The key to a fuss-free holiday is planning ahead–and that includes planning meals.
The winter holidays are synonymous with food.
Christmas cookies, rich roasted turkeys, and delicious soups are a big part of how our family passes the cold, yet festive winter months.
But, this food does not cook itself (even if I use a slow cooker or InstaPot!). The food does not purchase itself (though I AM a HUGE fan of online grocery shopping and delivery!)
How to create a holiday meal plan:
- Brainstorm: Sit down with your family and list the foods and meals that make the holiday time special. You may be surprised at some of the suggestions, but roll with it! One of my twins (we’ll call her Buddy the Elf) thinks that no holiday is complete without a stack of marshmallows. My oldest likes a steady stream of my family recipe of cranberry relish. I make several family traditional dishes and I sprinkle in some new foods throughout the season as well. (Thanks, Pinterest!)
- Plug-In: Look at your calendar and a blank meal planning worksheet and plug in the requested dishes. Fill in the blanks around those requests with family favorites and (preferably) low-stress comfort foods.
- Make a list–check it twice: Look at your meal plan and then wrote down all of the required ingredients. I write my list in the order that I visit areas of my grocery store. Then, as I check my list twice, I check our freezer, fridge, and pantry to see what items I already have.
- Delegate: Depending on the size of your family and the ages of your family members, you can delegate much of your meal prep. My 18-year-old is in charge of any sweet baking (and he does a great job of including the little ones). The girls do a ton of my prep work. They chop onions, peel carrots, mash bananas etc. If you are afraid that little kids cannot be a real help in the kitchen, check out this video of a five-year-old making mac and cheese in an Instapot! Trust me, delegating will pay off now AND later!
- Review: If you have not done so already, start a holiday notebook. Mine is bullet journal style and I store it in with my holiday decor. I always pack this notebook away last and it is the first thing to come out of the box–right after the Advent wreath! In this notebook, keep track of what holiday dishes were a hit, and which ones were a miss. You can then refer to this in future years! I learned this tip the hard way– a favorite cookbook contained a beef stroganoff recipe. The recipe looked great, but the results were inedible–every time I made it. I FINALLY wrote the words, “gross, don’t make this!” right in the cookbook, so now when I scan through, I am reminded to not put that particular dish on the menu! A brief review now will save you time next year!
Prefer a “done for you meal plan”?
There are times that I don’t have the time, energy, or creative bent to plan our meals. Thankfully, there are several online options that will do this job for you! (and the first one is free!)
- Life as Mom Meal Plans: Jessica Fisher at the Blog, Life as Mom has 38 totally free meal plans WITH shopping lists! I’ve found these meal plans to be the most frugal of any of the options that I have tried. She does a good job of selecting a variety of foods and stretching ingredients out during the week. This is a GREAT starter ready-made meal plan.
- eMeals Meal Planning Made Simple: I think of this as the Grandmama of meal planning websites. There are several different meal plans to choose from and there is a weekly shopping list and day by daily food prep instructions. The upside is that there are so many choices, but that can also be a downside. I always felt that whatever plan I was NOT currently using was the plan that had foods I most wanted to cook. While I DID save money using eMeals, I saved more money on other plans that utilized some of the same ingredients over the course of the week.
- PrepDish: I like to compare the gluten-free, Paleo plans on PrepDish.com to using a boxed meal service without having the food delivered to your door. With PrepDish, you receive a weekly PDF with a detailed shopping list and one-day prep instructions for four meals, a breakfast, a snack and a dessert. You spend a few hours on the weekend prepping food and then follow instructions through the week to finish off the meals. Pros: This meal plan will “use-up” most of the ingredients on your list–no leftover bits and bobs of various ingredients. My grocery list was lower on this plan. The food was good. Cons: The prep time takes up the better part of a Sunday afternoon. I have four teenage boys who need significantly more simple carbs than what is in the plan, so I had to mentally add those in. (or else I would have had to keep A LOT more snacks on hand.) If you don’t actually DO the prep day, the recipes are hard to follow as all of the recipes are split up over prep day and cooking day. All in all, a good meal plan for a health-conscious family. It costs $14 a month and is a subscription service, so will charge you monthly until you cancel.
- Once A Month Meals: This membership site is sure to be a favorite among my freezer cooking meal planners! I forget, every, single year about what a nightmare my busy November is. I am putting a post-it note in my planner right now for next September to plan a big freezer meal cooking party with my girlfriends (up in the big church kitchen) to stock our freezers with easy meals for crazy Fall evenings. There are meal plans for every size of family and every style of cook. I really appreciate their Holiday mini-plans, but sometimes a HUGE round-up is the perfect fix! Check out these 101 Fall Freezer Meals!
Whatever method you choose, give it time and actually work your plan for a while. My family is capable of much more food variety than I give them credit for!