When you have arthritis, even the simplest tasks can be difficult. This post was written by the founder of this site, my mother, Carleta Vineys. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her 40s which was devastating for someone that loved to cook as much as she did. She shares how she adapted her cooking style to accommodate her diminishing mobility and strength.
Preparing homemade meals and entertaining can be challenging with chronic pain. The onset of rheumatoid arthritis changed my life. My demands were high on everyone in my life. I learned to "downgrade" and take some strain off myself and my family. Here are some tips to manage pain and loss of strength and mobility in joints, particularly the hands and wrists doing what you enjoy.
Family Menu Planning and Meal Preparation:
- Plan family menus for every day of the week and shop once a week. Make menu planning a family affair.
- Ask the butcher to package meats in appropriate serving sizes for your family or separate them before freezing.
- Buy pre-chopped, -diced, -sliced ingredients now available in supermarkets.
- Buy prepared items from the frozen food section, deli or bakery. Add your own touches and fool everyone. [Audrey's note: her fried chicken was legendary and only a few people knew it was actually just frozen fried chicken that she added spices to before baking.]
- Double recipes and freeze half for a busy or low energy day. Some dishes are even better reheated. Mark containers with contents and dates. Rotate in the freezer regularly.
Easy, Enjoyable Entertaining:
- Keep menus simple.
- Use tried and true dishes for guests. Save the experimental recipes for the family.
- Include dishes that can be prepared early.
- Be organized; make a detailed list of your menu and the tasks that need to be done. List tasks in the order they should be completed. Start with the items that take the longest time and/or can be done ahead. Remember to include polishing silver or cleaning infrequently used dishes or glasses. Make a separate list of housecleaning chores. Place the lists on the refrigerator visible to your entire family and check off items as they are completed.
- Invite your guests to bring a dish to share.
- Shop for groceries at least one day before entertaining. Organize your grocery list to match the layout of your market to save time and your feet, legs and back. Take a family member to help with the shopping. Hint: feed a teenage son first!
- Let your family/guests join you in the kitchen to help while you visit. Ask for help setting the table.
- For large groups serve buffet style from kitchen counters.
- Remember to request assistance with clean up.
The Right Tools:
- Install roll out shelves in bottom cabinet shelves.
- Keep a sturdy stool in the kitchen to sit on when cooking.
- Use the best knives you can afford and keep them sharp for safety and ease of cutting. Use the right knife for the job.
- Replace heavy ceramic or glass mixing bowl with an assortment of stainless steel bowls. Place a kitchen towel under a bowl for stability while stirring.
- Select heavy pans with handles on two sides to balance the load when lifting.
- Keep a small food processor on the counter to use for chopping ingredients rather than a full-size processor which can be heavy when lifting off a kitchen shelf.
- Use food storage bags with sliders for ease of opening and closing.
Ready, Set, Cook:
- Follow doctor's orders regarding medications; take pain killers and/or anti-inflammatory drugs at least one hour before starting to chop or cook.
- Start each day with a warm shower. Hold your hands under moderately hot running water to loosen stiffness. Use cold packs to reduce swelling.
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothing.
- Sit on a stool or at the table whenever possible.
- Practice being ambidextrous.
- Make cooking a family adventure. Include even young children.
- Pace yourself. Chop and prepare ingredients early, take a break and cook later.
- Wash food prep utensils, pots, pans, bowls as you go and put them away immediately.
For more tips, diet recommendations and recipes, visit the Arthritis Foundation.
Other recipes and posts from mom:
These are all very helpful tips. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
As a retired occupational therapist with worsening osteoarthritis, I would recommend a session with an OT learning about joint protection, kitchen gadgets that reduce joint stress, and daily range of motion lessons. Would that I had had to learn this information YEARS ago and had used it; I wouldn't hurt so badly today!
Excellent advice, Kathy! I am sure my mother would have benefited from daily range of motion exercises as well.