Disclosure: This holiday meals post is sponsored by Whole Foods Market and their Holiday E-Market. I received samples that appear in photos and was compensated for my time. All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Whole Foods Markets.
Thanksgiving has come and gone but that doesn’t mean the end is in sight for holiday entertaining. We still have a few major holidays ahead of us, and plenty of parties, get-togethers, and family meals to prepare for.
Thinking back to Thanksgiving, what is the #1 thing that caused you stress? Is is planning the menu? Shopping for ingredients? Timing everything perfectly so it makes it to the table at the same time? It goes without saying that agreeing to host holiday meals places a lot of stress and pressure on you. Here’s a few of my favorite tips to make sure you don’t sacrifice your ability to enjoy the holiday just to make sure everyone gets fed!
Planning Your Menu
Just like any less-stress week, holiday meals can be simplified with some advanced planning. After all, we are working on an exact timeline here! Here’s a few tips to help when you’re trying to figure out what to make:
- Simplify your menu AND your recipes. Although we might love the idea of an elaborate meal with multiple show-stopping dishes, the reality is that the more complex your menu and recipes are, the more time and effort goes into them. If you love the idea of featuring a new recipe, introduce 1-2 exciting dishes and stick to the classics for the rest. Same goes for ingredients and flavors – if we’re being honest, your uncle is probably not going to notice the difference if you busted your butt on a gourmet version of mashed sweet potatoes. Save that effort for smaller meals or dinner parties!
- Plan more than just your menu. You may have read that as, take on more work than you originally agreed to. But hear me out! This refers to delegating tasks and recruiting some help. If you’re hosting holiday meals, you likely know of at least a few people planning to attend who would be willing and able to lend a hand. You could plan to ask them to bring a side dish in a crock pot (save valuable oven space or stovetop space AND time) or arrive a little early to help coordinate the cooking. In the season of gratitude and giving back, I find that many people are willing to step up so don’t be shy about asking for what you need.
- Plan to make less. Don’t get me wrong, I love my leftovers – so does Mr. Street Smart and the rest of my family. But there comes a point when it just becomes too much. If you’re planning for a set number of people, try to estimate how much will actually get eaten and scale your recipes based on that. If the thought to eating the same leftovers day after day or struggling to find creating ways to repurpose them brings stress, plan to cook smaller quantities of each dish. Added bonus: you might end up with less food waste and save a little money on your grocery bill!
Shopping for Ingredients
Speaking of grocery bills, shopping for holiday meals can be an undertaking in and of itself. Here’s how I like to approach things:
- Consolidate your trips. Ain’t nobody got time to be driving all over town to hit every specialty grocer or market in a 30 mile radius. Although it can be fun to seek out unique ingredients, it adds stress when you’re trying to fight traffic and beat the clock to source a handful of ingredients. Review your recipes and see what can be swapped for a more readily available item and make as few trips to your familiar grocery store as possible.
- Shop your pantry/fridge/freezer. This is my downfall – I forget to check to see what I already have before I write my list and head to the store. So yeah, I ended up with 4 open canisters of oats. Don’t be like me! Check to see what you’ve got that can be used for your holiday meals.
- Include your non-food items on the list. Take another quick inventory to see what you might need in addition to your ingredients. Would it help to have an extra cutting board or two? Would it save you a trip if you grabbed an extra roll of trash bags? Do your best to think ahead for what you might need or want on the big day and it might save you from making a frantic 10:00 pm dash to the store the night before your holiday meals.
It’s OK to Outsource
If it still feels overwhelming to manage it all, give yourself a little grace. Although we might feel pressure to put together a perfect meal from scratch every time, there’s no rule that says we have to do that. There’s nothing wrong with cutting corners when you need to in order to maintain your sanity this holiday season. It’s tough to make memories with people we care about when you’re feeling too stressed to enjoy the moment.
So say it with me now: Most people won’t mind if you go the store-bought route.
For that reason, I sometimes turn to my local Whole Foods Market to help me out a little bit. I teamed up with them this holiday season for side dishes – although I enjoy cooking these classics (and let’s be honest, when it comes to picking teams I’m #TeamSideDish every time) I just don’t have to the kitchen space to do it.
Here’s a sampling of what I picked up from their Holiday E-Market and how I fit it into the rotation:
These green beans were a perfect candidate for crock pot reheating. I simply added a small amount of veggie broth to the bottom of my crock pot, added the green beans to fill it 3/4 of the way, and let it on LOW a few hours before the meal was served. I also added slivered almonds for a little crunch factor!
When oven space is limited, opt for side dishes that are pre-cooked but just need reheating. After the turkey (or ham, or turducken, or whatever) comes out to rest, you’ve got a window of time to reheat or crisp up your other sides. I spread these roasted carrots on a sheet pan and they ended up being hot, but not overcooked, just in time for serving.
Know someone who just doesn’t think the meal is complete without that one side dish that no one else cares about? Um, wait….that person is me. I LOVE creamed spinach but it’s not that popular with other family members. If you want to enjoy something similar in a smaller quantity, outsourcing is a great idea because you aren’t committed to making a full blown batch for only a few people to enjoy.
Worried there won’t be enough? Outsource and have a little extra on hand! That’s what we do with Brussels sprouts – my immediate family loves them enough I have no worries about them eating everything I make. But when we serve a bigger crowd, I’m not sure if they’ll go for them or not. So I prep what I know will get eaten, but reserve a little extra in the fridge that can be pulled out just in case. And, worse case scenario, if they don’t get eaten that day they’re one of those leftover options that will definitely get eaten up before they go to waste.
I hadn’t relied on an option like this before, but the process could not be easier. They need about 48 hours advanced notice, but orders can be place online (find your local store HERE), over the phone, or in person at their Holiday E-Market kiosk. I showed up at my local store and they had it all boxed up and ready to go – I was in and out in less than 5 minutes! Massive amounts of time (and low-key anxiety) saved.
I hope these tips help ease your stress if you’ve signed on to host holiday meals this year – and if you’re just showing up to someone else’s feast, you’re off the hook! Not really, I mean, showing up with a bottle of wine is never a bad idea *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*
How do you like to simplify your holiday meals? Drop a comment to share a tip below, and let’s cheers to a happy and healthy holiday season!