Kitchen Gadgets to Make Life Easier

The one place I feel my limitations the most, I think, is in the kitchen. It can just be so challenging to prep, chop, cook, pour, and do just about any part of food prep. Whether your challenge is pain, fatigue, weakness, or all of the above, here are some gadgets that just might make your life easier (and check out my ideas for creating disability-friendly kitchen seating and a round-up of pain-free mugs!).

Image of an electric kettle that tips to pour, with link to manufacturer.
A narrow black electric tea kettle, of sleek design, is shown in two positions. On the left, the kettle sits on the counter plugged in. On the right, the kettle is horizontal, supported by a built-in stand at the front of the kettle, pouring hot water into a mug.

If you like a good cup of tea or cocoa but struggle to lift a hot, heavy kettle, this device may be just the thing you need. With all the convenience of an electric kettle, this ingenious little number pivots on a built-in stand to allow you to pour off water without lifting the kettle! Ideal for those of us with pain, weakness, or tremors, the Easy Tea would provide a safe pain-free way to enjoy your favorite hot drink.

Image of plastic device to support and tip gallon jugs for pouring, with link to seller.
A white plastic holder supports a gallon jug of orange juice, tilting the jug to pour without lifting.

One of the things that hurts my hands the most is gallon jugs. Those narrow, sharp, cold handles are brutal on my joint and nerve pain! A device like this would offer a simple solution. The top of this gadget supports the weight of the jug as it tips it forward, so that you can pour your drink without touching the handle at all.

Image of slap-chop device, with link to Kohl's.
A tall, narrow cylindrical plastic device, with metal handle coiled with a spring and black rounded topper.

One of my go-to devices in the kitchen is a slap-chop gadget. There are hundreds of variations, but they all work the same way: place the chopper over food, depress the handle at the top, and a zig-zag shaped blade lowers to chop. While it does require some energy and force to operate, it is so much faster and easier than chopping by hand with a knife! I use it to chop vegetables, candy, and nuts (especially for recipes like my chocolate granola— a staple in my pantry!). Plus, they’re inexpensive and don’t take up much room in the cupboard, and they’re easy to wash by hand or in the dishwasher.

Image of black clamp device with circular openings of several sizes, with link to The Container Store.
A black plastic tong-like gadget with circular openings of various sizes.

This is another device I’ve added to my collection recently, and it’s so practical. Opening jars and bottles can be painful and difficult, and this gadget makes it just a little easier. The different sized openings mean it can be used on anything from pop bottles up to large jars. It does require some strength to turn the jar, but the torque on finger joints is lessened, and the device does the gripping for you.

Image of electric can opener with link to Home Depot.
Tall upright navy blue and chrome electric can opener device by Hamilton Beach.

One of the things I’ve never tried (but always think to try when I’m in the middle of opening cans!) is an electric can opener. These little gadgets can be amazing for getting cans opened in spite of pain, weakness, or limited use of your hands. They have a small profile, too, making them easy to store in your cupboard. There are many models to choose from (although this one gets great reviews).

Image of Instant Pot, with link to Home Depot.
Stainless steel and black Instant Pot programmable electric pressure cooker.

If you haven’t yet discovered the Instant Pot, I can’t encourage you enough to give it a try. I was skeptical at first, but when it comes to chronic illness and finding easy, low-energy options, it’s really hard to beat this device! The pot is useful for hundreds of things, from sautéing, to slow cooking, to pressure cooking. You can program it ahead so that meals are ready hours later, and you can even cook frozen meat. In my house, it helps me save money on our budget, too, since it’s a convenient way to cook things like dried beans, rice, and boiled eggs (all of which stretch our dollars!). The metal insert is lightweight and easy to clean by hand or in the dishwasher.

Image of white stand mixer, with link to Kohl's website.
A white metal stand mixer, seen at an angle from the front, with stainless steel mixing bowl.

