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According to a poll taken last Christmas, almost half of the families surveyed had made plans to deviate from recipe instructions and standard holiday meal customs. This wasn’t just due to their rebellious nature; these home cooks were feeling the crunch, with a lack of time and space in the kitchen to get everything done.
The study pointed to the fact that average families felt their kitchens lacked the amenities needed to create the perfect holiday meal for their family, particularly in the oven space required to pull it off. Also, busy modern schedules only sometimes allow for long hours spent chopping, prepping, cooking, and baking.
This Christmas, home cooks are working smarter, not harder, with meal planning and easy recipes.
Clever families looking to escape the last-minute rush to get everything done are planning to use time to their advantage, getting certain baking and meal preparation tasks done well before the holidays. With a few time-tested kitchen hacks and meal prep recipes, these families are taking back control over their kitchens and their Christmas dinners.
Meal Prep Recipes for the Big Christmas Dinner
While it’s not the only meal that needs to be planned for, prepared, and served over the holidays, the big Christmas feast is arguably the most anxiety-inducing for hosts and home cooks. A little meal prep can go a long way toward preparing for these memorable family meals.
Maintaining a well-stocked pantry is crucial for reducing stress in the kitchen and preparing for nutritious dinner ideas. Having all the essential ingredients for favorite family dishes, herbs, and spices readily available can eliminate the need for last-minute store runs and significantly improve food preparation efficiency. It’s just like how Iron Man always has his suit ready to go whenever trouble strikes – preparation is vital!
If one ingredient does run out, having a list of common substitutions can be helpful. Many popular all-purpose spice blends and dry mixes, such as Italian seasoning, can be made using common spice cabinet staples when the jar of a favorite store-bought seasoning blend runs empty.
Believe it or not, the humble crock pot or instant pot can become an all-star entertaining sidekick when used for preparing certain main holiday supper dishes. It may not be the first kitchen tool most home cooks reach for when preparing elevated comfort food classics for a special occasion. Still, a slow cooker can be a formidable sous chef during significant events–especially if you’re one of those families that just doesn’t have the space.
Crock pots can be used to keep sliced roasted turkey, casserole recipes, side dishes, and gravy at the perfect temperature for serving without drying things out while the cook works at preparing other dishes.
Crock pot baked potatoes can be started early in the day and prepared in less than a minute before being left to cook until dinnertime. When supper time arrives, they simply need to be served with a few easy options for toppings to create a baked potato bar experience that’s anything but boring. If families want healthy dinner meal ideas to add to their Christmas feast, simple baked potatoes paired with chopped veggie toppings are a great vegetarian option.
Clever Tips for Potluck Goers
Potluck meals are meant to be a fun chance to gather and share with friends and family, but often, the pressure to come up with an idea for the perfect dish to bring along can overshadow all the good vibes of an upcoming gathering.
Alissa Zorn of Bounceback Parenting has a handy, practical suggestion. “Decide on your ‘signature dish’ to bring to parties and family gatherings. This eliminates the need to think about what to cook whenever you’re asked to bring something.” As a bonus, making the same recipe repeatedly builds expertise, allowing partygoers to perfect their signature potluck dish and confidently present it on buffet tables.
Holiday parties are also a great place to scope out ideas for what other guests have decided to make and bring to share, and can provide ideas for home cooks to expand their repertoire of reliable buffet-style recipes. Taking note of which food items on the table seem to be gobbled up first or elicit the strongest reaction can hint at which types of dishes will be sure to be the most appreciated.
Once a signature dish or two has been decided on, cooks should keep their pantry stocked with the necessary ingredients so the recipe can be prepared stress-free whenever an invitation is extended, even if it’s last-minute. Being mindful that the recipe will reheat quickly and keep well in the fridge will also help create a seamless experience for hosts and guests alike.
Easy Breakfasts for the Holidays
Whether it’s feeding a crowd of family members and overnight guests or preparing a satisfying, healthy breakfast to fuel Christmas morning activities, the day’s first meal is an important one. Home cooks may find themselves caught off-guard if they plan only for evening meals and neglect the other meals of the day.
When it comes to the morning meal, sticking to the classics is always an easy way to keep everyone happy and fed. A triple batch of waffles or pancakes isn’t much more difficult to whip up than making just a few. Paired with simple breakfast staples like toast, hash browns, and a large fruit salad, it’s a solution for healthy meals that will never let hungry families down.
If the pancake syrup runs low, this homemade pancake syrup can be made in the microwave for a quick and tasty solution to the problem.
If something more inventive is in order, Monica Fish of Planner at Heart has a traditional make-ahead breakfast recipe that her family uses every year. “My mother started our family tradition of making a breakfast casserole ahead of time so that on Christmas morning, all she had to do was warm it up. She named it after me, and now that I have my own family, I continue this tradition today. When we lived on Oahu, it was published in our school cookbook, which now is a fun family artifact for us.”
Her recipe combines beaten eggs, sliced bread, cooked sausage, milk, and cheese together in a large casserole dish. The casserole is then topped with pepper rings or sliced tomatoes before being baked in the oven to serve a crowd.
Meal Prep Recipes for Lunchtime
When home cooks stick to the basics for the mid-day meal, everyone will be kept happy and fed. Home cooks would be hard-pressed to find a guest or family member who doesn’t appreciate a sandwich with a cup of soup on the side after a busy morning of holiday activities.
Washed and sliced veggies, cheeses, and meats simply need to be prepared ahead of time and set out with various spreads to create a make-your-own sandwich bar. A big pot of homemade or store-bought soup warmed up on the stove will be the perfect accompaniment.
Food blogger Bella Bucchiotti also has beneficial advice, “For some, the best part of the holidays is the leftovers! Plan ahead for leftovers by preparing bigger turkeys and making extra gravy and stuffing. You can cut down on cooking time and still enjoy delicious meals throughout the holiday season. Instead of starting from scratch every day, you can repurpose leftover food into a variety of quick and easy meals. From turkey sandwiches to soups and casseroles, the options are endless.”
Freezer meals in the form of soups and casseroles can also be made out of leftovers and reheated in the oven or stirred in a saucepan over medium heat for easy lunchtime solutions.
Brilliant Hacks for Christmas Desserts and Treats
Regarding planning ahead and being prepared for the Christmas Holidays, Alicia from For the Love of Decorating is a treasure trove of helpful advice for meal prep recipes.
Some might say that Christmas cookies, candies, and treats are what they look forward to the most about the holidays, but it can be hard to find the time to do all that baking during the busiest parts of the season.
Alicia has found a clever loophole, and home bakers can follow her lead for an easier Christmas season full of sweets and sugary delights. “A number of years ago, I was brainstorming about how to get a jump on Christmas when I was less busy. I decided that I would make all my cookie dough in August, wrap it up tight and put it in the freezer until December. It has saved me hours of time and made me feel less stressed.”
Another time-saving baking trick that savvy bakers can take advantage of is to make a large batch of a basic cookie dough such as oatmeal or chocolate chip cookie dough, then split it into three to four more petite dough balls, placing each ball into a separate bowl.
Different add-ins such as nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, and sprinkles are then mixed into each bowl of dough to create a whole selection of cookies for your holiday cookie tray. This is an efficient way to create a variety of cookies that will appeal to partygoers and family members with a wide variety of tastes and preferences.
This Christmas, embrace smart meal planning, efficient kitchen hacks, and time-saving meal prep recipes to reclaim control over your holiday cooking and make the most of your celebrations.
This article originally appeared on Pink When.