How to Batch Cook When You Have a Chronic Illness

Batch-Cooking Tips for Chronic Fatigue and POTS

If you suffer from symptoms such as chronic fatigue or POTS and struggle with low energy levels, batch cooking can be a fantastic way to ensure you have healthy, home-cooked meals without spending more physical or mental energy than you need to.

This post is largely for folks with mild to moderate M.E. and similar chronic conditions who are not able to delegate household cooking. The aim is to reduce physical and mental energy while cooking healthy meals.

What is Batch Cooking?

Batch cooking is a meal preparation method where you cook larger quantities of food at once, typically to be stored for future meals. It’s about efficiency, saving time, and having ready-made meals when you need them, which can be especially helpful for individuals with chronic fatigue or orthostatic challenges.

Why Batch Cooking?

Living with conditions like POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), and Long Covid can be an ongoing challenge. The daily demands of life, often taken for granted by others, can become monumental hurdles. We get it. We know that every ounce of energy counts, and we’re here to help you make the most of it.

Batch cooking offers several key advantages.

  • Minimizes the daily struggle of meal preparation, allowing you to conserve your limited energy for more important tasks or other self-care.
  • Ensures that you have a consistent supply of nutritious meals readily available, ensuring your body is getting the best possible ‘value for energy’. This is especially useful if you have specific dietary needs.
  • Can still be done in stages (like regular meal prep).
  • Economics of scale often means a lower cost-per-serving of your chosen meal, helping you to save money.

In essence, batch cooking is a secret weapon that offers convenience, nutrition, and peace of mind.

Key Takeaway 🔑

Batch Cooking helps to reduce both physical and mental fatigue. If you struggle with cognitive dysfunction, or if you’re a carer reading this and wondering if batch cooking will still help your day-to-day, the answer is yes!

How to Batch Cook

Batch cooking involves preparing larger quantities of meals and ingredients in advance, so you can have readily available food throughout the week without having to cook every day. 

This batch-cooking step-by-step will also include sub-steps, to show opportunities for rest between each section. Obviously you can perform more than one thing in a single sitting, but looking at each task as granular can help you to consider the best way to PACE for your needs.

Step 1: Plan Your Meals

Planning in advance will help you stay organized and focused when it comes time to cook. It will also reduce food waste and improve how efficiently you can do your food shopping.

This step is one of the most tedious (sorry folks). Since I’m a carer with no physical limitations, but often with a depletion of ‘brain tokens’ (a.k.a. decision making seems to be a limited resource for me), there are a few additional ‘tricks’ that I use to make this a bit easier.

  1. Rotate Your Favourites

Add one or two staple, nutritious meals into the rotation each week. These meals could be quick and easy to prepare, such as a stir-fry or a simple salad. By incorporating these reliable options into your meal planning, you’re able to save time and mental energy by not constantly searching for new recipes.

  1. Don’t Rely On Memory

Likewise, if you try something new and love it, write it down! I’m terrible for saying ‘we should have this again!’ and then forgetting, so Laura now has a list on her phone of things we’ve tried and liked – and tried but didn’t rate, too!

  1. Plan Every Meal… Flexibly

The main reason behind meal planning is to make sure you have all of the ingredients in the house, and also to remove the need to think about what to cook on any given day.

We scribble on a bit of scrap paper and attach it to the fridge. As you can see, it’s definitely nothing fancy!

If I have a sudden burst of inspiration, I’ll swap something around on the meal plan, or create something different altogether. The idea is to have a fall-back.

You’ll also notice that we repeat a lot of the same meal. These vary week to week, but this is where the ‘batch cooking’ really works. 3 days worth of food = 6 portions.

Why yes, I do find it almost impossible to cook 1 meal for 1 person nowadays, thanks for asking.

    1. Choose Simple (Nutritious) Recipes

Opt for simple recipes that require minimal ingredients and preparation. This will save you both time and energy. Look for recipes that can easily be scaled up to make larger portions.