Another great device I never expected to love is a stand mixer. I was gifted one from my mother-in-law, and didn’t realize until I used it how helpful it can be! Holding a hand mixer can be extremely painful and difficult, since it’s both heavy and awkward. And the work of mixing thicker foods only contributes to my muscle fatigue (never mind if I’m mixing with a spoon by hand!). The stand mixer does most of that work for me. The bowl is held securely (no trying to grip a large bowl while I work!), and I can simply dump in my ingredients and let the machine do the mixing. I like to make homemade bread, but struggle with kneading. The hook attachment takes care of that for me, too! Cleanup is easy with the removable bowl. And there are dozens of models on the market with price points starting well under a hundred dollars.

These are just a few devices to make your work in the kitchen easier. What are some of your go-to gadgets? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Gluten Free Dairy Free Chocolate Ice Cream

Who doesn’t like a good serving of ice cream in the heat of summer? For those of us living with celiac disease and food intolerances, though, it can be complicated (and expensive) to find ice cream that’s safe to eat. Between the long list of ingredients, added flavors and colors, and the steep price tag, it can be hard to find a safe, affordable, tasty ice cream to enjoy.

If you love chocolate as much as I do, you’ll absolutely love this recipe! It’s incredibly simple– just four ingredients– and affordable. And it only takes five minutes to prepare!

Recipe

1 13.66 oz (403 mL) can full fat coconut milk

1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch cocoa

1/3 cup maple syrup

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium mixing bowl, combine liquid ingredients; whisk together. Gradually add cocoa, whisking to combing. Continue beating for 2-3 minutes to add air (this is optional; it makes the ice cream a little “fluffier” and creamier). Pour into a freezer-safe container. Freeze for 3-4 hours.

Notes

This recipe is naturally gluten free, dairy free, and vegan. If you prefer a different kind of milk, feel free to experiment. I would recommend sticking to a full fat milk if possible, though, for creamier ice cream.

If you don’t like maple syrup, feel free to substitute with your own liquid sweetener of choice. You can also add more or less sweetness to suit your taste.

If you don’t love darker chocolate, you could try reducing the amount of cocoa in the recipe. This amount yields a pretty dark chocolatey flavor. Alternatively, you could add more milk or sweetener to balance the bitterness of the chocolate.

This recipe also works well with mix-ins, such as chocolate chips, nuts, candy, etc. I would recommend freezing it for an hour or so so that it’s less liquid, then whisk in the ingredients. You can also add the toppings when serving, like a sundae.

For best results, pull the ice cream from the freezer 30-45 minutes before serving to soften.


Enjoy!

Spinach and Strawberry Salad

One of the things I love most about this time of year is the fresh produce that appears everywhere! And nothing says “summer” more than fresh strawberries. Whether you grow them yourself, pick them at a patch, or buy them from the grocery store, strawberries have to be one of the best things about this season.

For a super easy, healthy supper (or a side dish for the many cookouts that mark this season), you’ll love this spinach salad. All of the ingredients are inexpensive, healthy, easy to prep, and readily available this time of year (which also makes them more affordable). As always, this recipe is gluten free with options for dairy free and vegetarian or vegan diets.

Recipe

Serves 4-6, depending on serving size

  • 6 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
  • 4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • Dressing: 6 Tbsp olive oil, 4 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette, 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard, 2 Tbsp honey, 2 tsp dried basil, salt and pepper to taste

In a large salad bowl, add spinach, strawberries, goat cheese, and almonds.

In a separate bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients (or combine ingredients in a glass jar and shake).

Pour over salad, and toss to combine.

Notes

An easy option for spinach is to purchase pre-washed, packaged baby spinach. It’s often extremely affordable (and if you have leftover spinach, throw it in your freezer to be used in soups or pasta dishes). If you like to garden, spinach is also very easy to grow in a garden or in pots for a fresh harvest throughout the season.

In addition to strawberries, this salad is great with blueberries, raspberries, oranges, or whatever fresh fruit you prefer most. In mid-summer when both blueberries and strawberries are ready for harvest, I love to make a “red-white-and-blue” version of this salad with both kinds of berries.

If you have a nut allergy, feel free to omit the almonds. If you still want something with a little crunch, you could substitute crushed gluten free pretzels, toasted oats, or homemade croutons. This recipe is also great with different kinds of nuts, such as pecans or walnuts.

