6 Tips on hosting a Christmas dinner if you have RA

Blog by Anita Masih

Christmas is nearly here! For most people it means enjoying lots of family time, Christmas traditions, presents, and of course, the thing everyone looks forward to the most; the great Christmas day dinner. While most people and little ones look forward to enjoying the magic of Christmas day, it’s often the ones that are responsible for pulling it all together for everyone else that seem to miss out on the merriment. It can be a stressful time to say the least, and for those with chronic illnesses it can be an even more exhausting experience with the added stress causing flare-ups and fatigue during and after the Christmas period.

Cooking the much-loved Christmas dinner is a feat in itself, and like me, if you’re planning on cooking this Christmas whilst having a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), it’s important to be prepared.

So with Christmas just around the corner, I’ve put together 6 tips to help you through your Christmas dinner prep so you have more time and energy to enjoy the festivities and hopefully avoid the post-holiday flare-up!

1 – Preparation is key

There are lots of ways you can prepare yourself well ahead of time so you’re not running around like a headless chicken (or turkey) on the day. Ingredient lists are always helpful to have with you when you go shopping. If you start this list a week or 2 before the day, you can add things as you remember them. Having the list on your phone also ensures that it goes everywhere with you, and you don’t forget it at home by mistake when you’re out shopping. While we’re on the topic of ingredients, buying pre-chopped veg can save you a lot of time and pain if you struggle with chopping and cutting. Although it can be slightly more expensive, your aching hands and wrists will be thankful for it later.

If you’re adamant on cooking all the trimmings and side dishes yourself rather than buying pre-made things, it can get very hectic in the kitchen. A cooking schedule with timings, cooking time, and oven temperatures could be helpful for you to figure out how to get everything cooked and ready for a particular time. It’s also useful for keeping track of oven space alongside timings if you only have one oven at home, so your honey glazed carrots and stuffing aren’t fighting for space at the same time. The BBC has a useful one online here if you need a starting point.

2 – Take a seat

Many people with RA and JIA struggle to stand for long periods of time, which can make cooking an extravagant meal very tiresome and painful. An easy way to save your tired joints is to simply get off your feet. And no, I don’t mean go and lie on the kitchen floor, but rather set up a workstation with a chair or sturdy stool that reaches your counter in your kitchen. From there, you’ll be able to do all your measuring, mixing, and prepping without putting the pressure on your knees and feet.

3 – Ask for help

If the whole idea of cooking the full Christmas dinner is daunting to you (and let’s face it, it is a LOT of work!) you can ask your guests to bring a dish each to save you having to do it all. This way, you can still cook the Turkey or main dish and take most of the glory for yourself! Another benefit of asking your guests to contribute is that you’ll have more energy for hosting and getting merry (aka drinking all the mulled wine). If you’re cooking for you own immediate family and you have little ones, get them involved with chopping, mixing (with supervision if they’re too young of course), cleaning up and tidying, so you can focus on the more important parts.

You can also make things a little easier in the kitchen by using various gadgets and aids to help you. You can use a jar opener, can opener, silicone pan handles to help your grip, easy grip knives and easy grip mixing spoons to name a few. By doing just a quick search online, you’ll be able to find gadgets that could make a huge difference to the way you cook and prepare food.

4 – Keep on top of your meds

Speaking from personal experience, it can very be easy to miss a dose or two of your medication during particularly busy or stressful times. Keeping up with your medication is essential to ensure your disease is well controlled and you are doing everything you can to prevent flare-ups on that front. Stress can have a significant impact on your RA and JIA, so flare-ups can sometimes occur during periods of high stress or stressful situations (such as preparing an extravagant dinner), so it is important to ensure that you are taking your medication on time to help reduce the chance of this. I find that setting a couple of daily alarms on my phone reminding me to take my medication works well if I know I’m going to have a particularly busy week. Having two reminders also helps because if you are out and about for the first one or didn’t have your phone with you, you’ll get a second reminder to make sure you’re covered. Just remember to make a note when you’ve actually taken your medication so you don’t accidently take two doses (brain fog will sometimes do that to you, eh!)

5 – Have a plan B

If there’s anything that living with RA has taught me, it’s that there always needs to be a back-up plan in case my RA decides to ruin the fun and present me with a flare-up. Having a back-up plan for cooking your Christmas dinner is also important. You could purchase frozen pre-made or shop bought alternatives to a few dishes to help you out on the day if you’re hit with a big flare-up and are unable to do everything you had planned. The unpredictable nature of chronic illnesses can sometimes throw a spanner in the works, and no matter how much you’ve prepared, a flare-up can just as easily ruin all your plans. As a last resort, in case your chronic illness really isn’t playing ball, you can order a takeaway meal from the handful of restaurants that are still open on Christmas day and reschedule your Christmas dinner to a later date.

6 – Book in some downtime

Last, but possibly the most important tip is to make sure you book in a couple of days of rest after cooking your big Christmas dinner. After the turkey’s been eaten, presents opened, and paper crowns forgotten, you may feel like you’ve run a marathon the next day. You could feel both physically and mentally exhausted, so having a couple of days post-Christmas just to recover and relax might be a good idea.

And most of all, be kind to yourself, try to enjoy this time with your loved ones, and I hope you get to experience some of the magic of the day for yourself!

We’d love to see any other tips you might have for cooking a Christmas dinner with RA. Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram and tag us so we can read all of your amazing tips!