There are plenty of great meals that you can create which are 5 core ingredients or fewer. Here are some examples:

  • Gazpacho
  • Roasted Meat + Veggies
  • Soups
  • Summer salad
  • Pasta salad
  • Tuna pasta melt
  • Salad with spinach wrap filling
  • Mini-pizzas
  • Mediterranean salad (couscous)
  • Chilli (great to have with different things for variety)

Remember 📌

Some recipes might look good on paper, but may require the use of a more noisy appliance (for example, a blender for gazpacho). Others might have strong smells while cooking (e.g. onion, garlic etc). These might not be the best options depending on any sensory challenges.

Step 2: Get Your Ingredients

Use your meal plan to create a comprehensive shopping list. This will help you shop efficiently and avoid purchasing unnecessary items. Shopping with a list will also prevent any last-minute meal changes because you don’t have a certain item, saving you valuable energy.

  1. Choose Your Staples

Keep a list of “staple” items on your shopping list. These are ingredients that you frequently use and can be used for multiple recipes. By having these essentials on hand, you can always have a back-up plan, reduce food-waste (as they’re usually longer-lasting than fresh produce, and often ‘bulk up’ meals with additions such as pasta, mashed potato, couscous, etc.

  1. Get It Grated!

There’s a certain amount of snobbery when it comes to pre-prepared food. But if buying oven-ready roast potatoes or pre-cut meat makes the difference between being able to eat that thing or not… then buy what you need, in the pre-prepped state that you need it.

Life is tough enough without feeling like you can’t buy the already-grated cheese.

Examples:

  • Pre-cut fruits and vegetables are readily available in supermarkets. These provide a quick and easy solution for incorporating fresh produce into meals or snacks. They also usually available either fresh or frozen, so you can decide how long you want them to last.
  • Pre-marinated meat already cut into portions – grill and go!
  • Grated cheese. ‘Nuff said.
  • Pre-cooked (heat-in-the-microwave) grains like quinoa or brown rice can be found in many grocery stores, serving as a wholesome base for salads or as a side-dish with protein and vegetables.
  • Canned beans/pulses are another nutritious choice. They’re a great source of fiber and plant-based protein, requiring minimal preparation.

While it’s important to read labels and choose products with minimal additives or preservatives, there are absolutely healthy pre-prepared food options available that can support a well-rounded diet.

Blog Post Coming Soon: Grocery Shopping With a Chronic Illness (step by step).

Step 3: Prepare Ingredients:

There are many different methods and ways to pace when preparing a batch of meals. Below are some of the elements of the process, but they don’t necessarily have to be in this order. Find a rhythm that works for you.

  1. Mise-en-Place

Ensure you have everything you need for the recipe in one place so you don’t have to keep going back and forth to the fridge. This includes utensils. If you’ll be peeling a lot of veggies, grab a mixing bowl and put scraps in there so you don’t need to scrape your chopping board into the bin five times.

This also means your items will be measured out. (e.g. 2 onions rather than the whole bag. 250g of pasta, etc).

Unless you have lots of fridge-produce that can’t be out for long, this is a good place to take a break once everything is within arm’s reach.

Blog Post Coming Soon: Fatigue-Friendly Kitchen Setups

  1. Peel & Chop

If you’ve opted for non-prepped vegetables, now’s the time to peel (or wash) and chop them. Using a stool or even taking the chopping board to a more comfortable spot where you can properly sit down at a table or on the sofa (as long as the chopping board is stable) is especially helpful for folks with POTS.

Many things that are usually peeled don’t actually need to be, especially vegetables. Grab a bowl of water and a (clean!) nailbrush or a veggie-only scrubber, and wash your potatoes and carrots rather than peeling them.

Even onions and garlic can be cut and cooked with their skin on. (Although it’s usually best to remove if you’re going to be blending them into soups). But otherwise, it’s surprising how perfectly fine they are to eat as-is. Just be sure to remove any outer layers that don’t look fresh.

