How to Simplify Holiday Meals When You Have Inflammatory Arthritis
Credit: Tatiana Ayazo

Holiday meals are about joy and gratitude. Yet they can quickly become stressful when you have to plan, grocery shop, clean — and manage joint pain, fatigue, and other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Here are my best tips for making the most of holiday meals if you have inflammatory arthritis and another type of chronic condition.

Buy the Entire Meal

While not the most cost-effective option, buying a pre-made meal is by far the easiest way to celebrate with a big meal. You simply order, pay, and pick-up or receive the delivery. Some places mail you everything frozen ahead of time and you simply reheat the meal the day needed.  

I have personally done this several times over the years and have deeply appreciated the ease.  

Keep Things Simple

Today’s social media influencers prompt us to want to meet societal pressures each holiday — but your plates don’t need to be Instagram worthy. After all, complex concoctions and expensive ingredients don’t make anything more memorable, and they certainly don’t convey more love than simpler food items.

Recommit to keeping holiday meals simple to budget those spoons 

Make Food Ahead of Time

Look for recipes, like casseroles and side dishes, that you can make one or two days before the event, and store them in the refrigerator or freezer. Making things ahead of time can help you save more spoons for the big day itself. If you’re freezing a side dish, use disposable bakeware for the ultimate convenience. My favorite side dish to make ahead of time and freeze is macaroni and cheese. This is not a traditional holiday food, but my children love it. 

I also love using crockpots for holiday meals. They are affordable and convenient. A brand-new crockpot will cost about $20 to $50. Your local charity store may have a few hardly-used crockpots that would be perfect for your holiday meal. Crockpots don’t use oven space and can be plugged in anywhere that has power. This saves valuable kitchen real estate during the holidays. The recipes for crockpots are usually easy to follow and very forgiving for people who are not gifted in the kitchen. Use a disposable liner, and almost no clean-up is necessary. 

Consider Convenience

If you’ve been asked to participate in the festivities by bringing your favorite dish to the event, plan both what you’re bringing and how you can transport it.  

  • Use disposable trays and bowls whenever possible to avoid having to track down your favorite salad bowl in the new year. This also doesn’t leave any dishes for either you or the host.  
  • Take it easy on your joints. Carrying and transporting food items is already tricky, but even more complicated if you have hand and wrist pain. Food delivery services have revolutionized the bags and coolers available for food transport. Check out the available options through your favorite online store or a quick google search.  
  • Consider the weight of the item. A whole cooked turkey is a lot heavier than a green salad that you can assemble there. Lugging heavy items to the event can wear you out before it starts. 

Enjoy Leftovers

Save those spoons and put those leftovers to work. The easiest way to use your leftovers is to simply reheat food or make cold sandwiches. If you’re wanting something more exciting, there are many recipes that turn your leftovers into creamy casseroles, creative skillet meals, and savory soups. Personally I’m a big fan of the turkey pot pie and the turkey soup.  

Make Healthy Food Choices

If you’ve have RA for a while like I have, you’ve probably found some correlation between food and your joint pain. During the holidays, you can say no to foods that tend to cause flares or gastrointestinal woes. You don’t have to eat something just because it’s a family recipe, because it took hours to make, or because you only get to eat it once a year.

If you’re bringing a dish, or hosting the celebration, be sure to prepare something that tastes good and helps you to feel your best.  

Have Fun without the Food

The meal, and the act of eating with others, can put extra pressure on both the hosts and the guests regardless of RA. If you have an open-minded group of family and friends, try something totally different and skip the big meal altogether. Go for a hike, or eat a small meal at a local park. Bring cookies, hot cocoa, or a board game and let loose.  

One year, I met up with several other families at a local park. We took turns riding tandem bikes in the freezing cold. It was so much fun and created the best memories. If you haven’t played a human version of hungry-hungry hippos with laundry baskets and hollow plastic golf balls, give it a try. It’s a great activity for a holiday celebration. Cheers! 

Join a CreakyKitchens Event

As part of CreakyKitchen, we will cook and share recipes that are hand picked by people with chronic illness, expert nutritionists, and dieticians. Together, we will connect over delicious food and shared experiences. Learn more here.