Planning and preparing a huge holiday meal for family and friends who gather around the table can feel overwhelming. Here are some meal prep tips and recipes to help you save time. And your mind.
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According to a poll taken last Christmas, almost half of families surveyed had to deviate from recipes and holiday meal customs.
This wasn't just due to their rebellious nature. These home cooks felt the crunch of a lack of time and space in the kitchen to get everything done.
⏰ Not Enough Time or Space
The study indicated that average families lacked the amenities needed to create the perfect holiday meal for their families. Particularly oven space. Additionally, busy schedules sometimes required long hours spent chopping, prepping, cooking, and baking.
This Christmas, home cooks are working smarter, not harder, with meal planning and easy recipes.
Clever families looking to escape the last-minute rush to get everything done are planning to use time to their advantage, getting certain baking and meal preparation tasks done well before the holidays.
🍽️ Meal Prep Ideas for the Big Christmas Dinner
While it's not the only meal we plan, prepare, and serve over the holidays, the Christmas feast is perhaps the most stressful. A little meal planning can go a long way toward preparing for these memorable family meals.
Have a well-stocked pantry
Maintaining a well-stocked pantry is crucial for reducing stress in the kitchen and preparing nutritious dinners. Having all the essential ingredients for favorite family dishes, including herbs and spices, eliminates the need for last-minute store runs. It also significantly improves efficiency.
If one crucial ingredient does run out, have a list of common substitutions. For example, a cabinet stocked with common spices allows you to make your own all-purpose spice blends, such as Italian seasoning, when your store-bought seasoning blend runs empty.
Use your crockpot in new ways
Believe it or not, your crock pot or instant pot can become an all-star sidekick for preparing certain main holiday supper dishes. It may not be the first kitchen tool you think of when preparing elevated comfort food classics for a special occasion. But a slow cooker can be a formidable sous chef. Especially if you’re one of those families that just doesn’t have the space.
For example, crock pots are perfect for keeping casserole recipes, side dishes, and gravy at the perfect temperature for serving. Best of all, it does this without drying them out while you prepare other dishes.
For families wanting healthy dinner meal ideas to add to their Christmas feast, simple baked potatoes paired with chopped veggie toppings are a great vegetarian option. Start crock pot baked potatoes earlier in the day with less than a minute of preparation, and cook until dinnertime. When dinner time arrives, create a baked potato bar experience that's anything but boring with easy toppings.
🎯 Clever Tips for Potlucks
Potluck meals are a fun chance to gather and share with friends and family. But often, the pressure to come up with the perfect dish to bring overshadows all the good vibes of the upcoming gathering.
Create a Signature Dish
Alissa Zorn of Bounceback Parenting has a handy, practical suggestion: "decide on a signature dish to bring to parties and family gatherings. This eliminates the need to think about what to cook whenever you're asked to bring something."
When you make the same recipe repeatedly, you build expertise, allowing you to perfect your signature potluck dish and confidently present it on any buffet table.
Oh, and bonus points for recipes that reheat quickly and keep well in the fridge. This helps create a seamless experience for hosts and guests alike.
Holiday parties are also a great place to scope out ideas from what other guests make and bring to share, and provide ideas for home cooks to expand their repertoire of reliable buffet-style recipes. Taking note of foods on the table that are gobbled up first can hint at crowd-pleasing dishes.
Once you decide on a signature dish or two, keep your pantry stocked with the necessary ingredients. This way you can prepare it stress-free whenever you need it.
Even at the last minute.
🍳 Easy Breakfasts for the Holidays
Whether feeding a crowd or preparing a satisfying breakfast to fuel Christmas morning activities, the day's first meal is important. And home cooks may be caught off-guard if they plan only for dinner and neglect the other meals.
Go With Classic Dishes
For morning meals, sticking to classic dishes is always an easy way to keep everyone happy and fed. A triple batch of waffles or pancakes isn't much more difficult to whip up than making just a few. Paired with simple breakfast staples like toast, hash browns, and a large fruit salad, you have a hearty meal that never lets hungry families down.
And if your pancake syrup runs low, this homemade pancake syrup made in the microwave is a quick and tasty solution.
Make Ahead Breakfast Casseroles
If something more inventive is in order, Monica Fish of Planner at Heart has a traditional make-ahead breakfast recipe that her family uses every year. "My mother started our family tradition of making a breakfast casserole ahead of time so that on Christmas morning, all she had to do was warm it up. She named it after me, and now that I have my own family, I continue this tradition today. When we lived on Oahu, it was published in our school cookbook, which now is a fun family artifact for us."
Her recipe combines beaten eggs, sliced bread, cooked sausage, milk, and cheese together in a large casserole dish. Top the casserole with pepper rings or sliced tomatoes before baking. I like to make this egg bake with hash brown potatoes and butternut squash.
🔪 Meal Prep Ideas for Lunchtime
Keep it Simple
Stick to basics for a mid-day meal to keep everyone happy and well-fed. Most everyone appreciates a sandwich with a cup of soup on the side after a busy morning of holiday activities.
Wash and slice veggies and cheeses ahead of time. Arrange them on a serving platter with various spreads and breads to create a make-your-own sandwich bar.
A big pot of homemade or store-bought soup warmed up on the stove is the perfect accompaniment.
Plan for Leftovers
Food blogger Bella Bucchiotti also has beneficial advice: for some, the best part of the holidays is the leftovers! Plan ahead for leftovers by preparing bigger meals and making extra side dishes. You can cut down on cooking time and still enjoy delicious meals throughout the holiday season. Instead of starting from scratch every day, you can repurpose leftover food into a variety of quick and easy meals. The options are endless."
Freezer meals, such as soups and casseroles, can also be created out of leftovers. Reheat them in the oven or stir into a saucepan over medium heat for an easy lunchtime solution.
🍰 Brilliant Hacks for Christmas Desserts and Treats
Alicia from For the Love of Decorating is a treasure trove of helpful advice for planning ahead and being prepared for the Christmas holidays.
Some might say that Christmas cookies, candies, and treats are what they look forward to the most about the holidays, but it can be hard to find the time to do all that baking during the busiest parts of the season.
Make Cookie Dough Ahead
Alicia has found a clever loophole, and homebakers can follow her lead for an easier Christmas season full of sweets and sugary delights. "A number of years ago, I was brainstorming about how to get a jump on Christmas when I was less busy. I decided that I would make all my cookie dough in August, wrap it up tight, and put it in the freezer until December. It has saved me hours of time and made me feel less stressed."
Another time-saving baking trick is to make a large batch of basic cookie dough, such as oatmeal or chocolate chip, and split it into three to four more petite dough balls. Place each ball of dough into a separate bowl.
Different add-ins such as nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, and sprinkles are then mixed into each bowl of dough. This creates a wider selection of cookies for your holiday cookie tray to appeal to a variety of tastes.
When I make my Easy Christmas Butter Cookies Rolled in Festive Sugar (pictured above), I wrap the dough rolled in sugar sparkles in plastic and then freeze them in freezer-safe plastic zip bags. When I'm ready to bake the cookies, I remove them from the freezer, thaw, slice, and bake them off.
This Christmas, embrace smart meal planning, efficient kitchen hacks, and time-saving meal prep recipes to reclaim control over your holiday cooking and make the most of your celebrations.
This article originally appeared on Pink When by Courtenay Hartford.
Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous publications including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, and Real Simple.