How to Meal Prep When You Have RAby Marianna Paulson, B.Ed., B.P.E.-O.R. Patient Advocate
The challenges that come with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can extend into the kitchen. Proper nutrition is a must for everyone, but for those who live with a chronic illness, like RA, eating smart is vital in helping you maintain, sustain, and repair your body and well-being. Having a plan is essential! Here are some meal-prep strategies to help you fuel your body with nutritious and delicious food, even when an RA-flare has left you feeling exhausted and in pain.
Take advantage of tools and gadgets
Start by making sure your kitchen is equipped with ergonomic tools and gadgets to reduce strain on inflamed joints. These tools not only save time during meal prep, but they can reduce wear-and-tear on those precious hands. Some can do double-duty, like using an egg slicer to cut up mushrooms, or an apple corer to prepare potatoes for roasting. These make terrific gifts ideas, too.
Shop smart — make a list
Whether you build some exercise into your day by heading out to the grocery store or take advantage of online ordering, a well-organized shopping list is a must. Consider it your template for the meals-to-come. Keep a running list of your staples — jot them down when you notice you are running low. Perhaps while leafing through a magazine at your doctor's office, you snapped a picture of a recipe you'd like to try. Add any ingredients you're missing to your list.
Choose budget-friendly, joint-healthy ingredients
Select foods that are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. To save money, check flyers for specials on the items you regularly use. Consider switching to dried beans and chickpeas, which are more economical — and lighter to carry when placed in your shopping bag — than canned. I prepare a big batch of these in my instant pot on the pressure cooker setting, then freeze them in meal-size packets. If you have the room, stock up to minimize shopping trips.
Take steps to avoid foodborne illness
People who take RA medications that suppress the immune system are particularly vulnerable to E. coli, hepatitis C, and other food-related illnesses. Stay apprised of food recalls and remember to thoroughly wash fruits and veggies — even those with hard skins, like cantaloupes and oranges. I also take time to wipe down packages, such as yogurt containers, with hot soapy water.
Measure once, cook twice … or thrice
Is there something you make on a regular basis, like breakfast smoothies or these Aussie Bites? When you do the measuring for one batch of baked goods, consider measuring out the dry ingredients and storing them in air-tight containers for future batches. Or pre-portion smoothie ingredients to freeze-and-grab in the morning. By baking your own treats, you can control the ingredients — likeusing less sugar, or substituting erythritol. Preparing your own smoothies can ensure you’re getting key ingredients in your diet.
I was fortunate to learn great meal-prep skills from my mom. She taught me how to get nutritious and budget-friendly meals on the table quickly. Even young children can help with meal prep, reducing strain on your joints. It not only helps you; it teaches your kids about healthy cooking and eating — skills they’ll use throughout their lives. Small hands can scrub potatoes and stir sauces, while older children can dice vegetables or measuring out ingredients.
Don’t cook? Don’t worry
Fear may keep you out of the kitchen. Perhaps you were criticized whenever you tried to help, thus establishing a pattern that elicits stress whenever you think about meal prep. Stress is cited by many people living with RA as a common trigger for flares. Learn to recognize your simmering thoughts about cooking, and gradually replace them with ones that make the kitchen a friendly, warm place to be. Take a class, buy a book, or choose simple recipes that compliment your limited skill set. Even the best cooks have kitchen calamities.
Pause to enjoy your food
When you're finally ready to sit down to have your meal, take a minute to offer up words of thanks for the food you're about to eat. A regular expression of gratitude is a great way to reduce stress, which can aid digestion. Along with offering thanks for the food, remember to appreciate your own culinary creations and the hands, body, and heart that put the time and care into making it.
Make clean up easy
If you're short on energy, a stack of dirty dishes after a meal can leave you with a bad taste. Reduce the amount of mess by choosing one-pot meals, or recipes that don't involve using a lot of dishes and utensils. A slow cooker can ensure you get out of the kitchen quickly after mealtimes. Soup, frittatas, and “kitchen-sink” salads like my Vroom Vroom Salad, are nutritious options that keep the dish detail to a minimum.