Shopping and Preparing Easy Meals When You Have Arthritis

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on March 12, 2014

Putting healthy meals on the table means lifting grocery bags, opening jars with lids, dicing and slicing, and handling bulky pots. But all of those activities pose a challenge when you have arthritis. Fortunately, there are plenty of clever solutions you can use to make shopping and meal preparation easier. Here are seven tips for shopping when you have arthritis, followed by six tricks for preparing easy meals at home.

7 Shopping Tips When You Have Arthritis

1. Set Priorities for Shopping/Cooking With Arthritis
“One of the realities of life with arthritis is that you can’t do everything,” says Kate Lorig, professor emeritus at Stanford University and co-author of The Arthritis HelpBook. (Da Capo, 2005). “So it’s important to prioritize what you need to do and what you want to do.” If lifting grocery bags is very difficult for you, consider having heavier items delivered with a grocery delivery service. Then you can be free to shop on your own for items such as fresh fruit and vegetables. If you really love to cook, make cooking a top priority. If not, order in or take advantage of take-out options or the growing selection of pre-cooked foods available at many markets.

2. Make an Arthritis-Friendly Shopping List
By making a list of what you need ahead of time, you’ll avoid unnecessary trips to the store. A list can also help you plan how to move through the grocery store, thus avoiding extra steps and strains on troublesome joints.

3. Avoid Lifting Heavy Bags With OA
If you plan to do your own grocery shopping, shop often so you can buy only what you need in order to avoid having to carry heavy bags. Giant family-sized packages may save money, but lugging them to the car and into your home can be a problem. If you can’t resist the bargains available at big-box stores, consider enlisting a friend or family member to help carry larger items home for you.

4. Think Convenience for Arthritis
“The trend toward convenience foods has been a boon to people with arthritis,” says Kimberly Topp, PhD, professor and chair of the department of physical therapy and rehabilitation services at the University of California, San Francisco. Many markets stock pre-washed salad greens and other vegetables, pre-chopped cabbage for coleslaw, and even sliced fruit. Frozen vegetables are another great way to avoid chopping fresh vegetables. And because produce is typically flash frozen soon after being harvested, frozen vegetables are often just as nutritious as items in the produce section.

5. Arthritis-Proof Your Body Mechanics
If you need to carry grocery bags yourself, make sure they aren’t packed too heavily. Bend your knees when lifting any heavy object from the ground. Carry grocery bags close to your body with both hands, which eliminates unnecessary strain on your back and joints.

6. Be Kind to Your Joints
Most grocery stores are happy to help you put bags in your car. “Don’t be shy about asking,” says Topp. “If you buy food in jars with tight lids or other containers that are hard for you to open, ask the check-out clerk or bagger to open them for you before putting them in the bag. That goes for medications or products you buy at the drug store, as well. Most people are more than happy to help out.”

7. Use OA Assistive Devices
If you walk to the grocery store, consider using a folding cart to wheel your groceries home. For heavier items, investigate grocery delivery options in your community. At home, a wheeled tea cart can be a helpful way to move things around the house, eliminating the need to lift and carry.

6 Tips for Preparing Meals at Home When You Have Arthritis

If you’re an avid home cook, you don’t have to let arthritis get in the way. By equipping your kitchen with a few easy-to-use items, you can make the task of food preparation easier. Using common sense and a few clever techniques will also help make cooking as pain-free as possible.

1. Get Joint-Friendly Kitchen Tools
If you have arthritis in your hands, utensils with large handles may be easier for you to manage. When you shop for new kitchen utensils, try them out first to see how they feel. Experiment with different cups and glasses to find shapes that work best for you. For some activities, experiment with alternatives to conventional utensils. If chopping with a standard chef knife is a problem for you, try using a knife with a curved blade that can be rocked back and forth to chop and dice.

“Scissors and pizza cutter wheels are other options that make it easier for many people with arthritis,” says arthritis counselor Andrew Lui, PT, DPT, assistant clinical professor of physical therapy and rehabilitation at the University of California, San Francisco. To avoid strain on your hands when opening jar lids, use a rubber pad or jar opener that grips the lid.

2. Use Light Pots and Pans for Easier Handling
If lifting heavy pots and pans is a problem, replace heavy materials such as cast iron with lighter alternatives, such as aluminum pans. Replace stoneware plates or storage containers with plastic ones. If you’re on a tight budget, yard sales area a great place to find kitchenware at a bargain.

3. Go Automatic and Reduce Joint Aches
Appliances like electric can openers, microwaves, hand-held blenders, and food processors can make food preparation much simpler when you have arthritis. Not all automatic appliances are simple to use, however, so check them out carefully to see how they work before buying something new. If you have room, keep heavier appliances that you frequently use on the countertop to avoid having to lift them.

4. Change Positions and Ease Joint Strain
While you’re cooking, try not to stand or sit in one position for long. Change your position frequently to avoid undue stress on joints. If you do have to stand at the counter for a lengthy time, try putting one foot up on a low footstool to ease strain on your back.

5. Double Recipes, Not Your Workload
If you’re taking the time to make a dish from scratch, double the recipe so you’ll have leftovers. That way, on days when you’re arthritis flares, you can reach into the refrigerator or freezer and have a meal ready in minutes. Keep freezer storage bags and containers on hand. Label containers with what’s inside and the date you stored them, so that you can easily see what’s in your freezer.

6. Plan to Save Your Joints
When preparing meals, think ahead about how to minimize your work. Line pans with aluminum foil to make clean-up easier, for example. Plan one-pot meals so you’ll have fewer utensils to wash and dry. Use a tray that you can hold underneath to carry items to and from the table, avoiding strain on your wrists. Let pots, pans, and dishes soak in warm soapy water to make clean-up easier. With a little bit of common sense, Lorig says, you can “outsmart arthritis,” minimizing pain, without having to give up everyday activities you enjoy doing.

Show Sources


Kate Lorig, RN, DrPH, professor emeritus, Stanford University School of Medicine, co-author of The Arthritis HelpBook (Da Capo, 2005).

Kevin Fontaine, PhD, assistant professor of rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University.

Kimberly Topp, PhD, professor and chair of the department of physical therapy and rehabilitation services at the University of California, San Francisco.

Andrew Lui, PT, DPT, assistant clinical professor of physical therapy and rehabilitation, University of California, San Francisco.

Lorig and Fries, The Arthritis Helpbook, Da Capo, 2005.

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