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Old 01-23-2006, 08:35 PM   #1
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Cooking with health concerns

Hi everybody. I'm a 28 year old guy with chronic fatigue syndrome and neurally mediated hypotension, and I'm trying to get on my feet in terms of cooking in general.

Links to my health problems if you care to read:

I face a number of problems in the kitchen that most people don't think about.
  • I can't stand up for more than about 10 minutes at a stretch without big problems. This is just huge for cooking, but maybe there are ways around it.
  • I wish to try a dietary treatment to my conditions that essentially removes dairy, sugar, refined (white mainly, but also rye and such) flours, white rice, white potatoes, and cured meats like ham, bacon, or deli meat of any kind. My mother has successfully rebounded from Fibromyalgia largely due to this diet, outlined by a local PhD nutritionist.
  • My actual cooking experience is limited (I watch lots of Food Network though. )
  • I have gotten advice along the lines of, "crockpot cooking might be good for you," or, "look into getting a food sealer," but I need more specific information, recipes, and advice beyond this.
I would love to be able to cook dishes that allow me to reheat without losing a lot in quality, such as soups, stews, or whatever, and most importantly, I'd like suggestions on tools, methods, overall ideas, and things like that to help me get over this pretty big hurdle. If this isn't enough info, I'll add more as needed of course, and look forward to discussing all of this with you guys in detail.

Thanks for your help,


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Old 01-23-2006, 10:31 PM   #2
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I think I'd look into getting a stool of some kind, with a back and on casters to use when cooking. This might help you to spend more than 10 minutes at a stretch in the kitchen. You could do chopping etc. seated at your kitchen table. Perhaps there is someone who can do prep work such as browning meat when you buy it and freeze it after it is browned to save a step. I often brown and drain ground beef when I buy it and freeze it that way to save time on a busy week night. When you make things like meatloaf, it is not really that much more work to make 2 to have one to freeze. Much of the hands-on work for soups (deboning chicken for example) can be done sitting. Hoope you can use some of these ideas.
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Old 01-23-2006, 10:37 PM   #3
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Thanks. How do you chop while seated though? I can see using a paring knife in this fashion with an apron or some sort of protection, but for regular cutting board chopping, how does one obtain leverage from a seated position? I'm certainly not against the idea - just not sure how to implement it at the moment.

Would a grocery store brown as you discuss? I have gotten a good tip about having them pre-chop meat in small sizes. I don't know how far they'll go.
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Old 01-23-2006, 11:26 PM   #4
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Oh my goodness, Classic, having read the sites you posted - I can see why you have cooking problems. Hereafter I will better appreciate my ability to do "marathon" cooking where I make hundreds of ravioli, potstickers, etc. with impunity - though I'm very tired when finished I can do it.

If you had a cutting surface at knee or thigh level and a stool as Purr suggested I think your leverage would be fine. You will also need to use very sharp knives as they reduce the amount of leverage needed to some degree. I'm short (vertically challenged is the PC term, I think ) so I understand the leverage problem.

I'm learning Pressure Cooking and it might make a good fix for you as the cooking times are reduced tremendously and there is no standing/stirring. Everything goes in at once. Perhaps a crock pot as that does much the same as pressure cooking but takes a great deal longer - still you don't need to stand and stir.

As I understand it, if you're sitting your troubles are mitigated?

You can use a food processor for much of your chopping duties and those can be used while sitting. Or there are manual food choppers (a good example is the one by Pampered Chef and I SWEAR I am NOT Sellintg These!) but you could easily use it while sitting down and it is less likely to "purree" what you're chopping.

How about a sort of "lean stool" wherein you can rest for brief periods durring food preparation?

Are you cooking for just yourself or others? If for one I would strongly suggest getting a vaccuume sealer so that you can double or tripple recipes (which doesn't take much additional effort) and easily freeze several meals at a time. Reheating them is a breeze in the microwave.

One Crock Recipe I can think of (pulled out of my brain from long long ago) -

1 frying chicken cut up (you can buy it that way) or 4 lbs chicken pieces of your choice
1 onion, quarted or chopped
2 or 3 stalks celery - in 3" pieces
2 carrots halved and in 3" pieces
2 bay leaves
1/3 C Brown Rice
3 C Chicken broth (or water)
1/2 C white wine (opt)
Several Garlic cloves, peeled but otherwise whole (or to taste)
1 T Sweet Basil, ground between your fingers
Salt and Pepper to taste

Put everything but the salt and pepper into the crock pot. Cook on high about 4 1/2 hours or on low for about 9 hours. Chicken should be fork tender. If not turn on high and cook another 30 - 60 minutes. It's been a long time so you may want to check the chicken a few times.

Either serve pieces on a plate or stir well and you have soup!

Good luck - and keep posting.

Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all. Oregon native transplanted to Chicago....
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Old 01-24-2006, 12:39 AM   #5
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First off, I really appreciate that you followed those links to get a better idea - that's really helpful and nice of you as well.

That recipe looks great too, and meets all the requirements as far as I can tell. I would not use the wine due to sugar content even though I would like the taste. Does that get replaced with stock or water, or nothing? Why wouldn't I salt/pepper at the beginning of the process? Is that a crock-pot issue that I don't know about?

I am trying to learn to cook for myself only here - I live with my parents because of my health, but I want to be able to develop some autonomy and look toward the future from a worst-case scenario standpoint.

A stool is important, but is of somewhat limited value. The trouble with them is that you're legs extend almost as far down as when you're standing, so I have many of the same problems. Additionally, you have to contend with a countertop for space when you're trying to cut. That said, I still need to try to get one again. We had 2 but never used them at the time. Now it's a bigger deal. I can take period breaks, but the effects are limited, because it takes hours to undo minutes of "damage" so to speak. Better than nothing possibly, but I still want to try to plan for the fastest prep time with good results that I can.

I could handle pressure cooking but would prefer other methods for nutrional purposes. My arguments along these lines are thin, but since I can pick at this point I'd tend towards other methods. Cooking time is not a very big deal compared with preparation time, especially if the finished product can sit for a while without losing anything, either in a fridge or on the stove. One-pan cooking would probably work reasonably well with the right ingredients too. I also have much better success prepping late at night closer to bedtime. For instance, at 12:30 I could go chop up 3 bell peppers and put them in a container for later, so long as the rest of the day wasn't rough to begin with.

Luckily for me, I tend to like stirred together kinds of meals. For instance, I always make a sort of stew out of pot roast. I could see liking a lot of one-pot meals in this fashion.

I am particularly interested in finding ways to prepare leafy greens like kale or swiss chard with other ingredients. I know I can steam or cook in a pot as a stand alone affair, but I'd like to have more options along those lines as well.
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Old 01-24-2006, 06:17 AM   #6
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Hi - My son is in a wheelchair, a quad with a spinal cord injury; he likes to help out in the kitchen, and has the same problems with sitting and chopping. We got an inexpensive little wooden 'side table', or microwave table - look at Walmart or Target - and cut the legs down, then added wheels that will lock in place. When you're measuring for the height, sit in whatever chair you'll be using and make sure the table is wide enough for your chair to fit in between the legs. Also give yourself an inch or two for putting a cutting board on top of the table; when you're using a cutting board, you can put a piece of that knobby-looking plastic shelf liner underneath the board, so it won't slip.
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Old 01-24-2006, 07:57 AM   #7
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Hi Andy,
I have MS and the worst symptom is the fatige. Standing in the kitchen is difficult for me, and adding to the problem is my arthritis in knees and back.

Is your kitchen floor tile, linoleum, wood or carpet? The worst is tile; standing on it will tire you out faster than anything. linoleum and wood are only a little better. Anything with padding is best. I got one of those small kitchen rugs to keep by the sink/stove area, where I do most of the work, and that allows me to get more done.

Stir frying might be one of the best things you can do. Buy the veggies already cut up, either in cello bags or at the salad bar. Make sure onion or at least scallion is part of the ingredients. Garlic is good too, and if you don't want to take the time to chop it (tho how long can it take to cut up a li'l ol' clove of garlic?) you can buy the already minced garlic. Just use more than you normally would. If you want a meat stir fry, you can buy the chicken, beef, or pork already cut for stir fry in your supermarket. You can also buy shrimp ready to go in the pan.

Heat some oil in a skillet, and when it's hot, throw in the onion and garlic. When the onion is translucent, throw in other veggies. Add whatever meat you bought, and stir fry a few minutes until it is done. The whole stir-fry process is only a few minutes.

Before you take it out, you can add a pre-made sauce, such as teriyaki. I like to experiment with whatever is in the fridge... wine, fruit juice, red sauces, etc. But for ease and time, you can buy zillions (or at least 30) of bottled sauces.

Crock pots are great because they are one-dish meals and you can make enough for your whole family, thereby contributing to the household without much effort. Here's a really easy recipe: toss a turkey breast into the pot. Add one envelope of onion soup mix and one can of cranberry sauce. Cover the pot, turn it to low, and cook for 8 to 10 hours. Let someone else take it out though. That might be difficult for you. Although you can use the same ingredients with chicken parts or turkey parts, and not have to worry about that. You can also put in some more liquid, say 4 oz of chicken broth, and a cup of brown rice, and there you have most of your meal already.
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Old 01-24-2006, 08:55 AM   #8
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Classical, my ex husband had your illness (in England it is called myalgic encephalomyelitis, but it is the same thing), so I understand your problem very well. He also liked cooking himself, though he needed help when something physical was required, like kneading or lots of chopping, he always tried to do as much as possible by himself, and he did have a fairly comfortable stool to rest on in the kitchen. Also he had a large sturdy wooden board to place on his lap, in case the kitchen counter was too high for him to work on while being seated. Also, this is not something he used, but I think a good food processor and blender will greatly reduce your labour, as very often chopping, slicing and dicing the food is the most time consuming, tedious part of the cooking.

