Meal planning and disability

Everyone in my home is miserably sick and I’m coming down ill. Fortunately I’ve been doing a lot of meal planning and cooking lately, so there’s been plenty of soft cooked rice meals and soups in the freezer. Poor little Poppy has tonsillitis and a throat infection that’s gone bacterial, so she’s rather ill and has been running fevers for almost a week. She’s on antibiotics now and will hopefully start feeling better in a couple of days. Rose is finishing her antibiotics from her ear infection which is almost resolved, but is now coming down with the cold. Star has the cold which is an especially miserable experience when you have sensory sensitivities. She’s had a rough day and we’ve pulled out all our tools to help manage overwhelm so she can cope with eating and drinking. I’ve been catching up on sleep and cleaning all day. (Poppy’s throat infection makes her cough until she vomits, so there’s been bedding and clothes that need a good wash and dry in the sun)

Since we’ve adopted Family Based Treatment to help Star manage her eating disorder, I’ve been organising 3 meals and 3 snacks each day for her. We’ve recently decided that given I’m putting the time and energy into understanding her dietary challenges, I might as well keep going. So everyone in our home has transitioned to the eating 6 times a day model, tailored for different needs. Basically I’m preparing a tailored meal plan rather like Lite n Easy and similar purchasable models. It’s quite complex in some ways but we’re keeping the family meal a shared one, and usually lunch as well. Everytime I figure out something that works I add it to our meals list, and I’m experimenting with apps that will convert meal plans to ingredient lists for easy shopping. I’m doing larger cooks every week of soups, savory muffins, banana bread and the like, and then adding daily cooks for main meals. Across the day is a range of vegetables, fruit, grains, protein, and dairy. No meal is served more than twice in a row, which is particularly important for Star to help reduce food aversions.

The first thing that’s changed is that we have almost no food wastage at the moment. Scheduling meals and freezing leftovers in portions is keeping all the fridge contents moving before they can spoil. That’s helping with the budget. I find my lists of meals invaluable because even doing this full time I often find myself blank and can’t think of anything to prepare for a snack. I create a weekly to 10 day list of main meals and then roughly plan 2 days ahead for everything else. I simply can’t think or plan ahead further than that effectively, and options need to change depending on factors such as is lunch at home with a microwave to heat up a meal, or out somewhere and needs to be eaten cold?

I’m realising how much mental bandwidth food prep can take, and how often overwhelm is behind not eating. There’s a certain level of relief at simply having food placed in front of you every few hours. Keeping blood sugar levels more stable is helping everyone in a range of ways, and so I’m starting to create a model and series of guidelines that will gradually become more routine and less hands on for me. (For example, meals and snacks should not be within one hour of each other, or more than 4 hours apart. Everything on the meal plan we’re using for Star should be served up at least once every 6 weeks, and served in as wide a variety of ways and flavours as possible to keep variety) Over time more intuitive eating will replace some aspects of the structure for some of us, others may always need a structure as internal hunger cues are not reliable or get overwhelmed by other factors. Right now the cue to eat regularly is helpful for us all and it’s certainly helping me with all the strain on me at the moment.

Less creativity and last minute arrangements and more scheduling and limited options are helping make this complex process manageable. We are even starting to develop standard meals with friends that everyone enjoys and Star copes with, which means that creativity and novelty are channeled in different ways – my favourite recent creation was pumpkin and blue cheese pizza.

The change in approach was far from welcomed at first but it’s working brilliantly and we’re continuing to tinker with it to tailor it to our various needs. As a high needs family with a range of illnesses and disabilities, it’s been an invaluable tool.

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