Cooking on a budget with mental and physical health conditions. Fatigue management and energy conservation techniques

This post will cover

  • Importance of eating healthily to maintain optimal physical and mental health
  • A link to an excellent resource: The Bootstrap Cook which provides simple, cheap recipes.
  • Energy conservation techniques and joint protection when cooking


I was inspired to write this post after seeing a tweet from Jack Monroe @BootstrapCook I instantly retweeted. It had been something on my mind for a while.

As an OT I know that what we eat has a massive impact on our physical and mental health. Eating a balanced diet is important to maintain good health. There is also increasing evidence that good nutrition is essential for our mental health ( However it can be a real challenge to cook and eat healthily if you are limited by physical or mental health conditions. This can lead into a negative spiral of eating bad-feeling bad. It often takes more physical and mental effort to cook from scratch, as there are more processes and steps to undertake. Healthy food can be perceived as costing more, which is hard if you don’t work and are on a limited budget. It can be difficult getting to the shop to buy fresh items when your walking is poor or you feel anxious going out. So when I saw Jack Monroe promote simple, healthy, affordable accessible recipes, well I was totally on board and wanted to promote the great work that she is doing. Often her meals are one pot to be mindful of fuel poverty and reduce washing up. She uses cans and frozen food to reduce the need to go out to the shops and buy fresh.

You can check out her recipes on her website (including vegan and gluten free recipes-hooray). She has also written 3 books on the subject and there are links on her website. You can find some of her videos on you tube for the Guardian if you search for ‘Jack Monroe’. She has just created a YouTube channel so stay tuned. So OT’s this is a call to arms! Please support Jack’s amazing work and also promote it to your service users. I’m going to try one a Jack’s recipes a blog about it at a later date.

As an occupational therapist I work with people with physical and mental health conditions. I regularly advise and educate service users how to maintain their independence in the kitchen using equipment and techniques. Here is some advice from my experience incorporating joint protection/energy conservation techniques for those with arthritis or difficulties with fatigue. They include the principles of task simplification which is also of benefit for people who are new to cooking.

Follow a recipe

If you’re new to cooking from scratch you may find the idea a little scary. Start by getting a recipe from the Internet. Use The Bootstrap Cook website or BBC Good Food. Try Googling search terms such as ‘Easy tomato pasta sauce’ or ‘Easy chicken curry’. Easy recipes also take least amount of time and have reduced amount of steps which enable us to conserve energy. They usually tell us how many portions that it will make and what equipment we’ll need to get out of the cupboards.

Get everything together before you start

Get all the ingredients out the cupboard/fridge/freezer, all the pans, knives, etc. that you need and put it on the worktop in front of your food preparation area. This limits the amount of trips and bending required. You may want to take a break once you’ve done this.

Take regular breaks

Take breaks in between tasks. This allows you to charge your battery. You want to stop before you get tired. You don’t want to run on empty. May I suggest a break once you’ve got everything out and a break before washing up. You can also take micro-breaks (breaks of about 5-60 seconds) during the activity.

Cook in batches and freeze.

If you’re making a meal for one, you may as well make for 4 people as it uses the same amount of energy and has the same processes. Once completely cooled put in plastic containers (takeaway/old ice cream tubs etc.) and freeze for busy or ‘low’ days. It’s good if you can put a label on what it is and when you made it. If you’re fatigued, you don’t want to spend too much time rooting through the freezer trying to decide if somethings a spag bol or a chilli con carne (I have done this).

Balance your day

Pace yourself. Alternate periods of rest and activity. If you’ve had a busy afternoon, save your energy and make something simple or microwave a meal that you’ve batch cooked and frozen (as above). Slowing the pace of an activity also uses less energy. A good analogy is to think about your body like a car. If you drive a car fast and put your foot on the accelerator you will use more petrol (energy) more quickly than if you drove the same amount of miles but at a slower speed.

Remain Seated

A perching stool can be used which can be adjusted to the right height for the person and their worktop which will save energy or be a godsend if a person has difficulty standing for a task.

perching stool

The noble perching stool

Use gadgets

I’m not being hypocritical by suggesting buying gadgets when I have just written about people’s budgets being limited. Choose your gadgets wisely and you can get a lot of use from them. I have a food processor with different attachments which I bought from Argos in the sale. This beast chops, blends, make soups and juices rather than buying separate gadgets. Also if you have difficulties with hand function you may find some small gadgets useful like jar openers, electric can openers useful. Click here to my hand-y small aids blog post find out more.

