Healthy eating made easy

Two people cutting up fruit and vegetables.

Cooking at home can be an enjoyable experience, especially if you use fresh, seasonal ingredients. Not only can it save you money compared with buying ready meals, but it can also help to improve your health if you’re using low-fat and low-sugar recipes.

When your movement is restricted, however, it can feel like all that preparation is more trouble than it’s worth. But with the right tools and techniques, cooking can be a confidence-booster, giving you a real sense of achievement.

You will also reap the nutritional rewards if you choose your ingredients wisely and it can help you maintain a healthy weight, as you’ll know exactly what’s going into your meals. Follow our tips on making healthy cooking at home a little bit easier.

1. Sit down

Set up prepping and cooking stations in your kitchen, so everything is on hand and at the right level. “Look at the task and see how you can break it down to individual components, so that you can conserve your energy,” says Paul Cooper, occupational therapist and professional adviser for the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCoT).

“There are simple things you could do. For instance, if your bowls, knives and chopping boards are all in different areas of the kitchen, pull them into one useful area. That way, you don’t have to move around very much, making cooking that bit easier.

Have an area where you can sit down and work on the kitchen counter, or have a low table and chair, so you don’t have to stand for long periods. You can request an assessment for a perching stool from your local authority.” To do this, contact your local authority or council and ask for a needs assessment.

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2. Slicing and dicing

Fruit and vegetables are the mainstay of a healthy diet and make dishes tasty. Many are also packed with nutrients but all that chopping can be off-putting. “You can buy pre-cut vegetables and fruit, but this can be expensive,” says Cooper.

Frozen fruit and veg are already chopped and ready to be cooked and are much cheaper. They’re also great nutritionally. According to a recent study by the University of Georgia, when it comes to nutritional value “frozen produce outperformed ‘fresh-stored’ more than ‘fresh-stored’ outperformed frozen”.

There are cooking aids that can help you too, says Cooper. “You can buy adapted cutlery that you can grip more easily, and a chopping board with spikes at the bottom – called a Swedish board – that’s supported so it doesn’t move around. The Living Made Easy website, set up by the Disabled Living Foundation, has a range of equipment that can help you.”

Keeping your knives sharp will help make cutting easier, too.

3. Cook smart

Slow cookers can do all the work for you; you can throw in meat and/or veg and let the cooker do the rest. If you buy liners from supermarkets, you don’t have to clean it out every time, either.

Another way of avoiding cooking every day is to batch cook and refrigerate or freeze meals. “If you struggle to cook, but still want to eat homemade meals, one way is to cook a big meal, or several if you have the energy on that day, then divide them up and freeze them,” says Cooper.

“That way, on the other days in the week, you can use your energy to go out and socialise or do an activity. Your meals will already be prepared, just get them out of the fridge when you need them.”

4. Keep it sociable

“Cooking doesn’t have to be a lonely task – it can be great for social interaction,” says Cooper. “You could invite friends into your kitchen while you are cooking for them. If you enjoy the process, you could also look for local cooking groups.”

5. Spice it up

Some spices can help with the symptoms of arthritis, while others don’t have much of an effect.

Turmeric

Current studies are too small to say whether this is an effective anti-inflammatory treatment. However, there is ‘compelling justification’ for using it with other treatments. There could be larger clinical trials in the future, which may result in it being accepted as a standard treatment. By heating turmeric, it can pass through your blood stream and to the immune system, which can reduce inflammation and pain.

Garlic

Human studies have not yet proven how well garlic works for treating inflammation, but it is used as a supplement. However, there is evidence from non-human studies to support its use. Garlic works better as an anti-inflammatory if eaten raw or fresh.

Ginger

A number of studies suggest that ginger supplements have a moderate effect on reducing osteoarthritis pain. The results are not robust enough to recommend it as a treatment, but worth considering – and it gives cooking a very distinctive flavour.

Read more about diet and arthritis.