8 Kitchen Tricks for Cooking When You Have RA
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When you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), working in the kitchen — using a knife for slicing or chopping, opening jars and cans, and lifting pots and pans — can be challenging. That’s because the joint pain, swelling, and stiffness that’s common with RA often affects the small bones of the hands and the wrists.
However, being comfortable preparing meals for yourself at home is important for several reasons. When you see what goes into your food, you control the ingredients and ultimately, how healthy they are. You’re also able to manage calories you take in, which helps keep your weight under control, says rheumatologist Stacy Ardoin, MD, an associate professor in the division of rheumatology and immunology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
Thankfully, there are creative tools and work-arounds that can empower you to continue to make healthy, nutritious meals. If you’re unsure where to start in customizing your kitchen, try working with an occupational therapist (OT), Dr. Ardoin suggests. An OT can help you identify cooking tools and devices that enable you to make your way around the kitchen without feeling strain or pain.
In the meantime, try these RA-friendly kitchen tricks:
1. Shop smart. Don’t strain your joints by reaching for items placed on high shelves at the grocery store. Switch brands if it means getting access to foods on easy-to-reach shelving. Ask for grocery bags to be packed with just a few items each, so they’re not too heavy and hard to carry. If it’s in your budget, consider switching to online grocery shopping so items can be delivered to your home. Also have a well-sharpened knife on hand to make it easier to open grocery cartons.
2. Choose smaller containers. Switch from buying 5- or 10-pound bags of potatoes and flour and gallons of milk to smaller, more manageable sizes. That’s what Christine Schwab, a TV fashion reporter and author in Newport Beach, CA, did when she developed RA and didn’t want to give up cooking and baking at home. When shopping at warehouse or discount stores that sell items in bulk, she asks a friend to go with her to do the heavy lifting. Once at home, she asks for help in dividing up large items into smaller containers with easy opening options such as sliding fasteners.
3. Buy pre-cut veggies. Because of the pain and weakness in her hands, Schwab has some trouble using a knife and cutting hard vegetables like squash and potatoes. Instead of wrestling with these foods, she buys them pre-cut, either in the produce section or the freezer section. A knife sharpener also makes cutting or chopping easier, which in turn helps her avoid straining her wrists.
4. Reorganize your kitchen. Some kitchens are more RA-friendly than others. Consider reorganizing your shelves and cupboards to make things easier to reach and handle. Store heavier pots and pans on lower shelves, where they’re easier to reach and lift up. Put everyday dishes and pots in places you don’t strain to reach them. Relatively light items such as cereal boxes can go up high — try stashing a large wooden spoon where you can easily grab it to scoop these light items out from high shelves.
5. Replace heavy cookware. Take stock of your pots and pans. Replace heavy items like cast-iron skillets with lighter pans, skillets, cookie sheets, and cake pans. Swap out heavy glass bowls with silicone products (they don’t weigh as much), drinking glasses with plastic cups, heavy plates with lighter ones, and metal colanders with silicone strainers. Keep heavier dinnerware for company, but always look for lighter serving options, such as splitting a side dish into two smaller serving bowls rather than one large bowl.
6. Invest in extra large, extra long handles. When cookware has large handles, it’s easier to grasp and hold when you have RA pain in your hands, Ardoin says. Everything in Schwab’s kitchen, from knives to potato peelers to spoons, has a larger-than-average handle, which allows her to hold and use them without pain.
7. Get a good grip. Schwab doesn’t worry about taking steaming pans out of the oven because she uses hot pads with rubber grips on both sides. This enables her to get a sturdy grasp on them. She also uses rubber grips in different sizes to open jars. When it’s time to open a can, she uses an electric can opener which saves her hands from having to crank a manual opener.
8. Take a break. After being diagnosed with RA, Schwab was determined to stay in the kitchen and continue doing what she loved: cooking and baking. With these tips and strategies, you can, too. But you also don’t want to let your time in the kitchen bring on an RA flare. Rather than overdoing it and pushing through fatigue, be sure to take breaks. If you’re feeling tired, unpack just half the bag of groceries. Defrost soup for dinner tonight. Bake the muffins tomorrow. Get some rest.
Video: 33 USEFUL KITCHEN TRICKS THAT WILL SAVE YOU HOURS
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