Eating healthy when you are “bone tired”

Sometimes life is tiring. And sometimes when you need healthy food the most, you have the least amount of energy to make it. I should know as that has been where I have been lately. My idea of a good use of my time would be to bundle up the kids, grab my husband by the hand, hire a nanny and chef, and go to a warm beach where the kids play all day, I lay in the sun all day, and healthy food is brought to us regularly.

Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful fantasy?

A month of this, and I’d be ready to jump back into life again with gusto, maybe… But since that health food/no work idea is very likely to remain a distinct fantasy, I have been holding on to life’s coattails and being dragged forward through the regular, everyday life of school work, meals to prepare, house to clean, and blog posts to write. (Okay, I’ve been a little lax in the blog post area…and the house cleaning….and the meal planning lately, but I am trying to keep up with it!)

Because my energy has been so extremely low lately, and hasn’t gotten better as I have taken time to rest and relax over the last two months, I went in to to see a doctor/naturopath. He felt that I seemed healthy in the sense that he doesn’t feel I have something serious like cancer, or an autoimmune disease, but he’s ordered a bunch of different tests to check for thyroid, adrenal health, looking into my vitamin levels (A and D), and iron, and truthfully a bunch of other tests that I am not even sure what they are for. I am just trusting that he knows what he is doing. I won’t meet to talk with him about those test results until all of them have gotten to his office, so that’s another 6 weeks before we even know how to treat how I feel.  (I will just be taking general supplements until then, like a good multi-vitamin, and floradix for iron, and cod liver oil).

So how to survive and try to cook at least somewhat healthy while dealing with fatigue? Some days are better than others, but here’s been what has been working for me.

1. Don’t stress

For someone who feels best eating tons of vegetables, plenty of protein, with a side of soup and homemade probiotic vegetables, it can feel pretty easy to be overwhelmed at the lack of some of those components. Good grief, it can be hard enough to just get anything on the table some nights! While on the one hand I know that I feel best eating loads of vegetables, I know for this period of time, stressing over my lack of vegetables, or whatnot, is not going to help anything. Actually, does stress ever help any situation?

2. Make the best compromises

I prefer to not buy salad greens in big plastic bins because of the environmental issues with plastic packaged foods. But now is one of those times that I am because it’s an easy way to have a healthy salad on hand. All I do is make a big bottle of homemade dressing, and have prewashed lettuce on hand (and maybe some extra vegetables or meats to throw on top). I’ve actually been really thankful to have prewashed lettuce lately.

I removed any self-pressure to make homemade baked goods, and have organic blue chips and brown rice crackers on hand for packing in lunches or for snacks, and buy quality baked bread from the store. A compromise? For me, yes, but it allows me to use my limited energy is putting together simple meals without stressing.

3. Remember the foods that don’t need to be prepared

Fruits are great because they are ready to go. We are loving our fall apples right now. Other seasons might find us chomping on oranges, and bananas are delicious too. Nuts can be easy too (though I do try to soak and dehydrate them), or apples with nut butter (like pumpkin seed butter) are a delicious combo. If we were less sensitive to dairy, raw cheese would be on the menu. But we have been enjoying Applegate pepperoni and salami lately, sometimes in a sandwich or with rice crackers, sometimes on it’s own.

My six-year-old loves sardines, so I buy BPA-free canned sardines for an easy lunch or snack for her to go along with an apple, and perhaps crackers or toast and carrot sticks.

5. Simple dinners

Simple dinners have been an absolute necessity around here. One of my favorite recipes from my new soup cookbook (soon to be released!)  is my Egyptian Red Lentil Soup with Caramelized Onions. It takes just about 30 minutes to make, and we all love it (it’s frugal too). So I made it twice last week. And I would be embarrassed to tell you how many times we have enjoyed a simple meat sauce over pasta these last two months too! That served with a large green salad has been a lifesaver more than once.

Throwing a whole chicken or a pot roast in a slow cooker with vegetables allows me to make dinner in the morning when my energy is best. Serving a simple side of steamed or roasted vegetables with brown rice or quinoa and an easy to prepare meat allows me an easy meal that I don’t have to put a lot of thought into. I made some soups lately that allowed us several meals out of one meal preparation, another plus. I am thankful for simple meals.

