Planning healthy meals to accommodate my family and my disability
On many occasions I’ve made a meal that is healthy for me, and something I think the family will like—but the first to complain is my 16-year-old son, Miles. He has a theory that if he exercises constantly he can eat whatever he likes. He will often make a separate meal for himself. Although I’m proud of his independence, I also feel guilty. After all, I’m his mom… I should be doing the cooking!
I take pride in preparing meals for my family despite functioning from a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury and quite recently, dealing with a diagnosis of myasthenia gravis (MG), a neuromuscular disease.
Regardless, Miles and I always discuss why I can’t eat many of the foods he enjoys. It took a lot of research for me to figure out what foods would minimize the effects and symptoms of my disability. I can cheat sometimes, but if I don’t watch my diet I will suffer more muscle weakness. In order to avoid frustration and the inevitable debates over each day’s menu, I had to do research on foods that could be satisfying for my family, but won’t put me to sleep. An added challenge is budget.
After explaining myself for what seemed the umpteenth time, I quit getting offended by the lack of understanding for both my conditions and limitations. I realized it’s not fair for me to constantly throw that at my kids as if it’s their problem to consider, too.
Kids are direct with no censor – no matter how old they get! I often question why I taught them to verbalize their thoughts so well. Nevertheless, their comments have taught me throughout the years to watch the way I act and be conscious of how I am perceived. I don’t want their pity, and I don’t want them to feel they have to live within my limitations. However, I also can’t afford and certainly don’t have the energy to cook two meals at dinnertime.
Making meals at home is the only way I know to have some control over what goes into their systems and my own. If they eat fast food at lunchtime, I can be okay with it if I know they are getting the nutrition they need at breakfast and dinnertime. This type of thinking allowed me to be more creative about my needs, too. I know I need fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, but even I like to eat spaghetti bolognese or throw a hamburger on the grill every once in a while.
I scouted different health food stores and local supermarkets. Now, I can finally come up with meals they devour. Preparing spaghetti bolognese now is as easy as pie!
I’ve learned that knowing about substitutions is the key. For example, one packet of whole grain noodles and marinara sauce made from red ripe organic tomatoes, fresh onions, garlic, and herbs results in a good hearty meal. My kids don’t even miss the white pasta noodles. For protein, I choose lean white meats and legumes, like peas, over high-fat dark meats. Also, I find replacing Gatorade with good old-fashioned H2O is a perfect choice.
The trick is to make what we enjoy, but take out the unhealthy ingredients and replace them with good ones. That seems to make everybody happy.
There’s nothing more pleasing to my eyes and ears than when my kids go to sleep still licking their chops.
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–By Meena Dhanjal Outlaw, guest blogger and advisor to the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities at Baylor College of Medicine and TIRR-Memorial Hermann
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