Make things lighter

This makes things so much easier and uses less energy. Choose lighter pans, cups, knives etc. as they are easier to handle.

Use a travel kettle if you’re making a cup of tea.

Use a chip pan basket to cook vegetables and pasta in. These can be put inside regular pans, not just chip pans. Veggies, pasta or noodles can be put inside the chip pan basket, placed into a pan of boiling water and cooked. The water then can be easily drained off by lifting and propping it up using the little hook on the side of the pan. This makes the load lighter to lift. Don’t forget to use two hands to lift, it’s so much easier! The great thing is they are so cheap and can be bought in places like Wilko’s. When the water in the pan is cooled, it can be drained safer, and slid across the counter (with a lid on) to the sink so you don’t have to lift for too long.

Fill a plastic jug and then take it over to a kettle or pan rather than taking a kettle or pan to the sink which is heavier and takes more effort.

Make one trip instead of several

Go to the fridge/freezer and get everything out you need in one go. If you’re preparing veggies have a bowl on the work surface and put all your waste in as you go along. Once finished empty it in your kitchen bin in one go to save multiple trips to the bin. If you are making a brew, have a bowl next to the kettle to put your tea bags in and empty once a day/week/month/year/decade depending on how many brews you have in a day or how big your bowl is.

Have some pre-prepared stuff

Use frozen vegetables and fruit. These are cheaper and keep longer. You can throw them in smoothies, soups, stews and curries. You can buy pre-chopped items from supermarkets but these tend to be a little pricier. Microwave rice is lighter and quicker than boiling rice (but also more expensive) but you could reserve it for low/busy days. Long life milks (including soy and almond) are cheaper and can reduce the amount of times you need to go to the shop and I don’t think it tastes any different (although I know many people disagree with me). Quorn or soya mince or pieces is a cheaper, low fat, frozen alternative to meat and it’s also good for our health to have meat free days. But I would say that, I’m a vegetarian.

Can you delegate?

If cooking/shopping/washing up is not meaningful for you and you want to use your valuable energy for something more valued, is there someone in the house who will do it for you? Can you get your shopping delivered? I know a lot of people don’t have the luxury of this option.

Reduce washing up

Make one pot meals. Rinse an implement and use it again for example a wooden spoon or if you have added a teaspoon of herbs and need to add a teaspoon of another herb. You can have cup of hot water at the side of your workstation to dip it into. Bootstrap chef I think uses paper plates and recycles them.

Put things you use the most in the easiest to reach places

Think about placement of your items and your common activities. Can the kettle and bin go near the fridge for making cups of tea? Put your most commonly used ingredients and items in easy to reach places. Think if you need 12 plates all stacked on top of each other to wrestle with when getting stuff out of the cupboards or could you make do with 2 plates? Put the pie- maker that only comes out twice a year on a higher shelf.

Combine tasks

Can you combine tasks? When I am making a chilli I put a whole onion, de-seeded pepper, garlic cloves and fresh ginger all in the food processor together and roughly chop them. They then all go into the pan together to be fried off. You’re welcome.

Chunky grips

If you have difficulties with hand function due to arthritis or have difficulties with grip. A nice chunky grip is what we’re looking for. You can buy special cutlery with chunky grips. I recommend the OXO Good Grips range which can be purchased from places like Dunelm Mill, John Lewis and Lakeland. Items can be quickly adapted with plastazote tubing. This is foam tubing which can be picked up cheaply from mobility stores or you can find it in DIY stores in the pipe insulation section. It has different bore hole sizes so you can fit different sized items in. It come is metre lengths and can be cut to size. Although not so great in the kitchen due to washing and staining, it’s a great trial if people are deliberating buying items with special grips.


Oxo Good Grips Y shaped peeler

Slide rather than lift. Push rather than pull.

Slide pans or crockery on worktops rather than lift. Slide the teabags over to the kettle.

So I hope you find my tips useful. Until next time,


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