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A Dinner Break for Caregivers: Four Cooking Shortcuts

By January 10, 2019Well-being
A woman preparing dinner at the stove

When I get home from a day of juggling work, family responsibilities, doctor appointments, and medication schedules, I don’t always have it in me to put together the kind of family dinner I grew up eating. Who wants to dirty that many pots and pans on a weeknight? I’ll admit it, I’m a shortcut cook. So here are some of my best cooking shortcuts for making dinner happen when it doesn’t feel possible!

Embrace Convenience Foods

Like many people caring for their own or a loved one’s chronic illness, I exclude or restrict some food items from my diet for optimal health. Those with celiac avoid gluten, those with diabetes monitor dietary sugars, and those with kidney disease are careful about protein intake. For me, avoiding preservatives, food dyes, high sodium, and artificial sweeteners can help reduce my flare-ups. This means that I cook most of my meals at home, but trust me, I couldn’t make it without convenience foods on hand. I lean on my grocery store for:

  • Rotisserie chicken
  • Individual servings of cheese
  • Pre-cut and pre-washed or even flash-frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Canned legumes
  • Quick-cooking grains like quinoa or couscous

Prep What You Can on the Weekends

In my house, weekends are for napping…and family time and errands and socializing and chores. Somehow, I also manage to squeeze in food prep, too. If I roast whatever seasonal vegetables I have on hand, and cook a double batch of rice on Sunday afternoon, it makes throwing together a veggie flatbread or a stir fry that much easier during the week. Cooking a dozen hard-boiled eggs ahead of time makes protein-rich breakfasts a snap. Prepping the building blocks of meals on the weekends saves me time (and decisions!) during the week. 

Live that One-Pot Life

All my favorite dishes are one-pot (or one-dish) meals these days. How do we love casseroles and stews? Let me count the ways:

  • They leave you with fewer dirty dishes.
  • They always yield precious leftovers for packed lunches and future dinners.
  • They are endlessly variable.
  • They even taste better the second day!

What more could you want from a dinner?

Never Regret Subbing Snack Foods for Supper

Nobody ever says “no” to a plate of crudité with hummus, some sliced cheese, an egg, or some crackers. Throw in a few olives and a glass of wine, and it’s almost a cocktail party for the grownups. And like a cocktail party, you won’t be left with any dirty pots and pans! Just slip that plate into the dishwasher and forget about cooking for another day.


Mara Hughes

I work in Medicare Marketing at Independence and blog about navigating life with chronic illness and other issues relevant to caregivers and health care consumers of all ages.