To chop the almonds easily, consider using a slap chop or food processor. Or skip chopping completely, and use whole nuts!

If you are dairy-free, the goat cheese can be omitted. If you eat dairy but don’t particularly like goat cheese, you could try substituting feta, or adding a little plain Greek yogurt to the dressing instead of the goat cheese.

For a vegan option, simply omit the honey or substitute with an equal amount of your choice of sweetener: maple syrup, stevia, monk fruit, etc. If you prefer your dressing less tangy, simply adjust up the amount of sweetener, or use less balsamic.

Enjoy!

Pain-Free Coffee Mugs

Is there anything better than a warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate? It just screams comfort on a cool day! But if you’re like me and you live with joint pain and muscle weakness or fatigue, you know that it can also scream pain.

To help keep the comfort in coffee, here are a few alternative mugs that might be easier to handle.

Ergonomic Handles

Image of handmade glazed ceramic mug with wide handle. Links to Etsy seller.
A wide-handled glazed ceramic mug in dark blue is pictured atop a beige doily. The mug is wide and rounded at the base, with fluted lip. The handle in thin and curved and attaches to the bottom of the mug, and is approximately two inches wide.

If you have pain or weakness in your hands, it’s best to look for a mug that won’t require you to grip or wrap your fingers around a handle. I know for me, this is where the pain happens (and, on bad days, how my tremors are made worse). Instead, look for options that let you hook your whole hand through the handle to wrap around the mug. An option like this would work well: the wide, open handle has plenty of room to fit all of your fingers. The shape of the mug itself would also fit the curvature of your palm and lend itself well to holding with your entire hand.

Image of red ceramic mug with open, wide handle. Links to Etsy seller.
A tapered red ceramic mug has a thick handle that extends straight down almost parallel to the mug, and reaching to the table.

A mug like this is another great option. The open handle leaves plenty of room to slide your whole hand around the mug. Or, if you’re having a good day, you can grip the handle. The slightly thicker dimensions on this particular mug would be ergonomic and comfortable in your hand with minimal strain on the joints. This mug is also stackable, so if you have a collection of them, they won’t take up much space in a cupboard. Plus, it’s red. And red is just a happy color.

Image of white ceramic ergonomic mug with closed handle, with link to Uncommon Goods site.
A white, narrow ceramic mug has a curved handle with inset groove along the handle, and a slight bowing at the center of the handle where the fingers grip.

A specifically ergonomic handle like this is another great option. This mug has enough space to fit your whole hand if needed, but the handle is designed to fit comfortably in your hand as well. This style still requires some grip strength, so if this is an issue for you, it may be best to look for a less traditional style of mug.

Image of red ceramic handwarmer mug with winter sweater motif, with link to Lehmans website.
A bright red ceramic handwarmer mug has dotted white shapes to look like lines of snowflakes, evergreen trees, zigzag lines, and scallops; reminiscent of a winter sweater. A curved cup-shaped handle is seen on the right side rather than a tradition ear-shaped handle.

This is my current go-to mug. I received it as a Christmas gift, and in addition to the happy color (red will always be my favorite!) and the sweater-like pattern, it’s just a comfortable cup to use. However, a handwarmer mug like this has two drawbacks to consider: first, the mug can get very hot (hence the name “handwarmer!”). Second, the closed finger space limits how you can hold the mug. I find on really bad days, this handle still causes some hand strain and pain in my joints. But for most days, a design like this is a great, comfortable option.

Coffee On The Go

Image of stainless steel travel mug with open handle. Links to Office Depot website.
A stainless steel travel mug with narrow base has an open black plastic handle, black plastic lip and lip, and black plastic base. An oval logo on the side has the words, “Thermo Cafe,” with “Thermos” brand logo beneath.

A traditional travel mug with an open handle like this makes a great option. If you’re up to it, the handle can easily be held the traditional way. If not, though, there’s plenty of room to slide your hand under the handle and wrap your fingers around the mug. My everyday travel mug is very similar to this one, and it’s been a great choice for good and bad days.

