Strategies for Meal Planning and Preparation
People with MS may have difficulty with cooking meals for themselves and their families/friends. Their meal preparation skills can be impacted by a variety of factors that can include some or all of the following deficit areas:
Fatigue, Strength, Balance, Cognition, Fine motor skills, Sensation
How have these issues impacted your abilities to plan and cook meals? There are a number of ways to increase these abilities. Don’t let MS “have you”! You can cook healthy meals!
For example, if you experience fatigue, use energy conservation techniques when fixing meals. These techniques include use of the “4 P’s”:
Prioritize: What has to be done today? Cook when you have the energy and cook in bulk to freeze food for later when you don’t have as much energy (this helps you from eating junk food when you don’t feel like cooking)
Plan: –Avoid making extra trips (use a list, use a delivery service, use pre-cut/frozen foods, etc.). This can help with obtaining items in the grocery store and while working in the kitchen. Break down the activity into manageable parts. Use recipe’s that have less ingredients, use less pots and pans and that incorporate healthy nutrition in them.
Pace: Slow and consistent wins the race! Give yourself extra time so that you can take rest breaks while you are cooking. Try to relax and enjoy cooking instead of thinking of it as a chore!
Position Too much bending and reaching can increase fatigue. Sitting to get food ready can reduce your energy expenditure.
If you have difficulty with strength or fine motor skills while in the kitchen there are a variety of devices available that you can purchase or make to help during cooking. Here are some examples:
Area of Difficulty:
Electric/battery operated can opener
Rocker knife, Peta Easi grip knife, adapted cutting board
Holding pot in place while cooking
Stove top pot holder
Carrying items to your workspace
Rolling kitchen cart
How to maximize your kitchen work area:
Find a place where you can sit to prepare food. If you can lower a counter for easier access by wheelchair users, do so. Otherwise set up a small table or use one on wheels. Make sure that your work space is easy to clean. Use good overhead lighting and task lighting to assist with any visual problems that you might have.
Keep your kitchen temperature at a level where you don’t over-heat. Use a fan, drink cool/cold water while cooking and/or use a cooling vest.
Invest in items that meet your needs. Think about placing your kitchen gadgets where you can easily get to them and where they have good lighting when you use them. De-clutter your work area so that it is easier to slide items on countertops instead of lifting and carrying them.
Ask for help from others:
If you are having difficulty in cooking and need help to increase your ability to participate in meal preparation, ask your neurologist or primary care physician for a referral to Rehabilitation Services. An Occupational Therapist (OT) can assist you with ways to better organize your kitchen. They can also provide helpful information on energy conservation techniques and adaptive equipment that can increase your safe participation in meal preparation activities at home. A Physical Therapist (PT) can work with you on mobility issues, balance issues and finding the appropriate assistive devices for you to use to increase your safe mobility skills. A Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) can work with you on your high level cognitive issues (memory, processing and carry through of ideas).
An important note for support partners:
It may be difficult, but try to understand that the person who is living with MS needs to feel empowered! Just because you can do something faster doesn’t mean than the person with MS can’t do it. Let your loved one participate at their highest levels. It will help with their overall self-worth!