Anyway, I only knew him for just over a year (and he was about your age, he had suffered this illness for about 4years), but towards the end of this period he had succeeded in walking around, even outside on the street, by himself without the support of a walking stick (this was a must for him when I met him), and his health was improving quite well. I know this is an upredictable illness, and you are almost constantly suffering...but there are some cases where people have regained their health. So keep your chin up and don't give up hope... my best wishes are with you!
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Old 01-24-2006, 11:33 AM   #9
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Classical, I have a lot of physical problems too. I find that a kitchen stool helps a lot. It just has to be high enough to get me to the counter. I also have a little Rubbermaid plastic footstool to prop my feet on, so my legs don't hang down. Depending on how complicated the recipe, I do my cooking a little at a time. If I'm doing a dinner for company, it takes me 3-4 days to get the cooking done. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners take me a week.
One dish meals have become my specialty, not only for ease of preparation, but also because it saves on washing pots & pans (my husband's job).

You are right to be watching your diet. After following advice from a friend who is a holistic practitioner, I found that my dietary habits really do make a difference in my pain. He recommends eliminating pork, beef and processed meats from the diet in addition to the other things you mentioned. I think that's pretty extreme. I find that a limited amount of lean pork and beef now and then doesn't bother me. We are fortunate because we have a good source of venison, which replaces beef in most of our dishes. We eat a lot of chicken, turkey and fish...lamb is good too, but hard to find in our area, and very pricey.

One question: do you have anyone to help you? My husband is a great sous chef...don't know what I'd do without him.
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Old 01-24-2006, 04:39 PM   #10
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Hi Classical (welcome to DC!), I have numerous health concerns as well, and standing for long periods of time is often completely impossible for me too. After several years like this I can say that some of the things that have helped me are:

-A food processor, the one that I currently have has a blender attatchment, a juicer attachment and lots of blades and beaters. You can chop, grate, mince, puree, blend, etc in a matter of moments and this can literally sae you hours or work if you have a lot of preperation to do. As well if you have a freezer you can chop up 2, 3 or even more times the amount of veggies, etc that you need put them in freezer proof bags (labled) and store them for another meal.

-Cutting/peeling/coring fruit/shelling nuts/etc while sitting at the kitchen table or even some place softer like a sofa if you have a table or enough room to more around (and won't stain the furniture). Most days I can do a lot more if I'm sitting than standing.

-A microwave - they might get passed over sometimes but a nuker is an awesome tool in the kitchen. You can defrost quickly, cook spuds or rice, reheat meals, melt chocolate, boil water and a plethora of other handy things in mere moments (usually) without having to stand while they are being prepared.

-Wash as you go - if you are making a big meal that builds up a lot of dishes (okay, I guess this only applies to people like me who do not have a dishwasher ) try to wash them in stages while you already on your feet, instead of letting them build up and than having to do them for 1/2 hour later (this really helps me, as I find the sedimentary standing involved in washing dishes to often be very uncomfortable).

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Old 01-24-2006, 09:33 PM   #11
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Wow, even more great responses. I've really picked the right board here. Thanks!

I should have added cured meats to my "no" list already, as was suggested. I'm in the same place as you, Constance, regarding the meats. I will probably eat some beef, but won't go for the deli ham, for instance.

We have a food processor here and I can see the value of that for sure. What vegetables are on the "no chop" list for this device? I know, for example, that trying to chop bell peppers in it leads to something of a mess due to the outer skin, but many others work great, including herbs, to my surprise. Ours is a Cuisinart with 3 blades. I don't know if you can buy more or not, but it still works great.

Washing as I go is a good point. I might adapt that to my particular situation by making sure to wash just after eating or something, but avoiding a pile up is important with health concerns, or even without.

At present, I could have help in the kitchen but ultimately I will not, so I am trying to plan with "no help" in mind. My goal is to find a way to live on my own in some capacity, which at this time is not possible. Barring any internet marriage proposals, it's just me doing this.

I'm a little frightened by having a stool on wheels in a smooth floored kitchen while wielding a knife, but I am going to explore the possibility of getting one with a back at least. The footstool accompaniment makes a lot of sense as well, and might be more flexible if I can find one high enough. My concern with the stool idea is this - when you're chopping or otherwise working in a kitchen, you typically have to move around to get the next ingredient, clean your hands, or otherwise deal with the space limitations of a cutting board. How do you manage to stay at the stool for this process? I guess it's really about preparedness in that regard.