6. Have healthier options for back up plans

When you find yourself unable to make dinner for whatever reason, I think it’s good to have a couple of places in town that offer reasonably healthy meals for a decent price. We have found that certain ethnic restaurants offer several meals that we feel good about eating. One Lebanese restaurant in our area offers a lamb platter with rice that is HUGE. It feeds all of us. Since lamb is most always grass-fed, it makes a good choice. Another Lebanese restaurant offers grass-fed beef and rice platters too. A local higher end grocery store offers decent whole roasted chicken and sides and a salad bar and deli options. These have allowed us “eating out” options that we feel okay about using. I know that’s not possible for everyone, and it can be an issue with finances too, but when you forgot to grocery shop and there is nothing fast to make at home, it can be nice to know that a somewhat frugal meal is just a couple minutes drive away.

Ending thoughts:

We all go through tired spells, especially mothers, I find. Motherhood is rewarding, and hard, and mothers (and children) need good nutrition to thrive. But I’d also like to encourage those who find themselves in a situation of unrelenting, unexplained tiredness to try to get to the bottom of it. That’s what I am doing now. I am resting and not stressing in this time frame of compromising certain food ideals I have. But I also don’t plan on staying here.

 What about you? Have you experienced extreme fatigue and conquered it? How do you cook healthy meals when tired?

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. says

    Sorry to hear you haven’t been feeling well, Kimi.

    This is all great advice. I thought about this a lot when I was going through post-partum recovery.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Hope you feel better soon. <3

  2. says

    Wonderful advice and perfect timing for me as I’m out of my normal element. Nothing makes me more tired than emotional stress and I’ve had more than my share of that lately. Will be taking your advice and sharing it. Hope things turn around for you soon. Take care!

  3. says

    I know the time I was really tired was when I was working a small job (not many hours) teaching preschoolers, taking online classes at a Bible college, and not sleeping well because my husband started working out of town (which I wasn’t used to). I was constantly sick, and that was not like me at all. I quit teaching the preschoolers and started sleeping better and that helped. I believe too much stress can be very taxing on the body, even more so than just not eating a “healthy” diet but being stress free. That was my experience, though. If I get enough food and rest and not physically exert myself beyond my means, I feel well. My habits differ from others, but we all have such unique lives, we need to find out what things makes us feel bad and what things makes us feel well and do more of the latter.

  4. says

    I like this. Sometimes I read my kids the Mary and Martha story at bedtime and it hits a little too close to home. We do need restful times. Have you had your thyroid checked? That was my issue…

  5. says

    So sorry to hear you’re feeling fatigued. I went through something similar before I discovered I was gluten intolerant (and allergic to a bazillion other foods), and was tested for anemia, hypothyroidism, and my doctor even suggested I might be depressed (if I was, it was only because I felt so exhausted!)

    Luckily I was living alone and didn’t have a family to feed! But I can imagine how much more pressure you feel to maintain a healthy diet for everyone. Like you, I also bought mixed salads,. I made huge batches of hearty soups once a week to snack on, huge batches of rice and quinoa to freeze for later, and tried not to feel guilty about eating out more, eating popcorn and salad for dinner, or plain rice with a bit of store bought pasta sauce!

    But don’t make the stress worse by worrying too much about diet. A short period of eating out and compromising is not the end of the world 🙂 Hope you feel better soon!

  6. says

    Thanks for the inspiring words today. Sometimes we can do more than others. Having options is a good thing. Thinking about your options before a crisis is key. When we are in those moments it is hard to think about real food. We live in such a grab and go society, for those of us in the middle of change, it is easy to go back to bad habits. It seems to be engrained in us.

    Today, I am going to write down my options so that I can use them for reference later on. When I have those moments when dinner seems impossible, I can have something to draw strength from. I can say, “oh yeah I could do that, or this makes sense for tonight” Thanks again.

