Updated: Jul 29, 2022
5 Hacks to simplify small batch cooking.
As we age, our routines and habits around mealtimes and cooking can change. It can be hard to adjust from cooking for a large family to cooking for one or two.
Creating health-promoting habits (i.e., healthy meals) can help promote healthy aging and reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions. You are what you do. If you are eating poorly, you are going to feel poorly. Here are some ways that our food choices can impact healthy aging (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, n.d.).
Eating an unhealthy diet high in saturated fat and sugar increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Older adults require fewer calories, but more nutrients.
Eating enough protein can prevent muscle loss.
Eating a balanced diet can improve your mood and energy level.
Planning, cooking, and eating healthy meals can be easier said than done. It can be hard to adjust how we cook as life changes. Check out these tips to simplify cooking for 1 or 2.
Check out this infographic from myplate.gov on healthy eating.
Tip #1 - Plan Your Meals
Planning out our meals is the first step to simplifying your meal prep process, but it can also be one of the more mentally challenging steps. For many older adults, especially women, planning the meals can be a dreaded task. After years of figuring out what to cook each night, you might be burned out or just out of ideas. Consider subscribing to a cooking magazine, looking on Pinterest, or swapping recipes with friends.
When you take the time and energy to plan meals you can:
Save money and time at the grocery store.
Reduce food waste.
Ensure that you have healthy options easily available, so you are not reaching for junk food.
Speed up your meal prep time by having your available ingredients and recipes ready.
Ensure that you are eating a balanced diet.
Check out a tip sheet from myplate.gov and our meal planning worksheet and grocery store list below to help make meal planning easier:
Tip #2 - Reduce and Reuse
This is one of my favorite tips. I love the challenge of finding interesting ways to reuse leftovers or to reduce my cooking time. Most people have go-to recipes that are created to feed a large family or crowd (i.e., your famous lasagna or chili). Try taking your favorite recipes and cutting them in half so all of the measurements are adjusted for a smaller quantity. You can also consider reusing leftovers. If you are going to cook a large quantity of food, choose foods that can be easily frozen for a later date.
Leftovers can be a divided topic. Some people don't mind eating leftovers and other people easily get bored with eating the same thing. Think about ways where you can cook once and eat twice (i.e., maybe you cook two chicken thighs. One you might eat for supper and the other one you might put on a sandwich for lunch). Finding ways to reduce and reuse can be a fun challenge. Take a look at this rotisserie chicken below. Think about 5 ways you might be able to use this chicken in different ways.
Chicken and rice
What other ideas do you have?
Can you think of one more way to this chicken?
Check out the info below from myplate.gov on getting creative with leftovers
Tip #3 - Organize Your Kitchen
Over the years can it be easy to "collect" a large number of kitchen gadgets. Most of the time when we are doing the routine task (like cooking) we are operating on autopilot. We might become blind to the amount of clutter or extra stuff we have acquired. Take some time to really consider how your kitchen is set up the next few times you are in the kitchen.
Do you have items that you don't use taking up space (large crock pots or large/heavy pots that you don't use)?
Are the items that you use on a daily basis easy to get to or sitting out?
Are there extra dishes (plates, cups, bowls, or utensils) that can be removed to make more room)?
Do you have appliances that you don't use?
Can you easily reach those items that you use often?
Reducing clutter and getting your kitchen organized can improve the speed and ease of meal prep. Make room for the items that you currently use and ditch those that are no longer serving you. Some appliances like a toaster oven, air fryer, or egg cooker can make cooking for 1 quick and easy.
Tip #4 - Create a Fun Atmosphere During Meal Prep
If you have been in charge of the meals for most of your life, it is probably safe to say that cooking has become pretty routine for you. Many people do not look forward to the task of cooking and preparing meals. Incorporating some changes to the atmosphere and new habits can make the task of cooking more enjoyable.
Schedule a block of time to do your meal prep where you are not rushed. If you are trying to whip up dinner in between loads of laundry or when you are rushed trying to get ready for an appointment you are more like to make mistakes and a mess.
Take a break midway through your tasks. Taking a break midway through to have a cup of coffee or tea can give you time to regroup.
Music or TV (a cooking show or game show) in the background can set a fun mood in the kitchen.
Invite over friends for a meal prep date. Cooking with friends is becoming a global trend. Try inviting some friends over for a soup party where you might cook 2 or 3 pots of soup together and then everyone takes home leftovers. You can experiment with freezer meals or crock pot parties. Meal prep goes better when you have enough hands to help (especially with clean-up)
Tip #5 - Simply Clean-Up
After you have gone through all the work of planning your meals, grocery shopping, organizing your kitchen, and then cooking you are left with clean-up. If clean-up is a pain, it can really ruin the whole process. There are several things you can do to simplify clean-up.
Line your cookware when you can. Crockpot liners can really save time and energy. Sheet pan meals are a great way to cook all of your food on 1 pan that can be easily lined with aluminum foil to make clean-up a breeze.
One pot meals - Look for meals that can all be cooked in one pot or pan. Soup, casseroles, sheet pan meals, and one-pot recipes are a good way to go.
Dishes that are lightweight and dishwasher safe
Clean as you go.
If you are struggling to prepare and eat healthy meals, consider reaching out to your local area on aging for support. Your local Area on Aging can offer resources like meals on wheels or community centers. Many churches offer services for social events with meals. You might also consider prepared meals from places like Fit Flavors that offer fresh, healthy, and balanced meals that are vacuumed sealed for freshness. Meal kits like Hello Fresh are also popular. These kits come with recipes and all needed ingredients including spices that are pre-measured. These kits help take the planning out of meal prep and allow you to try new recipes while reducing food waste.
Eating healthy meals will help you age well and can reduce your risk of chronic health conditions. If you continue to struggle, reach out to your occupational therapists to help you find what strategies will work best for you.
I hope you all are finding ways to enjoy the summer in this heat. Thank you for reading!
Jenny Williams - OT