How to cook with arthritis

It sounds easy enough: eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight to help manage arthritis symptoms — and create a meal plan and make a grocery list to keep food costs in check.

But trying doing it with sore, stiff and swollen joints — and without blowing the grocery budget on pricy prepared foods. Additional symptoms like loss of movement, fatigue, weakness and general malaise also make healthy cooking a challenge.

Need some help in the kitchen? Try these tips:

Keep items within easy reach. If you use it regularly, experts warn that you shouldn’t have to bend, twist or reach for it. Make sure your staple foods, pots and pans, dishes and commonly used appliances are easily accessible. For instance, try hanging pots on hooks, and keep a set of everyday dishes on a lower shelf.

Make a few updates. Take a good hard look at your kitchen and ask yourself: “What bothers me the most?” and “What could I do to make my life easier?” It might be as simple as replacing the knobs on your cupboards and storing your trays vertically — or as complex as rearranging your kitchen for easier access.

Downsize. Too much stuff can be a safety risk if you’re constantly moving heavy items or sorting through stacks of dishes or bakeware. Move items you don’t use often (like cookie sheets that only come out at Christmas) to out-of-the-way areas and give away items you no longer need. This will give you room to spread out so stacking and shifting won’t be required.

Lighten up. Heavy pots and dishes can be hard to handle. Opt for lighter weight items that are durable and good quality. The same goes for large containers: if you buy in bulk or buy larger items (like a bag of flour), portion it out in smaller containers with easy to remove lids.

Sit down for it. A stool or adjustable chair can take the load off while you do your food prep. Look for a seat that’s safe, sturdy and can be adjusted to suit the height of your work surface. You can even sit next to your oven to check on foods.

Try a new appliance. When you’re exhausted, preparing a meal can be a mental challenge as well as a physical one. Making a meal in a small appliance — like baking chicken in a convection toaster oven — seems easier so we’re more likely to make a healthy meal. Other appliances that are worth a look? Consider a food processor, slow cooker (you can find mini ones too) and an indoor grill.

Invest in joint-friendly tools and gadgets. There’s no shortage or ergonomic and joint-friendly gadgets on the market, but make sure they’re comfortable to hold and easy to use without strain or repetition. Items like a jar opener, specialty knives, choppers, knife grips, peelers and can openers can make simple tasks feel like they’re simple again.

Use both hands (and your arms, elbows and chin too). In addition to simple techniques like using both hands to pour or lift, experts have adapted many cooking techniques to spread out the work among other joints.

Build a KISS-able recipe collection. Ever heard the saying “keep it short and simple”? Keep it in mind while building a repertoire of recipes that doesn’t require a lot of ingredients, work or clean up. For instance, braised bok choy requires little time and effort but it’s packed with anti-oxidants and vitamins. One-dish meals, stews and soups also help keep clean up to a minimum and make great leftovers.

Think ahead. Weekly meal plans can keep you motivated and promote a sense of accomplishment, but sometimes even the best intentions go out the window when a bad day hits. On good days, make extra or prepare a casserole, soup or stew to freeze serving size portions for times when you don’t feel like cooking.

Stock your pantry and freezer. Keep healthy, easy to make choices on hand to avoid temptation. For instance, frozen vegetable blends make it easy to get a variety of colors and flavors (not to mention vitamins and nutrients) without all the chopping.