Image of black plastic travel mug with open center for holding. Links to Maxi Aids website.
A black plastic travel mug has a long oval-shaped opening cut into the center for the hand to pass through. There is no traditional handle.

A travel mug like this is another interesting possibility. This cup requires no grip at all; simply pass your hand through the opening, and let your whole hand do the work of supporting the cup. This would be an especially useful option with arthritis or a similar condition where grip strength just isn’t there.

Image of burgundy Yeti travel mug with long, wide handle. Links to Yeti website.
A burgundy Yeti insulated travel mug has a long rectangular handle on the right side. There is a silver ring at the top of the mug, and a clear plastic lid. At the bottom of the mug, we see the “Yeti” logo with the brand name.

Last but not least, it’s hard to beat a classic. Yeti has a phenomenal reputation for a reason: they just make well-made products. When it comes to hand pain and weakness, this mug is another great, workable solution. The long opening of the handle allows plenty of space to wrap your whole hand around the mug. The sturdiness and size of the handle mean it wouldn’t require much grip strength to hold the cup, not unlike the model above. And your coffee will stay warm for hours in this insulated travel mug!

Tomato Soup

Spring is upon us, and with it, plenty of rainy days. There’s nothing more comforting on a drizzly spring day than a bowl of soup. This simple tomato soup recipe will be a comforting crowd pleaser!

Recipe

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 46 oz tomato juice
  • 1 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, heat oil and sauté onion and garlic until fragrant. Deglaze with broth.

Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add tomato paste and stir to incorporate.

Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer until warmed through, approximately 20-30 minutes. Serve hot.

Notes

For simplicity, this recipe calls for pre-made tomato juice, onion powder, and garlic powder. If you prefer fresh ingredients, the recipe could also be made using 4-5 cups of chopped tomatoes, 1/2 cup chopped onion, and 1-2 tsp minced or grated garlic. If you would like a smooth texture, simply puree the soup once it is cooked.

Store-bought broth works well for this recipe and is an easy option. If you prefer to make your own broth from scratch, see my notes here. It can be made in large batches very easily and stored in the freezer.

I don’t use a lot of sugar in my cooking, but the acidity of this soup calls for a little sweetener to balance it. I typically use organic cane sugar, but you could also experiment with stevia, honey, or other sweeteners.

The milk in this recipe can be substituted for almond, oat, goat, or soy milk if you need the recipe to be dairy-free or vegan.

This soup pairs well with warm gluten free biscuits, grilled cheese sandwiches, or tortillas with cheese.

Enjoy!

Freezer Gluten Free Taco Bake

I do love a good freezer meal! Sometimes, you just have a good day. Isn’t it a breath of fresh air? I try to capitalize on those days by working ahead, and freezer meals are one of the best ways to make life easier down the road. This easy, healthy recipe can be cooked and eaten on the same day, or kept in the freezer for a rainy day.

Recipe

Serves 4

  • 1 box of gluten free penne
  • 2 tsp cooking oil
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 Tbsp taco seasoning
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar
  • 1 1/2 cups salsa
  • Salt and pepper to taste

If eating on the same day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease 9×13″ pan.

In a medium-large saucepan, bring salted water to boil. Cook pasta to al dente texture as directed on packaging.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat oil. Add ground turkey, and break into pieces. Sprinkle with taco seasoning. Cook until browned; set aside.

Drain pasta and return to pot. Add butter and cheese, and stir until melted and well-combined. Add salsa and turkey.

Pour mixture into prepared pan, spreading evenly. If desired, sprinkle with additional cheese.

If freezing, cover tightly and freeze up to 6 months. To prepare, remove from freezer and thaw completely; then bake as follows.

If preparing casserole, bake at 350 degrees F 20-25 minutes, until warmed through and top is brown and barely crispy.

Notes

The pasta in this recipe can be substituted for gluten free rotini, macaroni, or any other pasta of your choice. For an even easier option, this recipe could be made from boxed macaroni and cheese. Simply prepare 2-3 boxes as directed on packaging, and add turkey and salsa. Bake for slightly less time.

The turkey in this recipe could be substituted for ground beef, if desired. The turkey makes this recipe leaner, but either one could work. The recipe will also work without meat, if you are vegan or vegetarian.

