In our last blog entry, we took time to discuss the difficulties in cooking meals while enduring persistent pain. We went over some tips and discussed how making small changes in the planning of your meals can make a big difference. This installment will build on our previous work, but will also look at functional changes we can make in the kitchen environment that will make the action of cooking and cleaning much less stressful.
Before you cook…
To prevent flare-ups in pain from overactivity, plan before you shop. Have a short list prepared and consider shopping more frequently to avoid long and tiresome trips through the store.
For those with mobility or balance issues, use a cart to help you walk throughout the store. Shift some of your weight to the cart itself when stationary to take stress of the low back and joints.
Try to use the top sections of the cart for your items as well. This will prevent you from having to bend and reach in for items at the checkout.
Avoid buying in bulk from “big box” stores. Many times, bulk items come in large, awkward packaging that can make lifting and use of the item difficult. Ask for assistance with lifting of heavier items that might cause you pain.
Some stores now offer online shopping with the option of pick-up at the store and/or delivery. On days of increased pain, letting someone else gather your shopping items can be a nice break.
Preparing your Kitchen
Try storing food items at or around waist height. This will help prevent pain from reaching overhead or bending over to retrieve items from a lower position. Keep items you frequently use on the lower levels, or near the front of your fridge and/or cupboards. This eliminates extra reaching and bending that may contribute to your pain.
Purchase and use lightweight pots and pans. Ensure they have good handles and grips for easier handling. Larger pots should have two handles to help with lifting. Remember to consider non-stick pans for easy clean up too. You may want to consider purchasing plastic bowls and food storage items as well. Stacks of glass bowls and containers can get quite heavy and hard to grip.
Think about organizing and storing like items in the same spot. For example, keep breakfast items such as cereal, coffee, sugar, and peanut butter in the same location. Store your cooking oils, sprays, salt, pepper, and spices together and close to the stove if able. This will prevent you from having to move from cabinet to cabinet when gathering supplies.
The cooking process…
Preparing your Food
Before starting to prepare your meal, gather as many of the cooking utensils and ingredients you can and place them together, preferably on some counter space in front of where you will be working. Again, this will prevent unnecessary movements such as bending and twisting that could cause pain.
There are a variety of assistive devices for the kitchen that can help with your food preparation and cooking as well. Automated can and jar openers, specialized slicers, knives, peelers, cutting boards, and even pot holders can make a world of a difference. There are also a number of large gripped tools and utensils on the market for those with poor grip strength or issues with their hands. Take advantage of items like food processors and stand mixers for those bigger jobs as well.
Pay attention to body mechanics
If you will be standing at the stove or sink for a prolonged period of time, rest one foot on a low stepstool. Alternate feet to keep some strain off of the legs and low back. Investing in cushioned mats for the kitchen can keep a lot of stress off of the joints as well. On some occasions, you may find it beneficial to prepare food sitting down. Make sure to take regular breaks and change postures to avoid flareups.
When using the oven, make sure you pull out the oven racks for easier access when placing/removing the items you are cooking. There are oven rack push/pull sticks that can be purchased to make this task easier. When using the stove top, utilize the front burners to avoid unnecessary bending and reaching.
If needing to retrieve items from a lower cupboard, pay attention to your body positioning and lifting. You may want to drop to one knee, rather than bending at the waist, if you have back pain. Take it slow when returning to standing, using your counters as support. And always use both hands when lifting/carrying anything in the kitchen.
Doing the Dishes
Naturally, a dishwasher can save a lot of time and effort when needing to clean up after dinner. Be sure to use the same caution in loading the dishwasher as you would using the oven. Pay attention to how you bend and reach when loading/unloading and load items one at a time.
For dishes that need to be done by hand, use the same techniques you would if standing at the stove or counter for prolonged periods. Utilize a foot stool, take breaks, stretch, and switch positions.
Let your dishes air dry on a mat or drying rack, rather than hand drying.
Avoid carrying multiple dishes when clearing the table. You may want to try utilizing a cart with wheels to transport dirty items to the dishwasher or sink.
While dinner is cooking, you may have the opportunity to wipe down the counters or load a few items into the dishwasher if able. Breaking tasks up and cleaning as you go will prevent that mountain of dishes that always seems to be waiting post meal.