One of the things I love most in the world is cooking. I truly love the entire process. From the menu design, grocery shopping, then prepping to setting the table or buffet. This love for food, cooking, and entertaining comes from living in a large Louisiana Creole family that gathers frequently and with lots of bits to nibble on.
Of course, living with inflammatory bowel disease has considerably changed my relationship with food and cooking. I spent an entire year mainly eating pureed food, steamed chicken and salmon, and mashed sweet potatoes when my disease was uncontrolled and unmanageable because of my lack of access to proper healthcare. However, the combination of my ulcerative colitis flare, IBS-D, and an ulcer in my esophagus, I could not digest much, nor did I have the appetite. I also didn’t have the energy to cook many meals. However, I loved to cook. So I often tried to save my energy to do just that. Over time I came up with some tricks to help with time, lack of appetite or digestion issues to ensure my family and I enjoyed a home cook meal that everyone at the table could enjoy.
Easy Meal Prep
I learned how to cook in the age of Julia Child, so there were no cutting corners. All veggies were fresh and sometimes still on the stalk. We cleaned, trimmed, and chopped everything ourselves. However, once I became a mom with extreme fatigue and unpredictable bowels, I had to take shortcuts. I found that cleaning and chopping took so much energy that I was spent when it came to the actual cooking. Here are a few things I did to help me when I was not feeling my best.
- Order groceries online or by curbside pick up
- Buy pre-chopped veggies
- Chop veggies in large batches in a food processor and store
- Utilize frozen fresh veggies
- Cook large batches of rice or pasta and store
- Utilize instant or frozen rice and pasta for individual meals
- Utilize pre-cut and trimmed fresh veggies
- Use infused oils to boost the flavor
Keep It Simple
There are moments when I want to explore something I read about in a food magazine. However, I know my body will not allow for the amount of time it will take. So I store that for a time when I feel up to it or have a lot of helpers around to cook with. Outside of that, I like to keep it pretty simple. However, it’s essential to know that keeping it simple doesn’t mean bland or flavorless. There are so many different ways you can ensure a flavorful meal while also protecting yourself from a lot of strenuous activity.
I practice roasting low and slow techniques, poaching in butter, wine, stock, or water, braising, and simmering low and slow. I am a major fan of the crockpot, instant pot, and dutch ovens. It’s nice to be able to put something in and not have to think about it for a while. It gives me a chance to relax or get my butt kicked in chess by my 12-year-old.
I also use herbs, garlic, onions, and veggies in stock and as seasonings rather than the preserved bottled seasonings. It gives enough flavor to the food without it being overpowering. It also always members of the family season their food the way they would like when I am unable to eat richly seasoned dinners. This was a huge help when my child was an infant & toddler because I could make a meal for the adults and the child simultaneously. It allowed me to make one meal instead of steam and blend separate items.
Get Your Vitamins
My biggest problem when I am in a flare is that it’s difficult for me to ingest lots of liquids and digest lots of vegetables. The combination of my angry tummy, frustrated j-pouch, and excited ulcer in my esophagus force me to dance a delicate dance around food. Because of this, I began blending veggies and fruit and adding them to my food. For example, a day in a flare for me will consist of tea or low acid coffee, dry sourdough, and avocado smear or slices. My snack or lunch would be homemade applesauce with diced apples, fresh cranberries, blueberries, and peaches—saltines or rice cakes with peanut butter smear. And miso or chicken stock soup. Then for dinner, I will often have white rice or mashed potatoes blended with veggies folded in and a poached piece of fish. I am also known for popping a Happy Family or GoGo Squeez pouch in the freezer and enjoying it throughout the day. I try to eat things that do not take a lot of effort to digest and that taste good. I make blended items when I am feeling well and store them in the freezer later.
Many people will also make shakes for themselves or add superfood powders to their match teas to aid in getting all of those nutrients you need. If I feel low, I rely heavily on a supplemental nutritional drink such as Orgain, Boost, or Kate Farms. I also love adding fruit to jello as a snack or a frozen treat to spice things up. Changing what I eat when I am in a flare or feeling run down can help lift my spirits. Sometimes my grandmother would take me and my child animal-shaped jello snacks when I was confined to the couch or bed. And adding a bit of non-dairy whip cream on top was enough to put a smile on my face for a bit. It also gave me and the little one something to share and have a bit of mommy and me time while I was healing.
Tricky Mashed Potatoes
Here is one recipe that I often use because it is very easy to add veggies in without anyone noticing. So I use Russet, Yukon Gold, and Red Potatoes. Sometimes for fun, I will add purple potatoes. That makes it even easier to hide veggies from the kids. Okay, so you prep the potatoes as you would for a regular mash dish. Separately I will then steam or roast and blend veggies. For veggies, I use:
- Peeled Squash
- Peeled Zucchini
- Peeled Eggplant
If I have a lot of energy, I will roast these veggies with olive oil. If not, they just get peeled and steamed and blended with hot water. I add a little olive or avocado oil to help with the puree process. I pour it into my drained cut potatoes once it’s pureed down to the consistency I want. I then mash it all together, adding a bit of cream (non-dairy when flaring). Then I fold in butter, salt, and pepper, stirring until smooth.
When I use purple potatoes, I can use more green and orange veggies because the purple color hides them.
Cutting Corners Is Not Lazy
I heard someone say that buying pre-diced onions was lazy. I’m afraid I have to disagree with that. Being able not to waste precious energy on slicing and dicing when I could, in fact, save that energy for an after-dinner activity with my little one is the best. Cutting corners on cooking has allowed me to be a more active parent while doing what I love, which is cooking for my family and friends. Give me the pre-peeled garlic and frozen carrots all day long, and I’m out here living my best mom life!