Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic condition that affects the central nervous system. It can cause a variety of physical symptoms, such as fatigue, muscle weakness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. It can also cause cognitive symptoms, such as difficulty with concentration and memory.
MS symptoms can make it harder to manage day-to-day activities, including cooking. Making adjustments to your meal planning and prepping habits may help.
Read on to find strategies for meal planning and prepping with MS.
Consider scheduling time each week to plan your snacks, meals, and grocery shopping.
Planning ahead may help:
- reduce the mental energy needed to plan snacks and meals on a daily basis
- limit the number of grocery orders or grocery store trips that you need to make
- ensure that you have the ingredients on hand for healthy dishes
Here are a few more tips to help you plan for easy shopping and cooking:
- Consider using a grocery delivery service or asking a friend, family member, or paid support worker to pick up groceries for you. You might also ask for help with meal prep.
- Try to plan snacks and meals that use a small number of ingredients and share ingredients in common. For example, if you want to grill chicken with one meal, consider how you might use it for another snack or meal as well. You can cook it all at once and eat it over multiple days.
- Plan dishes that can be prepared ahead of time or in multiple stages so you can cook when you have time and your energy levels are highest. Then, you can refrigerate or freeze the food until you’re ready to eat it.
If you can afford to, you might find it helpful to budget for one or more delivery or takeout meals per week. The occasional delivery or takeout meal provides a convenient option when you’re not up to cooking.
However, food from restaurants and takeout vendors is often high in salt, saturated fat, and added sugars. It’s best to avoid eating this food on a regular basis.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) shares the following recommendations for healthy eating with MS:
- Prepare food at home as much as you can.
- Limit processed foods and added sugars.
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
- Choose whole grains over refined grains.
Prepackaged foods are convenient, but many of them are high in ingredients that are best to limit in your diet.
Before you buy prepackaged foods, check the ingredient list and nutrition label for options that are:
- low in salt, or sodium
- low in saturated fats and free from trans fats
- low in added sugars, including sweeteners such as corn or cane syrup
- made from healthy ingredients, such as whole grains rather than refined grains
- rich in nutrients, such as protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals
For example, you might find it helpful to stock up on:
- low sodium, low fat, low sugar salad dressings and other condiments
- low sodium, low fat, low sugar freezer meals
- low sodium canned soups or dried soup mixes
- whole grain bread, pasta, and crackers
- low sugar whole grain cereals
- unsweetened instant oatmeal
- unsweetened dried fruit
- raw or roasted unsalted nuts or seeds
You can also find prepackaged salads, fruit and vegetable trays, and other fresh foods in the deli section of many grocery stores. Whole fruits make a convenient and nutritious snack, too.
Stocking up on pre-cut fruits and vegetables can help reduce the labor required for meal prep. This is helpful if you’re short on time or coping with fatigue or other symptoms that make chopping difficult.
Check your local grocery store for fresh, frozen, or canned pre-cut fruits and vegetables. Note that canned fruits and vegetables are often high in sugar and salt. Choose canned fruits in 100% juices and low-sodium or no-salt-added canned vegetables. Consider rinsing canned vegetables before using them.
Here are a few meal-specific tips for using pre-cut fruits and veggies:
- Breakfast: Add pre-cut berries, mango, or other fruit to oatmeal, cold cereal, or smoothies.
- Lunch: Top shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix with your favorite healthy salad dressing and canned tuna, canned chickpeas, nuts, seeds, or other protein-rich toppings.
- Dinner: Make a quick stirfry with fresh or frozen pre-cut broccoli florets, peppers, or other veggies. You can also add cubed tofu, frozen edamame, cashews, or other lean sources of protein.
- Snack: Nibble on baby carrots, which are made from peeled and trimmed whole carrots. Consider eating them with hummus or another protein-rich dip.
You can also add pre-cut veggies to homemade or prepackaged soups, stews, or curries. For example, add chopped spinach, frozen peas, or other veggies to canned soups before heating them. This may increase the nutritional value while also stretching the dish to provide more servings.
Using pre-cooked poultry, meat, or fish is another simple shortcut that works for many meals and snacks.
For example, look for:
- whole rotisserie chicken or sliced cooked chicken or turkey breast in the deli section
- frozen fully cooked meatballs made from beef, turkey, chicken, or other ingredients
- canned tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines, or other fish or seafood
- canned chicken, turkey, ham, or other meat
It’s best to limit deli meats such as bologna and hot dogs, which tend to be high in salt and saturated fat. Canned fish and meats also contain a lot of salt, but you can often rinse them under water to reduce the sodium.
