As kids, hearing, “Supper’s ready!” was music to our ears. As adults with disabilities, the thought of pulling together a healthy dinner each night is much less harmonious. Orchestrating weekly meal plans, grocery shopping, washing, chopping and cooking can be daunting and difficult.
It is well documented that many people with disabilities experience malnutrition. Common deficiencies include everything from protein to micronutrients like vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids.
Numerous challenges — whether chronic pain, transportation access or limited upper extremity function — can make it difficult to buy and prepare fresh, quality food on a regular basis. So many people with disabilities frequently rely on unhealthy, processed/fast foods that are low on vitamins and fiber, yet high in trans fats, which further deplete nutrients from the body. But there are strategies to make meal prep and clean up easier and less time-consuming that can help replace burgers and burritos with healthy, balanced home-cooked meals.
One-pan dinners, also known as sheet pan dinners — where the entire meal is baked on the same pan — are one of my favorite ways to simplify food prep, cooking and clean up, while maximizing nutrient intake. Because you can throw starches, nutrient-packed vegetables and meats in one pan and cook them all together, one-pan dinners can provide all the nutrition you need without the need to juggle multiple cooking methods at the same time. When you’re done, there’s often little more than a cutting board, a knife, a bowl and one pan to clean up.
Another benefit of one-pan dinners is that they make it easy to cook batches big enough for leftovers. For wheelchair users, simply getting enough food into your system is of great importance, as when the body does not get the calories it needs, it can break down its own muscle and tissue in order to function. Transfers and wheelchair propulsion are difficult enough without muscle loss and weakness resulting from malnutrition. Leftovers might not be sexy, but reheating a two-day old dinner is a lot better for your body than skipping a meal because of time constraints or consuming a nutritionally deficient replacement.
Apart from the big picture of calories and macronutrients like protein and carbohydrates, getting quality micronutrients in your system is vital for managing the complications of disability. The nervous system requires specific nutrition, such as that provided by B vitamins and essential fatty acids, to function optimally. Therefore, it is essential that individuals with neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, consume these vital nutrients every day. Long term vitamin and mineral deficiencies in individuals with disabilities can contribute to the development of many common, recurring and potentially life-threatening secondary health complications such as constipation/bowel obstruction, bladder infections, sepsis and pressure sores, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory disease. These secondary conditions, in turn, then place additional demand on the body for nutrients.
But as one-pan dinners show, putting nutrients into your body doesn’t have to be complicated. Asparagus contains high levels of vitamins C, A, K and E, as well as folate, potassium and phosphate; chicken is high in vitamins B5 and B6; potatoes are high in vitamin C; garlic has excellent anti-inflammatory properties; and olive oil provides essential fatty acids. The recipe above contains all of these ingredients and more.
My hope is this simple cooking method will soon have you singing, “Supper’s ready!”
One Pan Lemon Honey Chicken
2 chicken breasts or thighs (add more chicken for leftovers the next day)
1 bunch asparagus (or if you prefer, broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts)
1 small bag new potatoes
2 garlic cloves chopped
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
Pre-heat oven to 400 F.
In bowl, mix olive oil, garlic, honey, soy sauce and the juice of one lemon.
Spread chicken, potatoes and asparagus on a baking sheet. Pour sauce mixture over everything until well-coated, and cover with foil.
Bake 25 minutes.
Helpful, Inexpensive Kitchen Gadget to Maximize Meal Prep
One Second Slicer: For $25 or less, it slices, dices and chops, and is perfect for people with limited dexterity, upper body weakness and/or hemiplegia. It’s also easy to use, clean and store. At Amazon.com.