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When our energy levels are low we can find it hard, or sometimes impossible, to prepare or cook food. But it is at these times that we need nutritious, healthy, high calorie foods to help our bodies repair and to give us the energy to get through the day.

I personally cannot stand long enough to cook, even on good days, but when I crash I struggle even to digest solid foods – the act of chewing is exhausting. My GP prescribed me ‘Ensure’ drinks but these are packed full of sugar which is a major trigger for my fibromyalgia pain and IBS.

There are steps we can take to prepare for these bad days so we can conserve our limited energy for other tasks.

1. Snacks

Firstly, make sure you have a good selection of snacks handy which you can grab on the days you are not well enough to prepare or cook food. I always have snacks by my bed for those really challenging days. Bananas are a great option – they are an excellent source of potassium and vitamin B6, fibre and carbohydrate, and supply some vitamin C.

I eat rice cakes a lot, just add a topping of your choice. Cereal/protein bars are another easy way to consume calories but I haven’t yet found one that isn’t packed full of sugar. If you feel well enough on your good days you could make your own – they are simple to make and freeze well.

Simple granola bar recipe

2. Healthy Protein Powder

My next tip is to find a healthy protein powder. I need a gluten, dairy and sugar free option, and up until now I have struggled to find anything that meets my needs.

Protein powders can be added to smoothies, soups, sprinkled on any food and even added to drinks like hot chocolate. It’s an easy way to add extra ‘healthy’ calories, protein and nutrients. I add it to my porridge – one of the only foods I can digest when I crash.

3. Smoothies

Smoothies are a great option. They are easy to make and easy to digest. This is my favourite smoothie recipe

You can substitute the almond milk for hemp, coconut or rice milk and you don’t have to freeze the banana if you don’t want to.

Bananas and oats are very soothing on the body – they are gentle on my belly (my IBS always flares when I crash) and they help me relax. You can get someone else to prepare this in advance, it stores well in the fridge. I personally soak the oats in the milk for a couple of hours to soften them.

You could try adding energy boosting foods like chia seeds, bananas, quinoa, oats and almonds but avoid sugar if possible. Or try adding vitamin C rich fruits to boost your immune system.

Here is a link to more smoothie ideas

4. Batch cook food in advance and store in the freezer for emergencies

On the days when you feel able, try batch cooking food for the week. Don’t be afraid to buy prepared vegetables and packet mixes – they save a lot of time and energy. Slow cookers are a great option for this – just throw everything in and turn it on. Ask your partner, friend or family member to help you prepare food for the week.

I eat pureed cooked chicken and carrots (we call it chickot) This is easy to digest and soothing, so unlikely to trigger my IBS symptoms. I have a few pots in the freezer at all times. It can be eaten as it is or added to rice, pasta, potatoes etc.

5. Soak food in water to soften

Chewing can be exhausting when you have a chronic illness like ME/CFS. If you don’t have any pureed or soft foods to hand, why not try soaking the foods you have in water first – I do this with rice cakes. It might sound odd but it works – it softens the rice cakes and makes them easy to digest. I add my chickot (chicken and carrot paste) to the soaked rice cakes.

6. Porridge

Porridge is my ‘go to’ food when I’m exhausted – it’s soothing, easy to digest and gives me a long lasting energy boost. I add sliced bananas and hemp protein or ground linseed to add protein, fats and other nutrients. You can buy instant porridge that’s quick and easy to make. If you are sensitive to gluten, you can buy gluten free versions.

7. Hydration

When I crash I often struggle to stay hydrated. I’m comatosed for long periods of time, too weak to move. But it’s vital we stay hydrated. I have a glass of water beside my bed at all times. If you struggle to sit up, a plastic bottle with a straw is a good option. Even on good days, I struggle to turn on our taps, so carers fill plastic cups with fresh cold water and place them on a table near my bed, at easy reach.

8. Supplements

You may want to consider taking vitamin and mineral supplements on your bad days. I take an iron rich supplement drink called Floradix, it also contains a selection of vitamins and other minerals. It is worth noting that with the aid of a balanced diet and if you have good health, then there should be no need to take supplements, but sometimes we need the extra boost.

Do you struggle preparing and eating food on your ‘bad days’? Do you have any tips you would like to add?

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