How To Meal Plan When You’re Chronically Ill

I’ve already covered how to save money when you’re chronically ill. Here’s how to meal plan when you’re chronically ill… or just get some general meal planning hacks.

Most health experts would agree that eating more vegetables is better for everyone.

In my own healthy eating journey, making the shift from following restrictive diets to making it a game to fit in as much nutritious food as I could was empowering. I reframed my eating habits as crowding out the unhealthy food with healthier options.

However when you have chronic pain, fatigue, or another chronic illness, it can be hard to figure out the habits to eat more vegetables.

Having to stand over a cutting board or exerting yourself to chop vegetables can be really difficult and even cause a flare up if you push too hard.  Then, it’s easy to fall into the trap of not eating well if trying to prep healthy foods makes you feel worse.

Here are the meal planning hacks I figured out to eat better despite chronic illness.

These healthy eating efficiency hacks will help you save time and energy in the kitchen whether or not you have chronic health issues.

If your budget allows, one obvious answer is to buy precut foods. However this isn’t feasible for my budget and it might not be feasible for yours.

How to make a healthy meal plan when you have chronic pain

My Chronic Illness Meal Planning Solution

Buy both some vegetables that can be cooked whole and some that need chopping before being cooked.

During seasons when I had unpredictable flares, I bought a variety of vegetables that were prepped differently.

Vegetables to cook whole:

For these foods, I love my Instant Pot but you can also steam them on the stove top in under 20 minutes.


Steam for 0 minutes in your Instant Pot. Quick release pressure (QRP).

Green beans

Steam for 1 minute in your Instant Pot. QRP.

Brussel sprouts

Steam for 1 minute in your Instant Pot. QRP.


Steam for 2 minutes in your Instant Pot. QRP.
For broccoli and cauliflower buy whole and just use a metal spatula to slice the florets off and serve. It saves you the time of cutting the florets (and the exertion).

Beet Root

Cook for 10 minutes in the Instant Pot on manual. QRP.


Cook for 9 minutes in the Instant Pot on manual. Let pressure release naturally.


Roast in the oven whole for 25-35 minutes on 400-425.

For foods like asparagus and green beans my family just knows to trim their own ends off or bite them off.

Green beans can also be cooked in the oven whole for about 20 minutes on 425F.

Foods to cook in the oven whole

I stick these in the oven for 1-2 hours depending on their size. I know they’re done when I can easily pierce them with a fork.

  • Spaghetti squash
  • Hubbard squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Acorn squash
  • Delicata squash

I just give them a few pokes with a fork so the skins don’t burst. Don’t make that mistake.

When they’re done, slice in half and scoop out the seeds and then the contents

I also only make whole in the oven:

  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes

These can all be made in the IP but I like to cook them all at the same time in my oven and eat in the next 1-3 days, especially in the winter.

But on hot days, I cook things in my Instant Pot by placing it outside so it doesn’t heat up the house. I’ve also heard of people putting it in their basement or garage.

I keep pre sliced vegetables in the freezer but I only rely on that 2-3 times a year when I have a really intense flare or fatigue.

Preparing Vegetables

For foods you do need to slice, I tend to pick a time block to pre slice all my vegetables for the next 2-4 days and then use my food processor to finish the job with both the slicing and or shredding blades.

I cut ends off of:

  • Onions (the only vegetable I regularly peel)
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Bell peppers
  • Parsnips
  • Leeks
  • Cabbage
  • Fennel
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Okra**

**These get slimy so slice last.

Foods I hand cut:

These don’t do well in the food processor.

  • Cucumber
    • They are a tad too soft in the food processor.
  • Mushrooms
    • These are the only vegetable I buy pre sliced. I start them in the pan and use a metal spatula to dice them while they cook. I usually do this at breakfast before eggs.
  • Avocado
    • I can’t imagine putting this through a food processor!
  • Lettuce
    • I shred and slice butter and romaine lettuce by hand.

For these softer foods, I pull them all out with a large cutting board and sit at the kitchen table while I chop them. I grab my largest dirty dish to our ends in scraps in (and I grab my freezer bag where I keep ends and skins for broths like carrot and leek tops, beet greens, celery ends, and onion skins.)

Here are the things I stopped doing in the kitchen when I realized they were unnecessary:

Save time and energy by not peeling vegetables

I stopped peeling:

  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Cucumber
  • Rutabaga

If you haven’t prioritized organic though you may want to consider peeling.

But if you do peel, be sure to save those scraps for broth in your freezer.

Foods We Eat Raw And Whole

I let the family eat around the ends of these foods.

  • We eat bell peppers like apples
  • We eat mini cucumbers whole
  • We eat mini peppers whole

Along with your typical ones that go on a vegetable tray:

  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli

We like to dip these in hummus that I make in the food processor after slicing vegetables.

This brings me to my next point.

Stack Your Appliances For Less Dishes

I’ll chop vegetables in the food processor. Then after a quick swipe with my hand to empty out little bits, I’ll replace the disc for my s blade and puree garbanzo beans for hummus or sunflower seeds for mudballs (<= my favorite mudball recipe).

I start by steaming a whole vegetable in my Instant Pot like beet root or green beans. While that cooks, I go cut and prep vegetables for the Food Processor.
For items with similar cook times, I will put a steamer basket between them to cook at the same time. For example, I’ll cook beet root on the bottom and add my trivet full of green beans on top.
Then after the vegetable steams, I’ll just dump the water (or save it to use as a base for broths). If I have bones to use, I’ll make broth during this time.
Then I’ll pressure cook beans the next day in the same insert without washing in between since the heat has stayed on.

Less dishes for the win!

Reduce Your Shaping

Full disclosure… I have never shaped the mudballs recipe I mentioned above into balls.

When you have chronic pain, you can’t afford to form mudballs into their shape. I just meld the ingredients together and let the family spoon out what they want to eat from the lidded pot in the fridge.

In the same way, I use meatball seasonings, but have never shaped them into meat balls.

Make Your Dishes Easier

Run soapy water through appliances after use, starting on low (and moving higher to higher speeds depending). This works really well for the:

  • Food processor
  • Blender
  • Immersion blender
  • Stand mixer with a shield

Rinse wooden tools right away like cutting boards, spoons, and rolling pins.

Be sure to soak metal and glass pieces.

Place silverware in a soapy cup with knives pointing down.

And whether or not you struggle with a chronic illness…

Delegate Meal Prep Tasks To Other Family Members

Ask for help when you need it and train your kids in the kitchen!

For example, ask someone to de stem herbs or peel garlic while watching TV.

If you have kids, I highly recommend Kids Cook Real Food where your kids ages 2-teen learn skills to make healthy foods themselves. Delegating kitchen skills not only frees up your time and energy but builds confidence in your kids. One freebie they offer is Snacks Your Preschooler Can Make. Super helpful!

What food prep hack will you try?

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