If you are celiac or have gluten sensitivity, be sure to check your spices carefully for gluten or cross-contamination. Several reliable companies make celiac-safe taco seasonings. Or you can make taco seasoning from scratch with this easy recipe.

If dairy is an issue for you, you can use a butter substitute or an equal substitution of coconut oil or olive oil. Instead of dairy cheese, swap out shredded vegan cheese.

There are some great salsa options out there. Feel free to experiment or use your favorite! I’ve had great results with Aldi’s Casa Mamita salsa, and it’s a staple in my kitchen. Or, you could make your own if you prefer!

To jazz up this recipe, you could add black olives, a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, crushed corn chips, or whatever else you’d like!

Enjoy!

Broccoli Cornbread Casserole

On a cold, dreary day, there’s nothing quite as comforting as a cozy casserole. This recipe is quick and easy to prepare. You can even prepare it ahead and store it in the fridge for 1-2 days before baking. It’s warm comfort food at its finest!

Recipe

  • 5 slices bacon
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup gluten free flour (1:1 flour works best)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar
  • 1-2 cups steamed chopped broccoli

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In 9×13″ pan, spread bacon pieces. Bake in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove slices and set aside to cool. With basting brush, coat bottom and sides of pan with bacon grease, then pour off remaining grease.

In a large bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Slowly stir in milk, egg, and oil until well-combined. Crumble cooled bacon pieces. Stir in cheddar, broccoli, and bacon pieces.

Pour mixture into prepared baking dish and spread evenly.

Bake at 375 degrees F for approximately 30 minutes, until brown and crispy.

Cut into pieces to serve.

Notes

While I used traditional bacon for this recipe, it could work well with a turkey bacon or another bacon substitute. If you are vegetarian or vegan, the bacon could also be eliminated altogether. Simply grease the baking dish with traditional oils.

For simplicity and cost-effectiveness, I find that 1:1 flour mixtures are hard to beat. I’ve had great success with both Bob Mills’ 1:1 Gluten Free Flour and Namaste Perfect Flour Blend, but there are countless great options out there.

I try not to use refined sugars if possible. This recipe does call for some sugar, and I typically use organic cane sugar. You could also substitute another sweetener, such as honey or stevia instead.

The milk in this recipe can easily be substituted with almond, coconut, or oat milk. Or, if you aren’t able to use any kind of milk (or just don’t have it on hand), you could always use water. It will make the casserole a little less rich, but shouldn’t impact the bake or flavor significantly.

If you aren’t able to eat eggs, there are some easy substitutions. You could use a vegetable egg product, chia, or flax. I’ve also had good results with 1 Tbsp of vinegar and 1 tsp of baking soda.

Since the quantity of oil in this recipe is small, I often use canola or avocado oil. You could also use coconut oil, or eliminate the oil altogether and use 1/4 of unsweetened applesauce.

This recipe includes the steps to make the cornbread from scratch, but if you struggle with fatigue or pain and need an easy shortcut, it could also be made with boxed cornbread mix. A great gluten free cornbread option that’s also affordable is Aldi’s Live GFree cornbread mix. Just use two boxes of mix (prepared as indicated on the package) and add cheddar, broccoli, and bacon and bake as described above.

If you need a dairy-free or vegan option, simply swap out the cheese in this recipe for a shredded vegan cheese. For a slightly different flavor, you could also try substituting with goat cheese.

This casserole can be eaten alone, or paired with baked beans or a tasty soup.

Enjoy!

Meal Planning with Chronic Illness

Oh, boy, are meal planning and prep a chore! Even if you don’t live with chronic illness, you likely find these things exhausting at times. But if you suffer from pain, mobility issues, chronic fatigue, balance problems, or many other things, they can be nearly impossible. My mantra throughout my illness has been something along the lines of: “conserve where I can.” I make it my goal to conserve energy, time, and resources whenever I’m able.

