There’s no other way to say it: I’m a planner. While I’m all about an impromptu weekend trip or a spur-of-the-moment dinner with friends, I generally feel most confident when I know what to expect and I’m prepared for any situation. Like so many others, I find the holidays stressful from a culinary standpoint, so I try to go into the season primed and pumped. Because I know so many folks can relate, I figured I would make a simple Guide to Surviving Holiday Cooking. Here are some bits of advice to make your holiday cooking experience fun and efficient.
- Plan Recipes in Advance
When it comes to preparing meals for guests, I find I’m less stressed when I know which recipes I’m making well in advance. It’s never too early to start thinking about your holiday menu. One of the glories of the Internet is that it offers an abundance of recipe resources right at your fingertips. Visit your favorite blogs and sites, flip through holiday magazines and cookbooks, or go digging through your own family’s recipes for inspiration. To stay organized, print out recipes you’re planning on making and put them in a folder, or start a Pinterest board and pin the recipes that catch your eye.
Be sure to choose a variety of dishes. Some guests might be gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free or have other dietary restrictions. The saying “there’s one in every crowd” rings true for those with food allergies or intolerances, even more so now that widespread information is available regarding allergens. Stick with healthful sides and mains, as well as lightened-up desserts. This way, you and your guests can enjoy a whole meal without getting overly full.
If you’re looking for healthful holiday side dish ideas, here are some of my favorites:
- Balsamic Roasted Vegetables
- Honey-Glazed Brussels Sprouts and Beets
- Citrusy Brown Rice with Butternut Squash and Pomegranate
- Make Lists
As simple as it sounds, keeping a grocery list taped to your refrigerator and adding to it regularly before your holiday gathering is a choice way to keep track of all the ingredients you’ll need and will save you multiple trips to the store. If your menu requires specialty ingredients, you can have separate lists for the different stores you’ll need to visit.
Also keep a list of any kitchen tools, utensils or various entertainment items you’ll need. I always stock up on food storage items such as Ziploc bags and containers – they work wonders for food prep, and storing prepared recipes and leftovers. If you want to take listing a step further, jot down your recipes in the order you’ll prepare them.
Before you head to the grocery store, do a once-over through your pantry to make sure you have the items you think you have. There’s nothing worse than assuming you have an abundance of cinnamon, only to realize mid-recipe that you’re completely out. As you take stock of your pantry, you can also cross off any items on your grocery list that you already have. It’s always smart to double up on nonperishable items in case you need to re-make or double a recipe.
- Chop Vegetables in Advance
Prepping recipes in advance can eliminate a ton of stress when you begin your holiday cooking. Chop hearty vegetables such as butternut squash, sweet potato, onion and beets one to two days before cooking and seal them in Ziploc storage bags. I like to use a marker to write the contents on the bag, including the measurements. You can also write the date you chopped the vegetables to keep track of freshness. The quart-size bag comfortably holds 2.5 cups of chopped vegetables, which is perfect for most of the Thanksgiving recipes I make.
SC Johnson Ziploc bags are my go-to for a number of reasons. First, they’re durable – I’ve never had one spring a leak and they can be stuffed and sealed without a storage flaw. Second, they’re malleable, fitting easily into the nooks and crannies of the fridge. For someone whose refrigerator is always jam-packed with food, this flexibility is a must. Third, they keep food super fresh because they stay airtight! And last, they’re easy to reuse. For those like me who try to be as resourceful as possible, you can rinse your bags out with warm water and use them again.
- Prepare Full Dishes in Advance
Because many holiday dishes incorporate whole grains, hearty vegetables and sauces, they tend to save very well. Many dishes, particularly pastas, casseroles, stews, soups, breads and pies are even better a day or two after they’re made. I like to make these recipes ahead of my holiday gathering. It eliminates some of the prep work the day of, and it makes for an even tastier experience. I find the gallon-size Ziploc bags are perfect for storing dishes that have already been prepared – it’s amazing how much food they hold!
If you’re concerned about putting your stews and saucy recipes in a Ziploc bags, I get it. While I’ve never had one spring a leak, you can use the Ziploc containers – you know, the ones with the blue lid – to give you peace of mind.
I find that it’s always a great idea to prepare breakfast the night before, too. When morning comes, you can simply put on a pot of coffee and heat breakfast on the stove without having to wake early and do a great deal of chopping. My two favorite make-ahead breakfasts are Apple Cinnamon Crock Pot Steel Cut Oatmeal and Butternut Squash Hash with Apples, Sausage, and Kale. You can store prepared dishes in large Ziploc bags and simply dump them into a saucepan for reheating when you’re ready to serve. You can also make baked goods such as quick breads, wrap them in Saran wrap, stick them in the gallon-size freezer Ziploc bag, and freeze them.
You can prepare rice ahead of time, as well as anything you’re going to use in multiple recipes. For example, if more than one of the dishes you’re making calls for roasted vegetables, you can roast all the vegetables at the same time, a day or two ahead, so they can easily be added to whichever dish you’re making on the holiday.
- Woooosaaaaaaah (Relax!)
If you’re anything like me, you put your regular life on hold during the holidays and focus on the tasks that need to be done. Take a breather by going to a yoga class, running on the treadmill – or outside if weather permits – or lighting a warm-scented candle. Drink a mug of mint tea and read a book, even if only for 30 minutes. Taking breaks is just as important as making sure you have all your ducks in a row.
Remember the old adage, “A stitch in time saves nine”? It really rings true when there are lots of moving parts and things to remember. Take your time throughout your meal prep process so you don’t overlook details that will become problematic and time-consuming later. Remember you can always ask your friends and family to lend a helping hand if you have an onion to chop! When all else fails, a heavy pour of red wine or a mug of hot buttered rum goes a long way!
This post is sponsored by Kroger. Per usual, all thoughts, feelings, and opinions are my own.