Diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis: How to Fix Fast and Simple Meals

Arthritis pain can make it hard to cook. Try these tricks to preparing easy and nutritious meals.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 09, 2008
6 min read

Everyone wants to save time and energy in the kitchen. It's particularly important when aching joints from arthritis turn preparing a meal into a monumental task. We've put together some ideas for easy meals that take the strain off your hands and body and don't wear you out. At the same time, they manage to deliver great taste, as well as the nutrition you need to limit swelling from arthritis and stay strong.

And here's a tip: when you are feeling up to cooking, make extra. That way, you'll always have healthy food around to eat on your lower-energy days. If meal prep is largely out of the question for you, consider using your local Meals on Wheels program.

Frozen entrees are quick and easy, especially when your arthritis is keeping you out of the kitchen. But they are notoriously high in sodium and low in fiber. If you know what to look for, there are plenty of good choices in the freezer aisle to serve as the centerpiece of a nutritious meal. Look for dishes that supply 800 milligrams of sodium or less; a minimum of 15 grams of protein; and at least four grams of fiber.

Even the healthiest frozen entrees skimp on produce and whole grains. Supplement with a cup of fresh or frozen cooked vegetables, and a slice of whole grain bread to make a complete meal.

Supermarkets abound with convenience foods that could be considered near-meals, easy for anyone with arthritis. Like most processed foods, they supply more sodium than you need, so look for lower-sodium varieties. These meal starters come up short on protein so they need to be supplemented with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy to make a balanced meal.

When arthritis makes cooking tough, enjoy a protein-packed bean soup such as lentil, black bean, or split pea. Invest in a reliable electric can opener to make it easier on yourself. You can also pick up a pre-roasted chicken, a breakfast burrito, sushi or other ready-made foods at most grocery stores these days. Plus, marinated albacore (white) tuna steaks and salmon fillets are available in easy-to-open packages and are ready to eat in seconds for lunch or dinner. In a pinch, even a can of season tuna - served on six crackers - makes an instant healthy meal.

Liquid meals supply many essential vitamins and minerals, but they lack adequate protein and fiber to be considered a real meal. Plus, they aren't particularly satisfying and can leave you wanting more. And they are relatively expensive. But in spite of all that, they are not without merit; convenience is one of their virtues. Pair them with a piece or two of whole-grain toast or a whole-grain waffle and fruit to round out their nutritional power for an arthritis friendly meal.

Check the label to make sure the liquid meal contains a variety of vitamins and minerals. Most 8-ounce nutritional supplement drinks are fortified to provide 25% of the vitamins you need each day.

These recipes are packed with great taste and good nutrition that helps limit the joint swelling of arthritis, keeps bones strong, and promotes overall health. Some dishes are super easy, and others take a little bit more preparation. But all provide delicious, balanced meals.

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
Enjoy with a whole grain English muffin
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup milk
Pinch cinnamon
2 teaspoons sugar or artificial sweetener to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Whip on high speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until frothy. Serve immediately. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
Pair this one up with a whole-grain English muffin, too
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 medium banana
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Whip on high speed for 2 to 3 minutes or until frothy. Serve immediately. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Berry Fluffy Pancakes
Serve with a glass of orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D
1 cup plain nonfat or low-fat yogurt
1 large egg
1 cup pancake mix
1 cup fresh blueberries or raspberries

In a bowl, combine yogurt and egg. Mix well. Add pancake mix and blend just to combine. Lightly oil or spray a nonstick pan or griddle. Ladle out 2 tablespoons batter for each pancake. Drop a few berries onto pancake. When edges are firm, turn pancakes and cook 1 minute more. Serve immediately. This will give you 3 pancakes, but you can make extra and freeze.

Jazz-y Oatmeal
Prepare a packet or two of regular instant oatmeal in the microwave according to directions, with milk or soy beverage. After cooking, stir in 1/2 cup applesauce and 1/4 cup raisins (more if using 2 packets) and pinch of cinnamon, if desired.

Confetti Cottage Cheese
Add 1/4 cup dried pre-chopped apricots; 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts; and 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed to 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese. Serve on top of a toasted Heart Healthy Cinnamon Raisin bagel from Sara Lee. One bagel supplies 48 grams of whole grain, the minimum amount experts recommend you get each day.

Waffle Sandwich
Toast two high-fiber waffles, such as Kashi Go Lean Original Whole Grain. Spread each waffle with 1 tablespoon peanut butter or almond butter to make a sandwich. Have with a glass of low-fat milk and fruit.

Easy English Muffin or Pita Pizzas
Top each half of a whole-grain English muffin or a small whole-wheat pita round with 1/4 cup marinara sauce and 1/4 cup grated cheese. Broil in a toaster oven or in the regular oven for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese melts. Cool before eating. Serve with a glass of orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Soup du Jour
Add an equal amount of cooked small whole grain pasta, such as DaVinci's whole wheat elbows or leftover brown rice to a can of lentil or split pea soup (reserve half for another meal). Serve with fruit and a glass of milk or 8 ounces low-fat yogurt.

Scrambled Egg and Salsa Sandwich
Scramble one or two eggs. Fill each half of a small whole-wheat pita pocket with the cooked egg. Top with mild salsa or ketchup and 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese. Enjoy with fruit or baby carrots and a glass of low-fat milk.

A Better Burger
Microwave a Perdue Frozen Seasoned Chicken Burger to have on a whole grain bun. Or go vegetarian with Boca Burger's All American Meatless Burger. Pair with baby carrots or presliced celery sticks and a glass of low-fat milk.

No-Cook Roast Chicken Dinner
Purchase one or two (depending on how many are eating) roasted chickens from the supermarket. Pick up pre-cut salad greens and a package of grape tomatoes. Add chopped fresh, frozen, or low-sodium canned vegetables to your cart. Serve with whole grain bread from the bakery. (Use leftover chicken the next day with whole-wheat bread or sandwich wraps for lunch!)

Go With Grains
Add leftover chopped chicken, turkey, or beef, and cooked vegetables to tabouleh mix from Fantastic Foods or Near East. Near East also makes Whole Grain Blends that go well with meat and vegetables. Serve the combo over salad greens.

Simple Skillet Salmon for Two
Combine 1/2 cup orange juice, 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium teriyaki sauce, 1 tablespoon honey, and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger in a small bowl. Transfer to skillet and bring to low boil. Add 1 pound of salmon fillet, skin side up. Cover and cook over low to medium heat until fish is flaky in the center. Serve over cooked chopped frozen spinach and enjoy with couscous.

Diner Dinner
Prepare a 2-egg omelet with leftover or frozen chopped green vegetables and 1/4 cup feta or cheddar cheese. Enjoy with whole grain toast and fruit.

Spaghetti Supper
Start with store-bought meatballs and a jar of tomato sauce. Or, in place of meatballs, add canned, drained chickpeas or browned 100% ground turkey breast to spaghetti sauce for protein. Toss with frozen chopped veggies for fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Pizza Party
Order a thin crust vegetable pizza. Have with it canned or frozen fruit, and a salad prepared from pre-washed greens, with grape tomatoes and grated carrots.