From early on in my journey, I’ve found shopping absolutely exhausting. In fact, it’s often required me to be in a wheelchair, because I just don’t have the stamina during relapses to make it through the store. Frequent grocery trips were not an option, so we created a new family meal plan one month at a time. I’ll talk more about grocery shopping in another post, but let me dig a little deeper into our system.

Organizational System

Image of floral patterned composition notebook.
A composition notebook with black binding and multicolored floral cover sits on a gray cement-like countertop.

The first thing you’ll need is a way to keep everything organized. For me, that’s with a simple composition notebook. You could use a calendar, a day planner, an app on your phone, a binder… Whatever helps you to stay organized is a good system. Don’t be afraid to experiment. It took me a few iterations before I landed on this system. It has to work for you, or you won’t stick with the plan!

Sample meal planning organization notebook with lists of meals planned and corresponding grocery lists.
We see an open lined notebook. On the left side, the page is divided into sections with handwritten lists of meals for supper, breakfast, lunch, snack and GF-only. Meals are largely illegible. On the right side, the page is again divided with handwritten grocery lists for Aldi, Costco, and “Other.”

Whatever system you use, you’ll need two things: space to plan out meals, and space to list the necessary ingredients to be purchased.

I’ve found that I struggle to stick with things when I assign meals to certain days. For example, if I determine that Tuesday of this week will be chicken enchilada soup night, I can guarantee with almost 100% accuracy that the last thing on earth I’ll want to eat on Tuesday is chicken enchilada soup! Maybe it’s the single rebel streak in me… The other challenge I’ve found with assigning meals to days is that I can’t always predict a bad day. When I tried doing things that way, it seemed I inevitably had a more involved meal planned for a day when I was flaring and unable to work for long in the kitchen. So for us, that plan just didn’t work.

Instead, I map out a whole month’s worth of potential meals. I can cook them whenever I’d like during that month, or not cook them at all! But I know that I have all of the ingredients on hand for the meals I’ve jotted down, and I can cook them whenever I’d like. If I don’t get to them during that month, I just carry them over into the next month. The ingredients will typically keep, so there’s no pressure to make a set meal.

Meal Plan

Image shows close-up view of monthly meals planned for supper, lunch, snack, and breakfast.
A handwritten meal list is pictured. Under “Supper,” we see meals such as broccoli cheddar casserole, whole chicken and veggies, sweet potato shepherd’s pie, etc. Under “Lunch,” we see meals such as tortillas and P-B, ham and cheese sandwiches, etc. Under “Snacks,” we see boiled eggs, celery and P-B, yogurt tubes, and fruit. Under “Breakfast,” we see granola, oatmeal, toast and P-B, and muffins. “GF only” category is illegible.

You may notice I only have roughly twenty suppers planned. We don’t eat out much, but typically once or twice a month, we’ll get a meal from a restaurant. We also may have social engagements that include meals, and we almost always have leftovers. I usually have enough food on hand to whip up something quickly if we need an additional meal, but planning 15-20 dinners each month seems to be enough for our family.

I don’t plan many lunches or breakfasts, either. My husband and kids are typically away at work and school, and either take a packed lunch or eat from the school cafeteria. So I plan for a few easy lunches that can be eaten multiple times. If you tend to eat at home every day for lunch or pack more varied lunches, you would want to plan for those.

Our breakfasts are fairly simple, as well. They usually involve toast and peanut butter, oatmeal, homemade granola, or something along those lines. These are all things that can be made by the person eating (now that my kids are older) at the time of the meal, or we can batch cook a large amount of granola or oats at the beginning of the week.

We have a few snacks on hand, usually fruits or vegetables. Sometimes I will add crackers or pretzels or something like that to our shopping list, and I usually make a batch of muffins or healthy cookies that can be eaten for snacks.

I save a small section for strictly gluten-free meals, which I’ll discuss in the next section. This is typically smaller, but I also have staple ingredients on hand that can round out more meals if needed.

While I have celiac disease and have to avoid all gluten, no one else in my family has this requirement. I would love to have a fully gluten free home, and someday I will. But with growing kids to feed and no medical necessity, it’s just not feasible for us in this season. So I tend to plan a majority of meals that can be made gluten free, with some that are not. On the nights when my family is eating pancakes, for example, I will eat something different. My meals on those nights are usually leftovers, or a dinner that I’ve batched cooked ahead to be able to eat more than once.

As much as possible, we plan for meals using ingredients that are in season. In summer, our meals usually use the vegetables from our garden. I try not to buy many processed foods, but I am a big fan of using shelf-stable and frozen ingredients. There are some very healthy options, and you don’t have to compromise on quality. In fact, it’s often more affordable to buy frozen organic vegetables, for example, than fresh. Nutritionally, they tend to be on par with fresh, and they often come pre-chopped (which is a great way to conserve energy when preparing meals!). When I’m in a particularly bad stretch, I will often buy foods that come pre-cut, such as small cuts of meat, frozen chopped onions, etc. These sometimes cost slightly more, but the savings in energy balances it out in those stretches.

You may notice that we don’t eat a lot of meat, and many of our meals are fairly simple. The reason for this is two-fold: for one, simple meals are far easier to prepare, and can often be made ahead and frozen or stored in the fridge. Second, budget is always a consideration. My current health means that I’m not able to work full-time, so I offset the lessened income by reducing our grocery bill as much as possible. We do eat a lot of fresh produce and whole ingredients, but I try to buy shelf-stable whole foods whenever I can as they’re more versatile and last from month to month (which saves me energy in shopping, and tends to save on cost when buying in bulk).

Shopping

Image shows close-up of grocery lists for meal planning with stores itemized and streamlined.
A close-up of grocery lists is shown. Under “Aldi,” we see items such as sliced ham, cheese, pasta, pasta sauce (times 3), etc. Under “Costco,” we see items such as plain Greek yogurt, eggs (times 2), milk (times 3), etc. Under “Other,” we see split peas, lentils, and cornmeal.

In the interest of conserving energy, we tend to limit our grocery shopping to one or two stores. For us, that typically means Aldi and Costco. We’ve found that they’re incredibly affordable, offer healthy options, and have many gluten free, vegan, and organic foods to choose from. For the items we can’t get at these two places, we try make just one additional stop.

For the most part, all of our groceries are bought once a month. We do often need a mid-month top off for milk, produce, and sometimes bread. But that shopping trip is quick and inexpensive.

As I plan my meals for the month, I write any ingredients we will need on the shopping side of my notebook. As much as possible, I plan meals using ingredients I already have on hand. As I mentioned, I also try to use healthy shelf-stable foods as much as possible.

If I have to buy ingredients, I try to use them for more than one meal (especially if it is a specialized or expensive ingredient). We don’t eat a lot of meat, for various reasons. When we do, it’s typically a small component of our meal, such as in soups or casseroles. This means I can stretch it just a little bit further. I try to do the same with most other ingredients that we purchase. If I will be using an ingredient for more than one meal, I usually write the number of meals next to it so that I make sure I buy enough.

This is the system we’ve developed, and it works well for us! It helps to minimize depleting shopping trips (and with fewer trips to the store, we’ve found we also spend less money). Planning ahead saves us time, and lets me prepare as many foods as needed on a good day, or batch cook our foods. And I have peace of mind knowing I have everything I need for a month’s worth of meals easily at hand.

Whether you make the jump to monthly meal plans, or just plan a few days ahead, I encourage you to consider some form of meal planning. It will allow you to minimize trips to the grocery store, plan for meals that accommodate your current health (easy meals for bad stretches, more complex meals for good stretches), and potentially allows you to batch prepare/cook in advance, saving you time down the line. Conservation is the key to living well with chronic illness!

Chocolate Granola

If you love granola as much as I do, you will love this easy recipe. Store-bought granola can be incredibly expensive, loaded with sugar and icky ingredients, and often is not celiac-safe.

Is there anything better than chocolate? I mean, really. Any day is better when it starts with chocolate, especially a healthy version like this! The batch is large enough to make several servings, so a few minutes of effort will give you delicious breakfasts for the whole week.

Recipe

Makes approximately 10 servings

  • 4 cups dry old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup almonds, chopped
  • 1/8 cup flaxseeds, optional
  • 1/8 cup dry uncooked quinoa, optional
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 Tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan, and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add oil, syrup, and honey, and mix to coat oats and chocolate evenly.

