Cooking With RA: Little Hands Can Help

by Cathy Kramer Patient Advocate

“What’s for dinner?” If you are like me, this is one of the most dreaded questions asked by my family. With picky eaters when kids are younger to individual diets as they grow up, it can be challenging to choose menu items. Plus, when you are dealing with swollen fingers, flaring shoulders, or knees that don’t want to stand long, dinner can become a real chore.

As early as possible, I got my family involved in helping with dinner. My kids were 5 and 7 when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), so they have been helping in the kitchen for years. In fact, I think kids like helping; we just often don’t include them. By asking them to assist in meal planning and food preparation, we open the possibilities of them enjoying our meals, learning great skills, not to mention making meals easier on our joints.

In my family, foil meals, also known as Boy Scout or campfire meals, have always been a favorite. They easily allow little ones to help out. Plus, they can be adapted to individual taste buds and can be portioned out to fit the needs of each person. When my kids were younger, they didn’t care for onions or spices, so we could easily eliminate them from their packets. One of mine now prefers salmon over ground beef — again, that is an easy change. As children, one of their favorite things to do after putting together their own meal was write their name on it with permanent marker to make sure they got the one they prepared special for themselves or for Dad.

Cathy and her son prepping the ingredients to throw in their foil packets.
Cathy and her son prepping the ingredients to throw in their foil packets. / Cathy Kramer

Foil Meals


  • 1-pound ground beef

  • 1 potato for each person peeled and chopped

  • Handful of frozen green beans

  • Baby carrots chopped

  • Onion chopped

  • Tablespoon of butter per packet

  • Salt and pepper

  • Foil


  1. Make one hamburger patty per packet.

  2. Add remaining ingredients.

  3. Wrap foil tightly around the meal.

  4. Bake at 350 for one hour.

Cathy and her family’s foil meal, which eases the burden on her RA.
Cathy and her family’s foil masterpiece. / Cathy Kramer

Additional great things about these meals: One, as someone who loves leftovers that the kids can throw into the toaster oven or microwave later, these reheat easily. Just make sure not to reheat in the foil if using the microwave. Two, the ingredients can easily be changed depending on diet or even what you have in the house. They can be made into a vegetarian meal, spiced up a bit with a variety of herbs, or hot sauce added afterward, which is my husband’s favorite way to eat these meals.

Unfortunately, I don’t have photos of my children helping when they were younger, but they generally had the job of peeling and chopping potatoes and carrots. Then, together we would assemble the packets. While my kids are now 22 and 20, they still help me in the kitchen. Working side-by-side with them and my husband, I find joy in the time we can laugh and talk together. Meal time becomes less of a chore and more of an event.

Cathy’s family jumping in to help fill foil packets for dinner.
Cathy’s family jumping in to help fill foil packets for dinner. / Cathy Kramer
Cathy Kramer
Meet Our Writer
Cathy Kramer

Cathy Kramer has been married longer than not and is a mom to two young adults plus an aging border collie. She splits her days/nights between two community colleges as an ESL/ABE instructor. She is a strong believer in gratitude and attempts to leave a smile everywhere she goes. Cathy shares her positive voice as an advocate in the rheumatoid arthritis (RA), chronic illness, and self-care communities. Her ongoing journey with RA can be found on her blog The Life and Adventures of Cateepoo. She often hangs out @cateepoo88 on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Cathy is also a Social Ambassador for the RAHealthCentral Facebook page: