Simplify Holiday Meals and Go GF

It seems like Thanksgiving was just yesterday, so how can Christmas be next week?  I love hosting the annual Thanksgiving/Christmas meals, but it can take a week for me to recover.  Five years ago I had no idea that an RA diagnosis would affect everything I do.  In combatting this disease, I am always trying to find ways to make holidays fun and not quite so exhausting.

Through a weird quirk of the calendar, I’m hosting both holidays this year.  Searching for a way to survive, my quest was three-fold:

  • simplify the menu
  • simplify the food prep
  • simplify clean-up


I’m happy to report that everyone enjoyed our simplified Thanksgiving.  Changes to the menu were long overdue.  After all, do we really need both turkey and ham?  Dinner rolls and stuffing?  No.  Nutritionally, we can do better than the standard fare.  Also, I try to accommodate everybody’s dietary restrictions:  one diabetic, two gluten-free, a wide variety of food allergies including dairy, soy, onions, chicken eggs, pork, peanuts, banana, and avocado.  The pared-down menu was still quite a feast:

  • turkey
  • mashed potatoes
  • green salad
  • veggie tray with lots of olives
  • cranberry sauce
  • corn gravy
  • dinner rolls
  • apple, pumpkin, and pecan pie


With the simplified menu, I next addressed food prep.  This part I’ve been working on for a few years and have gotten good at having everybody help.  One person was assigned to bring a green salad, another was asked to bring a veggie tray, and the person who eats GF was in charge of bringing gluten-free dinner rolls.  The person who requested pecan pie was asked to bring it.  Aside from the $70 for specialty flours for the GF dinner rolls, everyone was happy with the way things worked out.

That left only a few things for me to cook.  The week prior to Thanksgiving, I checked the pantry to ensure that all the ingredients were there (unlike today, when I had to stop in the middle of my pie preparation and send someone to the grocery store for ginger and lard).  On Sunday morning (four days before Thanksgiving) I prepared the cranberry sauce.  We used it in place of syrup on our hotcakes Sunday, then refrigerated the rest for Thanksgiving (it’s much tastier over turkey than gravy).  On Monday I moved the frozen turkey into the ice chest to thaw.  I know the powers that be claim this should take place in the refrigerator, but I don’t have space in my refrigerator and the ice chest works perfectly.  Two days before the holiday, I baked pies:  three pumpkin pies (with gluten-free pie crust) and four apple pies (also GF).  The day before the big day I tried to rest so that I could enjoy my company on the big day.  In the past, I boiled the potatoes and put them through a ricer so they could just be warmed, but in the spirit of simplifying, I now used boxed mashed potatoes.  Part of me feels guilty about this because I usually do everything from scratch, but Safeway’s store-brand mashed potatoes in a box don’t contain dairy or soy, and it works for our family.  Doing a little bit each day spread the work out, and there wasn’t much to be done on the big day.

When the holiday arrived, about 8 a.m. I put the turkey in to roast so it would be done about noon.  Next I put the corn gravy on to cook (it’s the only thing that wasn’t dairy-free, and this year I made a small batch with coconut milk for those who can’t tolerate cream).  While the turkey and corn cooked, I cleaned the kitchen.  A spotless kitchen before the meal made after-dinner cleanup much easier.  When the turkey came out of the oven, I reheated the cranberry sauce and made the mashed potatoes while the turkey carver separated meat from bone.


The thing that saved the largest amount of work was serving the meal buffet style.  We seat nearly twenty people, so need two tables.  In the past, I’ve had two serving dishes for everything so that both tables can be set completely.  That’s a lot of work to set the food out, and double clean-up when the meal is over.  There were significantly fewer serving dishes to deal with this year.  I arranged all the food on the kitchen counters, and people filled their plates in the kitchen, then moved into the dining room to sit at a table to eat.

Not only was serving easier, so was clean-up!  Instead of the 90 minute clean-up we usually face, all the leftovers were put away and the dishwasher was loaded within half an hour.  I cut a whole hour off the clean-up time, and got to spend that time relaxing and visiting with friends and family.

This was our first year with a gluten-free Thanksgiving, and I was concerned that it would be difficult.  Instead, it was easy.  Everyone had plenty to eat, nobody felt deprived, and simplifying the work let us have more time to enjoy one another’s company.


Getting Started

Knowing you need to make changes is one thing.  Dedicating yourself to make those changes is entirely different.  With a group of people who will all try this weight-loss/exercise change together, maybe it will be easier.  The first day for me was rough.  I woke up extra early and wandered to the kitchen… and started talking to myself.

3 a.m.
Carrot cake, yum!

NO!  You really need to try to fit back into your clothes.

One piece won’t hurt.

Yes, it will.  If you eat one piece, then you’ll have blown it for the day and will eat anything and everything for the rest of the day.  You need to start eating the way you know you should now, not tomorrow.  You told everyone who reads your blog that you’re going to do this.  Maybe if you put the cake out of sight instead of leaving it easily accessable on the counter, it would be easier.

Okay. I should wait until breakfast time to eat anyhow.

Victory #1

5 a.m.
I think I got up too early.  Maybe a nap would be a good idea.

8 a.m.
Yes, a nap was definitely a good idea…  (head downstairs to the kitchen, look at countertop)  Rhubarb crunch. Yum!