Here are a few ideas for enjoying pre-cooked poultry, meat, or fish:
- Breakfast: Top whole grain toast with cream cheese or avocado and canned salmon.
- Lunch: Use a whole grain tortilla or whole grain bread to make a sandwich or wrap with sliced rotisserie chicken, precooked turkey breast, or canned fish or meat. Season it with healthier condiments, such as mustard. Consider adding pre-washed baby arugula, shredded cabbage, or other veggies.
- Dinner: Serve rotisserie chicken or other precooked meats with simple side dishes, such as steamed pre-cut veggies and brown rice or potatoes.
- Snack: Pair whole grain crackers with canned tuna or other canned fish or meat. You can mix the fish or meat with a small amount of mayonnaise, mustard, or other seasoning.
Many grocery stores also stock other prepared protein sources, such as:
- marinated or smoked tofu
- shredded or sliced cheese
- vacuum-packed hard-boiled eggs
- cartons of scrambled eggs
Using these ingredients can help save time and energy in the kitchen.
If you have enough time and energy to cook food from scratch, consider making a double batch to portion and freeze for future meals.
Here are some examples of healthier foods that tend to freeze well:
- breakfast burritos
- quiches and frittatas
- whole grain muffins and quick breads, like banana bread
- whole grain pancakes and waffles
- lentil or bean-based soups, stews, and chili
- bean or chicken burritos and quesadillas
- sandwiches, with mayonnaise and fresh vegetable toppings added after thawing
- meatloaf, or vegetarian lentil and nut loaf
- baked casseroles, such as shepherd’s pie and lasagna
- fajita kits, with sauteed peppers, onions, and chicken or tofu
- cooked poultry or meat, or uncooked marinated poultry or meat
You might find it helpful to label foods before you freeze them.
You can also keep track of your freezer contents using a paper notebook or digital note-taking app. When it comes time for weekly planning or quick meal prep, check your freezer log to learn what’s available.
Simply refrigerating or freezing leftovers for later enjoyment is a great way to cook once and eat twice!
But if you want to mix things up a bit, you can repurpose many leftovers to add variety to your snacks and meals without a lot of work.
Here are a few ideas for repurposing leftovers:
- Breakfast: Tuck leftover cooked veggies into scrambled eggs, an omelet, or a frittata. You can also add cooked meat or fish, cooked grains, or cooked pasta to a frittata.
- Lunch: Make a hearty salad using any combination of left-over roast or grilled veggies, cooked fish or meat, cubed tofu, grains, or pasta. Toss with your favorite salad dressing.
- Dinner: Serve leftover chili, thick stew, or curry over a baked potato. You can also put it in a quesadilla, wrap it in a burrito with cooked brown rice, or toss it with cooked noodles.
- Snack: Blend leftover fruit salad or chopped fruit with milk or yogurt for a smoothie.
Many leftovers only last for a few days in the refrigerator before they’re no longer considered safe to eat. Some leftovers freeze well for longer storage. Make sure you are
In some cases, adjusting your kitchen space might make it easier and more comfortable to cook while managing symptoms of MS.
- Set up a comfortable chair at your kitchen table or counter, so you can sit while preparing snacks and meals. If you use a wheelchair, you may be able to adjust the height of your table or counter.
- Store frequently used cooking equipment, ingredients, and other items in areas that are easy to reach. Get rid of items that you rarely use to reduce clutter.
- Use a wheeled cart to move heavy equipment, ingredients, or other items.
You might also find it helpful to use time-saving and adaptive tools, such as:
- an electric can opener to open canned goods
- a rocker knife or easy-grip knife to cut foods
- a food processor to chop fruits, veggies, and other ingredients
- a slow cooker or pressure cooker to reduce active cooking time
- a kitchen timer to ease the load on your attention and memory
An occupational therapist can provide more tips and tools for adjusting your daily habits and environments. They might have tips for adjusting your kitchen and cooking habits, as well as other aspects of your living space, workspace, or daily routine.
MS symptoms can make it challenging to manage daily activities, including food prep. Taking time to plan your snacks and meals can help you get ready for the week ahead.
You might find it helpful to stock up on healthful packaged snacks and meals, as well as pre-cut and pre-cooked ingredients. Freezing fresh batches of food and budgeting for the occasional delivery meal can help you be ready for times when you’re not up to cooking or your plans fall through.
Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Consider asking friends, family members, or a paid support worker to help with grocery shopping or cooking.
If you would like someone to walk you through meal prepping with MS, ask your doctor for a referral to a specialized registered dietitian or occupational therapist who can share strategies for adjusting your living space and daily habits.