stove with some water, and a can of v-8 juice (or canned tomatoes, depending on what's in the house), salt and cayenne pepper (unless using spicy v-8). It cooks, unwatched in 30 minutes. Just make sure you have enough liquid in the pot. If you're really broke you can make it yourself. Just toss in a handful of lentils, a handful of split peas, and a handful of tiny pasta, along with the aforementioned tomato/v-8 and seasonings. Literally, a minute on your feet and then you go sit or lie down for half an hour. Then, dinner. If you're feeling decadent, add crusty french bread from a bakery, or toss a rind of cheese in the soup.

Lentils are my favorite go-to quickie meal period. They're cheap, and add some tomato and salt and you're done. For variation cut a lemon in half and squeeze on top after it's done.
posted by thelastcamel at 11:26 PM on December 31, 2011

Oh. I also like boiled eggs for quickie snacks. Frozen blueberries. Good quality canned tuna. Unfortunately you're limited. The reality is that you might need to spend money on the best convenience foods you can afford, convince your husband to cook simple, freezable stuff on the weekends, or learn to snack healthy, and eat lotsa little snacky stuff like hummous, nuts, carrots, etc.
posted by thelastcamel at 11:30 PM on December 31, 2011

"Just a caution on the all-carbs-are-evil-just-eat-fat-and-protein advice above"

I eat plenty of carbs.
I eat more vegetables daily than all vegetarian friends I have (HA!) including high-carb vegetables like potatoes.

I also eat rice with my curries (however I don't eat wheat because I get diarrhea and granuloma annulare), and I eat beans in soups and burritos.

I'm not advocating low-carb, I eat plenty of carbs myself. I'm suggesting meals that 1) are easy to make 2) make plenty of leftovers 3) that are very high in nutrition, and which cured my fatigue from which I suffered since more than 6 years ago.

And I post this knowing 100% that the person who posted this question will not believe me, because when I was sick, I did not believe the people who tried to help me :-) But I am posting anyway in case it saves someone's life, like mine was.
posted by midnightmoonlight at 2:20 AM on January 1, 2012

Vitamins aren't a cure-all, but perhaps some good ones, taken intelligently, could help? Particularly D3 (maybe you're taking this already) and possibly B vitamins?
posted by amtho at 3:44 AM on January 1, 2012

Get a rice cooker. Make big batches of brown (wholegrain) rice and stick them in the fridge. Can't go wrong with brown rice as a base for anything.
posted by flabdablet at 5:24 AM on January 1, 2012

Cottage Cheese on pumpernickel bread
Nut butters on toast
Slices of processed meat

For dinners, a chunk of meat with a sauce plus a vege or two is a good meal template, and an easy one to teach.
posted by kjs4 at 7:27 AM on January 1, 2012

I too have serious fatigue and pain that makes cooking a hassle. Ever since I read this AskMe in December I have embarked on a crockpot experiment. In January I cooked maybe 3 or 4 meals in it just to see if it was really easier. Blazing success! A succulent roast took literally less than a minute of prep (put meat in pot, season, add water).

Besides the drastically shortened prep time, I find that it's often easier for me to cook meals earlier in the day. Evening is when I am often most tired and drained, but that's exactly when dinner needs to be cooking. With the crockpot I can start dinner at 11am or 2pm or whatever time I have a little energy. I don't have to wish I had that energy just a little later.

This month I bumped it up to about 10-15 crockpot meals and have been using a slow cooker cookbook. I'm happier, the family is happier.
posted by Danila at 4:45 PM on February 25, 2012

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