How to Meal Prep For the Holiday Season

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The sheer volume of food around the holidays can feel overwhelming, especially if you are the one preparing and hosting. Ideally, you want to maximize your meal preparations ahead of time so you can be spending MORE time with the ones you love.

Whether you are planning for a simple holiday dinner or needing to feed a crowd over a few days, planning ahead is key.

Here are some simple steps you can follow when planning out your holiday meals to be as efficient as possible in the kitchen:

Map Out Your Meal Plan

Having a written plan of what you are serving and when can help you better visualize what meals you need to prepare for. You don’t need anything fancy for this - a simple piece of paper and pen work great.

Depending on how frequently you grocery shop, your meal plan may include a few days or a week or more. I find that planning for a few days at a time can also help you be more efficient at the grocery store and plan meals that can stretch out ingredients you’ll have on hand.

Even if you don’t know exactly what you’re planning on serving, having a game plan for the next few days can simplify the entire process of meal preparation. Bookmark any special recipes you plan on using so they are easily accessible and you know what ingredients you need. Don’t forget that even for a big holiday dinner, it’s still important to have food earlier in the day. Mapping out your meals can help you ensure you have a plan in place.

Take an Inventory of What You Have

Once you know what you’re planning on serving for upcoming meals, it’s time to make a list of the ingredients you’ll need. Using your meal plan, break down each meal into ingredients. For example, mashed potatoes will include: potatoes, butter, milk, etc.

It may take some time to break this down for each meal, especially for a holiday dinner that involves several dishes. Ultimately, this will help you ensure that you have everything you need to prepare your dishes without worrying about missing ingredients.

Once you have your list of all ingredients, do a quick inventory of your fridge and pantry to cross off items you already have. Don’t forget to double check for things like condiments, spices, paper goods, drinks, and everyday items that you may need over the next few days. This will help minimize trips to the store.

Prepare Your Shopping List

Once you’ve eliminated the ingredients you already have on hand, you should be left with the things you still need to shop for. Depending on how many dishes you are preparing, this could be a long or short list.

Getting your ingredient list organized can help you minimize how much time you have to spend in a grocery store and make you more efficient when shopping.

I like to categorize my ingredients by area in the grocery store, just to make it easier. So I group all my dairy ingredients together, meats, freezer section, dried goods, produce, etc. Given how busy the grocery stores are this time of year, you’ll be glad you have a game plan!

Get the Prep Work Done Ahead of Time

Once you’ve grocery shopped and have your ingredients on hand, it’s time to figure out what prep work you can get done ahead of time. Even simple things, like washing and chopping produce, can save you time when it comes to actually preparing your meals.  

Always double check any recipes you are using to see if anything can be done ahead of time. This might include preparing salad dressings and storing for later use, roasting vegetables, making dough, etc.

Some entire dishes can be prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator until needed. Carving out some time in the day or two before the holiday for this kind of meal preparations can cut down on how much you’ll need to do for the big day.

Delegate and Ask For Help

Whether you are cooking an entire meal or just a dish or two, always figure out what you can delegate when possible. Even if you prefer to do all the meal prep and cooking yourself, you can still delegate other tasks that will need to get done, like setting the table, plating appetizers, etc.

Figure out what you would prefer to focus on and recruit help for other tasks and responsibilities. Many family members are willing to jump in, and knowing what you need help with ahead of time can make the whole process smoother for everyone.

Take Time to Eat and Enjoy

Most importantly, be sure to take the time to actually share your meal with your loved ones and enjoy fellowship over good food. When you’re busy preparing dishes and cooking all day, it can be easy to forget this.

Be intentional about partaking with the ones you love and savor all the special memories that the holiday season brings.

What are your favorite meal prep tips for the holiday season?