Marjorie Rosen used to be an avid cook, but she’s spending less time in her kitchen these days because of painful arthritis.
“Kneading dough is hard to do; my hands get achy,” said Marjorie, who is 66. “I use a wide-handled peeler and other gadgets, but I’m always looking for ideas to make cooking more comfortable.”
Arthritis, osteoporosis and related conditions affect nearly 46 million Americans – and women make up 60 percent of this number, according to the Arthritis Foundation. These conditions cause joint pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function, which makes everyday living – and whipping up soufflés – a challenge.
Once-simple tasks like opening jars, slicing veggies or carrying metal pans can be tiring and even painful because of a weak grip and joint stiffness. But this doesn’t mean your cooking days are done. There are dozens of tips and tricks and hundreds of kitchen gadgets that make cooking with arthritis a doable task, according to Eileen Brusso, a certified hand therapist and occupational therapist at Swedish Covenant Hospital.
Brusso and local chef Carolyn Maniaci of The Chopping Block in Lincoln Square recently teamed up to share cooking techniques that are easy on your hands and wrists during a class at The Chopping Block.
Here are their top 20 tips:
1. In general, use open palms and two hands when possible to lift heavy items like pots and pans.
2. Use a wide grip, rather than a pinched grip, which stresses joints.
3. Use a palm peeler (which hooks around one finger and allows you to peel fruits and veggies with an open, relaxed palm) to avoid pressure on individual joints.
4. Slow down! Take a break if you’re tired or in pain. Get help in the kitchen and assign heavy tasks to someone else.
5. Great tools make life easier. A sharp knife takes much less work from you than a dull one.
6. Hold knives in the middle, not the end, to use arm strength rather than hand strength.
7. Use a blender for chopping, or buy pre-cut items. Some produce departments will cut fruits and veggies if you ask.
8. Soften veggies in the microwave for 30 seconds to make cutting easier.
9. Use dry herbs rather than fresh ones, which take fine motor skills to pick through or peel. Or put an entire spring of thyme in, for example, rather than picking off individual leaves.
10. Pepper grinders are difficult to twist. Grind pepper (and other herbs/spices) in a coffee mill if you want fresh ground ingredients.
11. Keep objects close to you when lifting; this makes them less heavy and awkward.
12. Leave tops off products if possible so you won’t have to struggle with them each time (cooking spray, for example, can be safely stored in the cabinet without the top.)
13. Make clean up easy. Try lining pans with parchment paper to collect drippings. Soak pots, pans and dishes for 5 to10 minutes after use for easy food removal. Use a long-handled brush for scrubbing; it’s easier to hold.
14. Carry less weight. When setting the table, take four plates at a time, rather than all eight.
15. Use lighter utensils and pots/pans. Metal pans are lighter than ceramic, and a wooden meat mallet is lighter and easier to use than a metal mallet.
16. Put a gel rug in spots where you do a lot of standing; professional chefs use these to relieve joint pressure and back pain.
17. Vary standing and sitting to give joints a break. Use a stool that puts you at the proper height at your table or counter.
18. Sit or stand close to your workspace to avoid reaching. Take rest breaks, and stretch when needed.
19. Good shoes will keep your more comfortable when spending lots of time standing in the kitchen.
20. There are loads of gadgets online, at cooking supply stores and at popular retailers that make life easier in the kitchen. For example, palm scissors (similar to palm peelers) rest in your palm for cutting; under-the-counter jar openers also mount on the wall; and wide-grip utensils of all sorts make gripping, cutting and chopping easier.
To view diagrams and photos describing proper hand positioning and other techniques for cooking with Arthritis, click here.