  7. Jodi Kendall says

    Oh I know this fatigue dance well. I have a list of easy dinner ideas that I used when my fatigue was at its worse. I would just rotate through it every week. It included things like scrambled eggs, rice with grilled chicken and frozen peas, quick baked pasta dishes, sliders (just small hamburger patties topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato and avocado), large cuts of meat thrown in the crockpot with some salsa, a pound of ground beef cooked in a stock pot with a head of thinly sliced cabbage and coconut aminos, baked oatmeal, Trader Joe’s all-beef hotdogs, even nachos with veggies and some leftover meat or a can of organic beans.

    My husband also loves to grill and is always kind enough to “save” me by putting some meat and vegetables on the grill, thereby taking caring of an entire dinner. And he always cooks extra meat so I have protein I can easily reheat for lunches.

    During seasons where we’re not eating as nutritiously as I’d like, I find solace in at least committing to cutting out sugar. Also, on a non-food related note, the thing that far and away makes me feel better during seasons of fatigue is going for a daily light walk. Breathing fresh air and moving my body does a world of good, and also helps keep the blues away. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing all your great ideas and encouragement, Kimi!

  8. Sharon says

    I think this post hit home for many of us. I appreciate your honest approach to doing the best you can with the means you have — be in time or monetary resources. Some things we do when running low on energy or time: Eggs! They are such a quick, easy and versatile protein. It’s not uncommon for us to have breakfast for dinner during busy seasons of life. Rotiserrie chickens–many of the healthier grocery stores sell hormone free rotisserie chickens and we are able to make mulitple meals out of them. Baked sweet potatoes with raw cheese. Bean Bowls–pick a grain, bean and topping (usually salsa for us). Tortillas–wrap up anything in them: eggs, nut butter, cheese, deli meat, beans, etc… Convenience food items from a brand we trust. I oftentimes will stock up on Amy’s frozen bean burritoes whenever they go on sale. French bread or english muffin pizzas–use a store bought jar of sauce and whatever toppings you like. These are fun because kids can get in on the process and tailor make their own. Thai and True (a local Portland company) makes a really good curry paste (red, green, yellow) that only requires the addition of coconut milk. I put frozen meat in the crockpot and cover with sauce and serve over rice, quinoa or pasta. Lara bars–these are often fun, easy lunch items along with a hard-boiled egg and some veggies or fruit.
    I hope your energy returns soon! ~Sharon

    • KimiHarris says

      Eggs are great! Unfortunately my daughter can’t eat them, so I always have to have another option for her. But I enjoy them still.

  9. says

    This is a wonderful post, what I love the most is the allowing and acceptance with “what is” for you at the moment and working with that, instead of beating yourself up worrying about what you “should or shouldn’t” be doing…..well done for sharing that vunerability and reality with us all…it’s so real and honest ….and hopefully allows others to realize its ok to not have it all going on “perfectly” all the time..,..blessings

    • KimiHarris says

      “Doing your best” no matter what that means has been a theme in my life for many years now. 😉 I often wish my best was better, but have learned to be content with it.

  10. Rachel says

    Ditto to Michelle–fatigue for me was caused by borderline low thyroid. I took armor thyroid for 3 weeks and then switched to kelp capsules. Boy, have they made a difference in how I feel!

    Your blog is great, this one included! I love your encouraging stories. Thanks for all you do.

  11. says

    I totally face this challenge everyday when I come home from gradschool and I am so exhausted. I think 3 days this week I did green smoothies (which I am slightly addicted to) but tonight I actually made a real meal that was so easy. I soaked lentils the night before and left them out on the counter to sprout-so little effort exerted there. Then when I got home today I threw about 1/4-1/2 cup of them in food processor with garlic, pumpkin and some other yummy ingredients making it on the blog soon. Then I threw in frying pan, sprinkle of cheese and in maybe 10 minutes tops I had real- comforting- and deliciously healthy dinner ready to chow down. There are definitly ways of having healthy dinner fast when you are tired but just making the simpliest preps earlier in the day or week make it so easy when you are least likely to make healthy choices 🙂 Hope you get to slow down a bit this weekend!

  12. Valerie josephson says

    Hang in there, kimmi. I have been there too. Rotisserie chickens are a great standby when you are too tired to cook. You can make broth in the crock pot and chicken salad out of the leftovers. When I am really low energy we buy two a week and just use that as our protein in all our meals.

