I have always loved to cook and bake. My spinal cord injury, along with a couple of conditions that developed as a result of being wheelchair bound for years, has meant I’ve had to make major changes to the way I do both. Cooking when you have chronic pain means you have to adapt.
Over the years I’ve learned a few things that have made cooking and baking a bit easier for me. And I’ve also learned that there will always be days that, no matter how I’ve adapted my methods, I just won’t be physically able to do either. So I adapted to that situation, too.
If you suffer from chronic pain or any condition that makes cooking difficult these tips may help.
Purchase cooking & baking equipment that make things easier:
Many times I find using a typical knife difficult. Having a rocker knife like the one pictured below is very helpful. These knives come in a variety of styles. You can find them with a variety of handles/grips and some even have two handles.
Mine even has a handy little stand!
Buy a food processor to help make chopping, slicing, and cutting easier. Be sure you can remove the lid and bowl and that you are able to change the blades easily. If it’s just you or you and one other person in your household a mini food processor may be the perfect size for you. Smaller and more lightweight than the full size models the mini versions can cut, shop, and slice just the same. Food processors are also good for grating when you just can’t do it by hand.
A crock pot/slow cooker can be a real blessing! Most slow cooker meals don’t require a lot of prep work. You just put the ingredients in and set the temperature and timer. Then you can go rest or spend the day doing something else while your dinner cooks itself. And there are plenty of breakfast and lunch options for the slow cooker. Heck, you can even make desserts in them!
An electric can opener will help you avoid the pain that using a manual can opener sometimes causes. When you think of the body parts a manual opener involves can be surprising. It’s not just your fingers but your hands, wrists, and elbows that get involved.
A stand mixer can save you both time (and if standing or sitting to cook is painful time is valuable) and exertion. It’s far easier to turn a dial than to mix, whip, or knead by hand. Even if you can’t afford a top of the line brand these appliances are worth their weight in gold!
An electric hand mixer is also good to have even if you have a stand mixer. Not every cooking or baking chores requires the big gun of a stand mixer. If you’re mixing a boxed cake you don’t really need to pull out the stand mixer but an electric hand mixer will save wear and tear on your body.
A blender is also a great kitchen appliance. There’s so much you can use the blender for instead of your hands and arms.
Pots and pans with two handles can save you both pain when you lift them and pain from burns that using a one handled pot or pan can cause. You can even buy cast iron skillets with two handles!
A tall stool with a back is invaluable. I do all of my prep work, the actual cooking or baking, and doing dishes sitting on a stool with a high back.
Vertical dividers installed in cupboards where you store your cookware and bakeware means you don’t have to lift items to get to the ones you need.
The right food storage containers are important. It’s important that opening and closing the containers is easy. Look for bowls with screw on lids and food storage boxes that close with a press on the center of the lid.
Easy to grasp cupboard handles and drawer pulls will make your life easier. If you can’t replace these items consider attaching narrow strips of sturdy fabric to handles and pulls.
Look for ergonomic, lightweight hand tools for the kitchen. It’s easy to find items with bigger grips, non-slip handles, and other ergonomic features.
Plan ahead/prepare ahead:
It may seem like a lot of trouble to make a meal plan but, if you have a well-prepared plan it saves trips to the store and may save you from having to make a more difficult meal. Be sure you have the recipes for everything in your meal plan handy. You don’t want to waste energy searching for recipes at the last minute.
Shop for as much as possible at once. As finances permit buy as many of the ingredients you need for all cooking and baking for as long as possible. If you can, shopping once a month is ideal (see my one month meal planning post for help). It’s best if you can have help if you can shop for a month of meals at once. Shopping, loading and unloading the groceries, and putting everything away are all very physically taxing. A spouse, other family member, or even a loving friend can shop for you and save you the painful effort.
Do your prep in advance. If you chop vegetables or make cookie dough before you need to cook or bake you can rest in between tasks. I prepare things as much as possible in advance so I’m not doing all the work at once. I even measure spices and seasonings and put them in a plastic food storage bag or covered bowl until it’s time to use them in the recipe. I also store the dry ingredients for certain recipes all pre-mixed; I usually have a cup of flour and my spice mix in a container ready to use. I do this with dry ingredients I frequently use together. And having spices, herbs, and other dry ingredients already mixed may help you continue to make favorite recipes.
Make double batches of as many meals as possible so you can eat one and freeze one for another day. I make a huge dish of lasagna and then store all the extra portions in the freezer. If I’m having a really bad day I can just thaw some and reheat it in the oven. I use my Food Saver® to freeze two pieces in one bag. You can portion yours for the amount your family will eat for a meal.
Plan a batch cooking day. This is a little different than simply making double batches. A batch cooking day is a day you feel up to making large batches of various freezer-friendly foods. I may prepare mini meatloaves, lasagna, stew, and soup in a day and freeze portions for use on bad days. One day may provide me with enough meals to last through six months of “just can’t cook” days. I also do this with baking. I make large batches of cookies and freeze the dough or sometimes the baked cookies. When I really must have a cookie I can either finish baking or just pull some already baked ones out of the freezer. I even bake and freeze my cookie cups in various flavors and just thaw and fill them when I need them. Of course you may decide to do your batch cooking over several days or every other day for several days.
Ways to ease the pain:
If you have low back pain try leaning on a high counter bearing some of your weight on your hands for 10 – 15 seconds at a time. This can help relieve pressure on your facet joints.
You may find if you put a foot on a stool or open a low cupboard door and rest a foot on the base the pressure and pain are relieved.
Change positions and use whatever you can to help relieve pain. Stools, pillows, and even books can be used to adjust your position and provide support.
Take breaks and spread out your cooking and baking. You know when you should stop. Listen to your body and take a break or even stop until you feel up to working again. Pushing yourself beyond your limits starts a pain cycle you may find very difficult to stop.
Ask for help:
Whether it’s with planning, shopping, cooking or baking you should never be afraid to ask for help. This doesn’t mean you’re not a capable person. It just means that your body won’t let you do everything you want to do. Sometimes people are afraid to offer help because they may feel you’ll reject it or that they don’t have confidence in your abilities. It may be hard for you but ask for help!
Having chronic pain doesn’t mean you have to give up cooking and baking. With some planning and adjustments you can go on enjoying your time in the kitchen!