Pour ingredients into prepared pan and press lightly to pack together. Bake 30-35 minutes, until slightly browned.

Allow to cool completely. Break oats into clusters and store in an airtight container for 2-3 weeks.

Notes

If you have celiac disease or are gluten sensitive, double check to ensure your oats (and all ingredients) are gluten free and not cross-contaminated.

If you are following a vegan diet, the honey can be omitted from this recipe. It helps the clusters stick together, but they will still toast and clump somewhat without honey.

Cane sugar can be substituted with any other sweetener of your choice. While I try to eliminate refined sugars as much as possible in my diet, I do occasionally use a small amount of cane sugar. I find it enhances the taste in this recipe, but feel free to experiment with alternatives.

This recipe works equally well with coconut oil, canola oil, or most other light oils. I can’t tolerate much coconut oil, so I don’t typically use it in quantities this large. But it would add a nice flavor to this recipe, and would be a healthy oil option.

If chopping almonds is challenging for you because of pain, mobility, or fatigue, you may want to use a food processor or a slap-chop device. The slap-chop is my go to for recipes like this, and it makes short (easy!) work of chopping almonds. You could also substitute different nuts in this recipe if you’d prefer, such as walnuts, pecans, or sunflower seeds. Or, if you have a nut allergy, they can be left out altogether. You may just need to increase the quantity of oats slightly, or decrease the liquid ingredients.

While cooked quinoa usually requires rinsing, I’ve found that quinoa added to my granola doesn’t have a bitter taste despite not being rinsed. I simply add the dry grains to my mixture and bake it all together. If you find it slightly bitter, feel free to rinse and dry the quinoa thoroughly, then add it to the recipe. Alternatively, you could substitute the quinoa for chia, puffed rice, or another grain of your choice.

Enjoy!

Chicken Curry

This healthy, soothing, anti-inflammatory meal is both delicious and easy!

Recipe

  • 1 lb chicken tenderloins
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 1/2 Tbsp ginger
  • 1 Tbsp curry
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups full fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 package rice noodles

In a large pot, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil, and sautee chicken until browned. Remove chicken and set aside.

Add 1 Tbsp of olive oil to pot, and sautee onions until soft and fragrant. Add spices and sautee until slightly browned and fragrant. Add vegetable broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer 5-10 minutes.

Add coconut milk, spinach, chicken, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes.

While soup simmers, prepare rice noodles according to package instructions.

Ladle soup into bowls and add a serving of rice noodles.

Notes

This recipe is made to be gluten and dairy free. As always, double check your ingredients and how they are processed to minimize the risk of cross-contamination if you are celiac or gluten sensitive.

If you like fresh ginger, it would add a great warmth to this recipe. I created the recipe using ground ginger, which is simple to use and shelf stable, but feel free to experiment with fresh!

If chopping onions is difficult for you, most grocery stores sell pre-chopped onions in the frozen food section. Alternatively, you can chop a large batch of onions on a good day and store them in a freezer bag in the freezer for up to 6 months. I hate chopping onions in general, so this is my go-to way to use fresh onions.

For easy-to-use spinach that lasts, I often buy pre-washed baby spinach in bags and put it straight into the freezer. I remove just the amount I need for recipes, and the rest keep without going squishy. Frozen spinach is also easier to crush or chop into recipes.

For a great, healthy vegetable stock, simply save carrot and celery ends, bits of onion, or vegetables that will go bad before use in a baggie in your freezer. When you are ready to make vegetable stock, add them to a large stock pot or Instant Pot with several cups of water. You can add salt and pepper to taste, and even add a bay leaf if desired. For Instant Pot, I recommend using the “Broth” setting, or cooking on high pressure for 40-50 minutes. For a conventional pot, cover and simmer on the stove top for 1-2 hours. Allow the broth to cool, strain, and fill jars 3/4 full and store in the freezer for up to 6 months. This works great for chicken stock, too, with leftover chicken bones!

Enjoy!

Photo Credit: Unsplash- Tina Witherspoon