  13. Steena says

    I don’t know WHAT we have eaten for the last two months! Early pregnancy kicked this Mama’s behind and I’m just getting back to a more normal cooking routine. I am realizing that even when I have energy though it is best not to expend it all in one day – leavese feeling awful the next! A few things that saved us:
    -eggs poached in tomato sauce with toast or garlic bread
    -fried rice
    -lentil rice casserole
    -easy soups
    -pork chops, grilled with an easy veggie

  14. jess says

    Hi Kimi,
    I’m a big fan, I recently (September 29th) got married and used many of your recipes for the menu, cooked everything myself, the cake – EVERYTHING!
    The morning of the wedding I was up until 2 a.m. finishing the flower arrangements and wrapping favors – then I napped – 4 hours – arose at 6 a.m. to make my bouquets, assemble, and frost the cake – then off to the park where the ceremony was to take place, I (with the help of my amazing family) decorated and set the tables…at 2:30 p.m. I left the park to return home and get ready – the wedding started at 3!!!
    Got ready in 10 minutes – my Mom drove, and my very brave sister-in-law cradled the cake…It’s been several weeks and I can tell you with complete certainty that I understand – I am “bone” tired to the core!!!!
    And the end is not in sight!
    So, here I am, checking your blog for a recipe that will make me better only to find that you, my culinary idol, are tired to the core as well!
    Misery loves company and I have to tell you your post brought me much comfort…
    I hope that I can shed some light on your exhaustion now…
    I wonder if you are at all familiar with the Chinese Elements – one of my all time favorite cook books “The Natural Gourmet” by Ann Marie Colbin, touches on this slightly, but only in relation to our dietary needs – each element has specific foods that correlate with that season, just as each individual has a season/element that is dominant.

    Since it’s October and the Earth element is in season – you should focus heavily on sweets – yes – SWEETS!
    We, as Americans, have a warped view of “sweet” as something that is a treat and
    not a regular element in our diet – sweets with nourishing ingredients like pumpkin, allspice, cardamom, oats, even chocolate – these foods are extremely healing to the stomach and spleen – the carbohydrates give lasting energy and the heavy spices keep the sugars from spiking in our system –
    Some food for thought:
    Before any big occasion or period of stress in my life, I bake a HUGE batch of oatmeal cookies – add ins are whatever I feel my body needs at that time, for example:
    Pumpkin – regulates blood sugar, promotes discharge of mucus from lungs, bronchi, etc.
    Spelt flour – moistens dryness – strengthens the spleen, nurtures the yin fluids
    Oats – restore the nervous system, strengthens cardiac muscles, rich in silicon!
    Allspice – go heavy on the spice (I use Trader Joe’s Pumpkin pie spice)
    Walnuts – reduce inflammation and alleviate pain – rich in omega 3
    You get the idea – the list goes on – if you have cravings for something specific, you should listen to them – your body is trying to tell you what it needs and it’s most likely not the same as what your children need or your husband needs!!
    SO – if you need to heat up a box of tomato soup for them and eat a dozen oatmeal cookies for you while you stand there and stir – Do it!!

    and THANK YOU so much, your recipes truly made my wedding day extraordinary – I hope in all of your exhaustion that you know how much your readers truly appreciate you! I know I do!


  15. cirelo says

    It’s hard when you go through one of these phases and the budget is so tight you can’t really rely on compromise convenience food since it tends towards higher prices. That’s when I feel wishful for being ok with the SAD! Regular convenience foods can be so cheap with their subsidized GMO corn and soy. Boo! 🙂

    I went through one of these low phases and my husband was the real champ, he offered to cook breakfasts and dinners for our family for a week so I could have a break. So sweet considering he has to work full-time as well! But it was really great to have that little time off, and after a week of watching somebody else in “my” kitchen I felt ready to jump back in the next week!

  16. says

    Thank you Kimi, your post was very inspiring. I think what is really important is to have that very awareness of what the ideal should be about and believe in it, which is your case and it is inspiring how you try to achieve that ideal. It is good to have a plan A and a plan B like with thinking about “emergency meals” and food that do not need preparation and still can be healthy and nutritious. To be creative in diet planning is really an art when we are at times leading a very busy life and yet are be able to not to compromise too much on our food ideals. Thanks again for your post!

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