What can you tell me about crock pots? I'm noticing the cook times could be a little inconvenient in terms of when I would prepare and when it would finish. Could I prepare everything and put it in the night before, cook it overnight, and let it sit till dinner? Alternatively, could I prepare the night before, stick it in the fridge and set it to cook when I get up? Either option would be great for me, as I can do a great deal more the later at night it gets. If I could prepare my meals at 10pm and then do something simple to set it up for the next day, I'd be much closer to my goal.

I need to compile a more organized list of the recipes I have at this point - there aren't many, but I'll see if I can list them here...
  1. fish/chicken with tomato and basil + steamed vegetable. I could see cutting tomato the night before and storing in the fridge. I'd cut the basil in the food processor, then put both in the oven with olive oil. What's a good vegetable side for this, or better yet, what could I incorporate into the tomato/basil? I did this with corn on the cob over the summer and it was great, but that obviously is not available year round. It's also slightly labor intensive for me.
  2. brown/mixed rice with some vegetables and egg, kind of stir fried. Should I think of using any particular seasoning with this? I could steam batches of rice and freeze, then throw into the pan with the food processor-ed vegetables and egg.
  3. alternative flour pasta with an organic no-sugar added tomato sauce with vegetables thrown in. I'd also want to add protein, so maybe chicken in a skillet first. This one needs a little help in terms of specifics or in making it easier. I don't really know when to put in vegetables for them to cook properly, for instance. I can envision also making pesto without the cheese. Does that freeze well? Would it work with almonds as well as pine nuts?
  4. The crock pot chicken recipe posted in this thread looks great.
So, right now I'm a little shy of what I'll ultimately need (about 14 recipes seems like a good ballpark.) I wouldn't have a problem with soups or most any other dish as long as it involves both a protein and a vegetable or 3. Protein is quite important for me, and I try to eat a fair amount at every meal.

I'd like to get a taco-like recipe up here (I love that chili powder/cumin "taco seasoning" taste), sans shell probably, but that tends to be high prep with bell pepper, onion, and tomato cutting. As I mentioned before, I'd also like to incorporate a lot of leafy greens, which seem to be excluded from the roasting and crockpot recipes I've seen around the net.

I'm also interested to get some mid-day snack/lunch ideas that avoid the ingredients I listed as problems. It's really hard to figure out a snack that involves protein without constantly turning to peanut and other nut butters. If any of you have created and marketed "healthpockets" I want to buy stock in your company.
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Old 01-24-2006, 09:50 PM   #12
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Hey aren't we all in some boat or other...legs disabled by polio. Umm, lots of ways to compensate. but first do your research on foods you can and want to eat, and ways to fix them...web sites, organic and natural foods cook books, etc. THen plan the way to do them...sitting, using tools like a food processor, presure cooker, crock pot, electric roaster.

a food processor will slice thin and chop, but an electric knife will give you nice wedges of potatoes or onion with less force than a conventional knife.
just an example.

also plan on kitchen safety...hold food with a carving fork or hand protector to prevent knife cuts. turn handles into stove to prevent hot spills. get an Ove GLove potholder or some well insulated mit to protect from burns. etc. Cooking seated is different for balance and coordination.

enjoy the discovery and the food!
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Old 01-24-2006, 11:35 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by ClassicalVoice
Thanks. How do you chop while seated though? I can see using a paring knife in this fashion with an apron or some sort of protection, but for regular cutting board chopping, how does one obtain leverage from a seated position? I'm certainly not against the idea - just not sure how to implement it at the moment.

Would a grocery store brown as you discuss? I have gotten a good tip about having them pre-chop meat in small sizes. I don't know how far they'll go.
I was thinking a stool that would make you sit high in relation to the counter. Bar stools come in different heights and a 30" might make you "tall" enough to get the leverage you need. On equipment we use at school (such as standers that we put the Wheelchair bound students in for weight bearing) have wheels that lock with a little lever on each wheel that you push with your foot to lock or unlock so you would be scooting around only if you want to. The footstool is a good idea and can probably be attached to the stool if you are a bit creative. As far as browning, I work part-time in a grocery store and there is no kitchen equipped to with a stove so we would not be able to do it. As Constance said, a good sous chef is invaluable. For your tacos, check in the produce section. I've seen trays of pre-shredded lettuce and pre-diced veggies for tacos.
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Old 01-25-2006, 04:02 PM   #14
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I could see one of those nonstandard chairs where you essentiall kneel to sit being ideal if it was high enough. That way the whole knee-counter problem is avoided. I'll have to see what's available.
Do you have a chicken hat?
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