Top Tip

Ensuring that all knives are sharp is vital to minimise the effort needed for cutting and chopping tasks. Dull blades require extra energy and force, thereby increasing fatigue. And while it might seem counter-intuitive, they’re also more dangerous. Knife sharpening doesn’t need to happen during meal-prep, either, giving you more flexibility when it comes to pacing.

Step 4: Cook in Batches

Cook when it suits you. For example, I’ll often do the ‘batch cooking’ at the weekend when I have more time, and we’ll eat it on the days I’m in the office rather than working from home. We also often have our ‘main meal’ in the afternoon because of time constraints (and it gives it more time to digest).

  1. Use Time-Saving Appliances:

Consider using kitchen appliances such as slow cookers or instant pots. These appliances allow you to prepare meals with minimal effort. You can simply add the ingredients, set the cooking time, and let the appliance do the work for you.

  1. Portion Sizes

Thanks to your meal plan and ingredient prep, you’ll already know how many portions your batch cooking will make. One-pot meals are amazing, but sometimes you do need to prep things in multiple pans due to the amounts. If this is the case, don’t feel like you need to prep all parts of all meals at the same time!

  1. Cook in Stages

If you’re making a summer salad, you could pop the potatoes, eggs and carrots into boiling water in the morning, chop them in the afternoon along with the cheese, and throw the rest of the ingredients in the bowl with them in the evening as you’re ready to eat the first portion.

For soups, you can cook the veggies and then leave them to cool in a large bowl on the counter (or pop them in the fridge), and blend later, or even the next day.

Not everything will have this sort of flexibility, but it’s surprising how many dishes really don’t need to be eaten fresh and piping hot all together.

(Although if anyone ever figures out how to do a Sunday Roast in stages without soggy potatoes, please let me know!)

Step 5: Cool & Store

The last thing you want is for your work to go to waste (literally). To ensure food stays fresh and safe, make sure that you’re cooling it and storing it appropriately, depending on when you’re planning to eat what you’ve made.

  1. Refrigerate or Freeze:

Store meals in the refrigerator if they’ll be consumed within a few days. Otherwise, freeze them.

Top Tip

If you put something in the fridge but realise the next day you don’t want to eat that portion, you can still put it in the freezer as long as it’s still okay to eat!
  1. Use Airtight Containers:

Seal containers tightly to prevent freezer burn or spoilage. We use tupperware rather than bags because they stack nicely and we often reuse plastic takeaway containers. But you can also get some amazing silicone trays and reusable bags.

Our current tupperware stash
  1. Consider Portion Sizes

Divide the batch into single or family-sized portions for easy reheating. Silicone trays are particularly useful for this.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can just unstick or cut up the portion you want once it’s frozen. The freezer will hear you and you’ll be forced to eat 5 portions of your butternut squash soup within 2 sittings.

Step 6: Reheat and Enjoy

When it’s mealtime, reheating (if necessary) should be straightforward.

  • Microwave: Use a microwave for quick reheating, following suggested times for each dish.
  • Stovetop: Some dishes benefit from reheating on the stovetop for better texture.
  • Oven: For larger portions, reheating in the oven can restore the flavor and texture of baked dishes.

And the best thing about salads and similar is that they’re often just ‘grab and go’ – no additional prep/reheating required at all!

Remember 📌

Fed Is Best. If that means keeping some ready-meals in the freezer, or some filled pasta in the fridge, or even spending money on a takeaway that will give you leftovers for the next day, then that’s much better than pushing yourself too hard and crashing as a consequence.

Extra Batch Cooking / Meal Prep Ideas:

As I was writing this article, I came across a great Twitter (sorry, X), thread. Quite a few folks have added their own tips to it, making it a great additional read. (Embedded here with the OP’s permission).

Batch Cooking FAQs

Over To You

What’s your favourite thing to batch cook and why?
Are there any tips that haven’t been mentioned above?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top