Because rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects the small joints of the body, particularly the hands, cooking can be a real challenge. Peeling, chopping, stirring, slicing, opening jars and cans -- all can be painful, at best, and impossible, at worst, for fingers affected by rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
It's easy to give in to the temptation to order takeout or run through a drive-thru every night. But if you have RA, you may be at greater risk for nutritional deficiencies, so it’s important that you feed your family -- and yourself -- a good, balanced diet.
In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our May 2011 issue, a reader with rheumatoid arthritis asked WebMD's rheumatology expert, Scott Zashin, MD, why her husband doesn't help her more.
To make cooking easier and less painful, try these kitchen tricks from Melinda Winner, a mother and grandmother with several forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis. She is the author of A Complete Guide to Cooking with Arthritis.
1. Slice with a push. Apple corers aren’t just for apples. Use one to slice or chop potatoes, squash, cucumbers, pears, and other produce. Steady the fruit or vegetable on the cutting board by cutting off the end to make it level. Then, with one side of the corer handle facing your body and the other handle facing away, put your forearms on the handles and use the weight of your body to push it through your produce and slice.
2. Put a ring on it. Wear a plain, inexpensive ring on your thumb and use it like a bottle opener for yogurt, sour cream and similar packages. Position the ring under the lid’s edge, lift up with your hand and the lid pops off -- no need to grasp with fingers.
3. Roll heavy loads. Moving a heavy pot of water from the sink to the stove, or back again? Use a plant stand with wheels. Fill the pot using a measuring cup, then push the plant stand to the stove and slide it onto the burner.
4. Dice by pushing a button. Today, you can buy many veggies and fruits precut, although Winner recommends a food processor instead. A food processor can do everything from slicing, shredding, and chopping to making pie crust from start to finish.
5. Repurpose simple kitchen tools. If you’re making egg salad or deviled eggs, a hand-held square butter cutter can easily trim a cooked and peeled egg to the perfect size for salad. Or an egg slicer can be perfect for slicing mushrooms. Most of your kitchen tools can have more than one use.
6. Plan. Do some prep work when you're feeling good. For example, try measuring out fresh herbs in tablespoon or teaspoon measurements and place them in ice cube trays. Fill the trays with water, milk, or cream. When frozen, place your “herbsicles” in clearly marked bags. Later, you won’t need to clean and cut herbs -- just grab what you need with the right accompaniment (water, milk, or cream) and add to your recipe.
7. Go electric. Hate stirring? Grab a tool that will do it for you. Use a small hand-held electric blender. Look for affordable tools that come with different attachments – like a blending wand and whisk – for maximum multipurpose use.