Steps for Holiday Meal Planning for the Family

The holiday season is almost right on top of us. For many of us, that can evoke an immediate sense of panic. What are we going to plan for the all-important meal? How do we plan for it and not stress out over trying to decide on what to prepare, how to make everyone happy, and if we’re on a strict budget, how do we afford it?

Holiday meal planning doesn’t have to be stressful. It can actually be enjoyable if approached in the right way. By just breaking the planning down into smaller easier steps, you’ll find it’s not so daunting after all.

  • Plan the number of guest and extended family you will have. When you write down your guest list, you’ll have a good idea of how many servings you need to prepare (add a few extra servings for last-minute guests or extended family members). As you chose your recipes, check for serving size and double or triple the recipes if you need to.
  • Anyone with special diet needs? Most likely, if your guest are extended family members, then you probably already know if there’s any special dietary needs. This could be anything from vegetarians, to dairy free or even someone with life-threatening food allergies. If you’re not sure, always be sure to check with your guest before you start the meal planning. Most holiday meals include several dishes so there is usually plenty to choose from.
  • Plan that menu! This doesn’t have to be daunting. Think of past holiday dinners and what dishes were a hit. Are there traditional ones that just have to be on the table or it’s just not the same? In my house it’s sweet potato casserole. There must be sweet potato casserole at both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Write down any new recipes you’d like to try this year. Maybe you are part of a menu planning website that helps you plan your menus? Are they also planning a special holiday menu that you could use?
  • Don’t plan too much. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to make everyone’s favorite recipe. Decide as a family what recipes will be prepared this year and put a limit on it. The less time you have to spend in the kitchen the more time you’ll have to relax and visit with family.
  • Decide on a grocery budget for the holiday meal. Many grocery stores have their traditional turkeys, ham, pumpkin, etc. on sale during this season. Take advantage of it. If your budget doesn’t allow for several side dishes, then only pick a couple of your family’s favorites to prepare. Don’t feel bad about asking guest to bring a dish as well.
  • Create your shopping list at least a week in advance. Try to avoid waiting until the last minute to go do your holiday meal shopping. Otherwise, you’ll end up standing in long lines at the grocery store and you might find out that some of the more traditional holiday ingredients have sold out. Remember to check your spices for holiday favorites that you might be low on.
  • Make what you can ahead of time. Can you bake the cornbread for stuffing a day or two before? Do your chopping and dicing up to a week ahead of time. Make a 2 day plan for cooking pies or any other desserts and spread the cooking out over the 2 days. Cooking a turkey? Make sure to plan time for thawing and brining. Plan a very simple meal the night before the holiday so you can save your time and energy for preparing the big meal.
  • Make a to-do list. Make your list at least a week in advance. This should include who can help with what. Mama shouldn’t have to do it all. Even smaller children can be enlisted to help make simple name cards for the table. Create this list in plenty of time to get a couple things crossed off daily for the week or two leading up to the big day.

So, go grab a cup of hot chocolate or a cup of tea and curl up somewhere and start making that list. Putting some time in now will save you loads of stress when you want to focus on relaxing with your friends and family.

What kinds of lists help you prepare for the holidays and what are your favorite holiday meal planning tips?

Published on: November 18, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Lisa Holcomb

Lisa is co-founder of Build A Menu, an online menu planning website that helps families get their grocery bill under control and helps them to bring “dinner back to the table”. She is an advocate for family meal time, an author, and a public speaker.

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