You have absolutely no willpower!  Put all the desserts away where you won’t see them and be tempted.  Then go exercise.  If you eat before exercising, you’ll use that as an excuse to skip the workout because you shouldn’t exercise on a full stomach.  Another excuse will come up to delay exercising, then another, and before you know it you’ll have missed another day.  Do it now.

I can’t believe I committed to this!  I should be committed!

Victory #2

. . .

11 a.m.
Look at the clock!  Where’d the time go?  I haven’t had breakfast yet.  Where’s that carrot cake?

See, it was a good idea to put the desserts where you wouldn’t mindlessly cut a piece and start eating when that’s not really the fuel your body needs.  Either eat what you planned for breakfast, or eat what you planned for lunch.  You’ll feel better.

Okay, I’ll scramble an egg.  This is going to be a long day!

Victory #3
Oh, by the way, I know you were distracted by the phone call that the neighbor had a horse out, but don’t think that you can get away with calling that assistance “exercise.”  This afternoon you really need to move enough to get your heart rate up.

3 p.m.
I’m hungry.  I wonder if we have any cookies.

There are chocolate chip cookies in the cookie jar, but you can’t eat chocolate.  Drink a glass of water, then go ride the exercise bike instead of snacking.

Oh, there’s coffeecake left from yesterday’s breakfast.  That would taste good.

Put it with the carrot cake.

This better work!

Victory #4


Doesn’t this sound awful!  There’s not usually so much sugar in my house, and I can’t believe how often I wandered through the kitchen and mindlessly started to put something in my mouth.  No wonder I’ve gained weight!

Instead of cooking what I’d planned for supper, I reheated leftover salmon.  The kids ate theirs with green salad and rice, but I sprinkled chunks of the fish over my salad, added Caesar dressing, and skipped the rice.  After dinner, the kids asked for a piece of carrot cake, and loved it when my answer was, “Please!  Eat it all!”  I cut my husband’s favorite rhubarb dessert and dished it into individual containers so he could easily grab one to pack with his lunch.

Day Two

It was so much easier to fix myself an omelet for breakfast when I wasn’t assaulted by the sight of desserts all over the kitchen.  Having foregone all the bread one day one, I didn’t crave it so much.  For lunch I made tuna sandwiches for the kids, and ate mine on a whole wheat tortilla instead of bread. Yum!

Supper was harder.  Once a month my kids have group class with their violins.  That’s sixteen miles away and ends at 5:30.  An hour later, their Royal Rangers outpost meets four miles further into town.  It’s not physically possible to drive home and back into town in that amount of time, so we usually grab a bit to eat in the deli of a grocery store quite conveniently located between our two meetings.  I briefly considered packing dinner, but my mom dropped by so I lost the only free hour I had.  Dinner out it had to be.  Fortunately, the deli had a chicken salad that tasted every bit as good as it looked.

Continuing on…

The next day was even easier.  I hadn’t realized how many sweets we had in the house.  Nor had I realized that I keep them displayed where it’s easy to see and want “just a little bit.”  Having everything out of sight definitely helps.  Oat bran, another tuna tortilla, steak/green beans… Easy meal prep and no temptation to snack – of course, being gone again all afternoon certainly helped!

I’ve been swamped this week with extra activities and haven’t read anyone’s blogs to see how everyone else is doing.  Unfortunately, “swamped” means running in a million different directions, so I only managed to exercise one day.

The two things that I’m finding help the most (for those of you still with me)

  • Since I live with someone who wants there to be dessert in the house, my best bet at avoiding it is to store it in the refrigerator where it doesn’t get eaten without a little bit of effort
  • Plan meals in advance so that I don’t reach for something quick and easy (and not of the best nutritional quality)

I’m looking forward to reading everyone else’s progress.


If you haven’t yet read Wren’s post from yesterday, go do that, then come back. Seriously. I’ll wait.

(cue Jeopardy! music)
do dododo do do do

Welcome back.

I, too, have been sitting around.  My shoulder got to hurting so much that riding the exercise bike and using the elliptical made things worse, so I had to take a break.  In case that’s too vague, it means I quit exercising.  I didn’t, however, quit eating, and now very few of my clothes fit.  Well, they might fit someone, but the don’t fit me

My kids have recognized how much my shoulder hurts, so have been exercising without me.  I’m going to have to either a) exercise in spite of the pain, or b) find different exercises to do that don’t hurt.  Or maybe a combination.

As for food, I’m going to try eating more vegetables and protein, fewer breads, and see if I can’t fit back into some of my clothes before we leave on vacation next month.

Since Christmas, I haven’t even had to be hungry to eat.  I eat out of habit, maybe because I’m walking through the kitchen and there’s a bowl of fruit on the counter, or the kids are having a snack so I eat, too.  Sometimes someone bakes cookies and specifically makes my favorite kind, and I don’t want to hurt their feelings by declining their gift.

I keep vowing to make changes.  Tomorrow – (that song from Little Orphan Annie keeps running through my head).  Then when tomorrow comes, I blow it at breakfast and figure that day’s shot, so I’ll start tomorrow.  I’m hoping that doing this with Wren, we’ll be able to support one another.

My new motto:  Eat Less, Move More

Monday’s menu:

  • Breakfast:  Scrambled eggs with tomato & avocado
  • Lunch:  Tuna Salad
  • Supper:  Rib steaks, green salad
  • Snacks:  devilled eggs

Wish Wren luck.  Wish me luck.