Cook simple meals to help heal your thyroid symptoms.
When you are fatigued, depressed and just don't feel well, the last thing you want to do is spend time in the kitchen cooking. However, optimal nutrition is the number one thing that will help provide more energy and a better mood. When you eat well, you feel well.
I'll share some of my favorite tips that I have used to get started in the kitchen when I was experiencing hypo and hyper thyroid symptoms and when I experienced cooking "burnout".
Learning How To Cook
Growing up my mom cooked the majority of our meals and tried to teach me how to cook our usual dinners. I would always respond with, “I’ll just learn how to cook when I have to, Mom.” I assumed I’d learn when I moved out on my own, or when I got married or decided to have a family. When I did move out years later my roommate loved to cook and I did the cleaning, a perfect arrangement in my mind.
When I met the man of my dreams, I tried to cook for him and failed on numerous occasions. I knew how to make meatloaf and stuffed bell peppers – that was it! Even after we got married we would meet up after work for dinners most of the time or buy frozen skillet meals that were quick to make. The last thing on my mind was spending time cooking, especially since I was always so fatigued and everything I ate made my stomach hurt anyway.
I had always been bloated after eating and couldn’t tolerate dairy, but my gut health was getting much worse at that time. Every night I was nauseous, bloated, constipated, and couldn’t eat much of anything without feeling sick. Most of those nights I was curled up in bed, either crying from stomach pains or trying to breathe through the nausea. Not to mention the brain fog, weight gain, mood swings and fatigue that goes along with food intolerances, gut dysbiosis and thyroid issues that I experienced daily. I knew something was really wrong and I wasn’t getting any help from my doctors for my gut health issues.
Simple Cooking Recipes Are Key
If I was going to have to cook, I wanted to heal my gut and thyroid issues too. So I went to Barnes & Noble and looked up Gluten Free Cookbooks, determined to finally learn how to cook healthy food. That was such an overwhelming experience! Most of the gluten free cookbooks had a long list of ingredients I had never heard of, not very many pictures and definitely were not suited for people who were just learning how to cook (even if liver is nutrient dense, I’m not eating it!).
Determined not to give up, I kept searching until I landed on The Healthy Gluten Free Life Cookbook. There were easy instructions, bright colored images and normal looking meals I was familiar with like healthy pancakes, chicken dishes and salads. I left the bookstore nervous, unsure what to expect with this new lifestyle and myriad changes I had to make to improve my health.
After 4 months of cooking homemade, gluten free meals from nutrient dense food all of my stomach pains disappeared and I lost 25 pounds through exercise and cooking my meals. My mood was lifted and I had more energy. That completely changed my perspective on how food (especially proper nutrition) affected my overall health. Healthy food can be simple and taste great!
Experimenting In The Kitchen
Since then I’ve grown my cooking skills and even experienced with many different healing diets including Paleo, low FODMAP and AIP (Autoimmune Protocol). I’ve cooked all of my meals from nutrient dense whole food the last several years – quite a transformation from fast food and frozen meals many years ago!
Making simple meals reduces the intimidation of going gluten-free or cooking all of your meals. Food is so personal, so you can always add additional flavors or spices that you like to the recipes. When you feel ready to enhance your cooking skills, look for new recipes that are more difficult or interesting to try. There's nothing wrong with starting small and simple, especially if you have no cooking experience to begin with or just don't like the idea of cooking.
Practical Tips For Simple Meals
When you’re feeling really sick or fatigued the best medicine is nutrient dense food, but often the last thing you want to do is spend time cooking. I’ve been there, but I’ve also experienced the power of proper nutrition for healing the body. I believe simple, easy meals are necessary to help transition into a healthier lifestyle and work great when you’re busy during the weekdays.
- Buy frozen veggies to easily steam in the microwave
- Look for recipes with only 5-10 ingredients that you'll use often in other recipes to keep costs low and help you learn how to cook with those ingredients
- Make larger portions of meals so you only have to cook a few days a week rather than every night
- Keep recipes simple and basic, but flavor with spices and herbs
- Use the crockpot or instapot to easily have a meal ready in the evening
- Stick to a few recipes you feel comfortable with at first and add only 1 new recipe each week so you're not overwhelmed
- Keep basics on hand that you don't have to make like broth, spaghetti sauce, hummus, granola, nuts/seeds and fruit
Simple Meal Ideas
Healthy cooking has a wide spectrum and you should take into account what your skill level is and your energy when getting started. You could make your own nut milk, hummus and everything else from scratch, but when you don't feel well it's highly unlikely you're going to do that.
There are a ton of cookbooks designed for those that are looking for new, fancy recipes to try or that show healthy living as having to make everything from scratch. However, it's equally healthy to just eat simple, basic meals made with whole foods that don't require a recipe book.
Stick to the framework of a protein, vegetable and complex carbohydrate on your plate (the portion sizes may look different depending on your unique needs/lifestyle). For example, baked chicken, sweet potato and steamed broccoli is a very simple, easy and nutritious meal to have in the evening. A greens and protein smoothie or coconut yogurt with granola are easy and quick breakfast options. For lunch, try some cooked quinoa with steamed veggies and avocado.
When you start to feel better and energy is coming back, that's the time to branch out and try more involved recipes to add to your cooking skills.
What's your favorite simple meal to make? Share in the comments.
Kristina Cegla, INHC
Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach