We all know that holidays can be stressful. The gifts, the family, the travel, it can all become overwhelming…
But maybe there’s a way we could learn to enjoy the holidays again by reducing the stress associated with them.
We can all start to simplify the holiday season by choosing to have a no debt holiday, cutting down on holiday travel plans, and simplifying celebrations. Holiday meals are especially time consuming, so simplifying your holiday meal can really improve how you enjoy the holiday season, and isn’t that what it’s all about?
How to Make Thanksgiving Easier
Plan the Meal
Planning your meal ahead of time is the best way to reduce stress around holiday cooking.
A few weeks before your holiday start a list of which dishes you want to make. You can enter your meal plan into a spreadsheet if the extra organization helps you but you can also just go with paper and pen.
Write down your dishes and get the recipes out (or find new ones). Note next to each item which ones can be made ahead and how far ahead, which ones should be cooked just before serving (like a turkey) and which ones could go into the oven together (if any).
Simplify Your Menu
I find it helpful to think about colors so I choose one green vegetable (like broccoli or green beans) and one orange vegetable (like squash).
Then I think about white (bread, potatoes, rice), red (cranberry sauce, beets, blueberry pie). One or two different desserts is plenty. Choosing dishes this way helps create a rounded meal without much thought.
Think about restricting variety. It’s a running joke in my family that my mom, instead of making more of one dish when she finds out more guests are coming, adds another new dish. I think it’s because she wants to have something for everyone’s preferences, but if you want to simplify your meal you will have to just decide on your menu and stick with it (unless you hear of food allergies of course).
Simplify Your Recipes
Stick with recipes that have fewer ingredients and fewer steps to make. You can even modify recipes you already have so they are simpler.
Simplify categories of ingredients to use just one or two. For example, if your stuffing recipe calls for garlic, shallots and onion (all fragrant ingredients) you could choose just one or two instead of all three. If your recipe calls for fresh sage, oregano, basil and parsley you can substitute with dry or with an Italian blend plus fresh sage.
Make Dishes Ahead of Time
Anything you can make ahead will save you lots of time and stress. Desserts are usually the easiest the make ahead and you can often freeze them. Cookies are perfect for this. Pies can also be made ahead and stored for a few days before the event. Stuffing, mashed potatoes, and some other sides can be made the day before and reheated before eating.
Most guests want to bring something to the meal so take advantage of that. Delegate desserts, sides, and dinner rolls to your guests and take care of the main dish, drinks and 1 or 2 other dishes in case someone forgets or can’t bring what they offered to bring.
Also keep in mind what things you enjoy doing and which ones you don’t. If you love decorating your table, then do it! But if you don’t and one of your guests does, consider letting her bring the table decor.
If you enjoy cooking but not baking, then leave the baking up to another guest that loves it. Giving everyone a job they enjoy will help reduce stress and increase enjoyment.
Make Smaller Portions
Everybody loves leftovers but when it takes you a week to cook enough for your guests plus leftovers for them and yourself, it can be quite stressful. Consider making just enough for the meal (plus a little extra just in case).
Another benefit of this strategy is that a smaller turkey takes less time to cook and you may be able to fit two dishes in the oven at once, further reducing your cooking time.
Growing up it always seemed that my dad would give my mom a christmas present early because she “needed it.” Those gifts were always some kitchen gadget that was going to make her meal prep easier, so it made sense that he would give it to her early. Here are a few “early gift” tools that may make your holiday meal simpler and more enjoyable.
(1) coffee (or hot cider, or hot chocolate) carafe
Instead of having everyone head to the kitchen for hot coffee (and get in the way of meal prep) why not serve it where they are already hanging out? Carafes are great for serving hot beverages in any room.
(2) food thermometer
In my experience, when those little red buttons on turkeys pop up it only means that the turkey is WAY overcooked. Instead of trying to guess if your main dish is cooked through but not overcooked why not use a food thermometer so you can be sure?
(3) pinch bowls
My favorite kitchen helper, these bowls make meal prep a cinch. Use them to hold ingredients while you’re cooking so you can avoid burning something while you search for an ingredient. They also help keep the counters less cluttered!
More Thanksgiving Posts
- How to Make the Most of Your Thanksgiving Preparations
- 13 Tips for a Stress-free Thanksgiving (plus a meal plan and free download)
What tips and tricks do you use to make Thanksgiving easier?
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