Halloween is over and it’s the first of November. We finally put our pool cover on, so now we are looking at a black hole when we are outside which is just a little depressing for this summertime girl. Uggggh! I hate winter!! It’s ok though. I’ll get over it in about in about 5 months.
No matter how you feel about this time of the year, now is the perfect time to get serious about pre planning for the upcoming holiday season.
One of the biggest mistakes we make during the holidays is thinking we will have plenty of time to do the shopping, menu planning, decorating, cooking, baking, gift wraping, and entertaining all while trying to take care of our normal daily household and family functions. On what planet is that even possible? I consider myself a fairly organized person but I am not superwoman, at least not anymore.
Remember from one of my previous posts that we are making some of our “New Year’s Resolutions” early. One of which is to pre plan our menu and make some of our traditional holiday foods in advance.
I have listed below a few things you can begin to do today to help eliminate the desperation and panic you feel when the chaos of the holidays comes crashing down on you.
1) Family first. One of the most important things that we tend to neglect during the holidays is family meal time. Oh it’s never intentional, but holiday stuff gets in the way and weekly meal planning flys out of the window, leaving you no choice but to go the fast food route or feed them cereal for dinner! Neither of which are horrible, you just don’t want to make a habit of it! Grabbing fast food every night because you don’t have time to plan meals and grocery shop can be expensive and unhealthy for your family. So let’s put our family first and pre plan some meals now.
- Start by jotting down your family’s favorite quick, easy meals – at least 2-3 for each of the remaining weeks from now until the first of the year.
- Be sure to include slow cooker meals, soups and make ahead casseroles on this list too. Slow cooker meals, soups and casseroles can help you to be even more organized, especially if you double up when you make them! You know I love using my slow cooker any time of the year but the busy holidays are the perfect time to have a hot meal waiting for you when you get home! Better than that, while you are at it, make 2! Put one in the slow cooker and one in the freezer! The same goes for casseroles. Simply plan to make 2 and freeze one for a few weeks from now! Cook a double batch of soup, stew or chili and freeze the 2nd batch! Doubling up on these types of meals can make your life much easier all year but during the holidays it may very well save your sanity!
2) Make a list. Plan your basic holiday menu items and your baking in advance.
- Once you have your family meals planned out, make a list of the “traditional holiday foods” you always make. (Don’t forget I will be posting several “make ahead” holiday menu recipes over the next few weeks you may want to try.)
- Now make a list of the items you would like to make, whether they are new recipes you would like to try, or items you would like to make for pot lucks, office parties or gift giving.
3) Organized grocery shopping. Are you overwhelmed with last minute grocery shopping for all of your holiday cooking and baking?
- There is no need to last minute everything. Take 15 minutes now to go through the recipes on the 2 lists you just made. Make a quick list of all of the non perishables you will need to have on hand like spices, sugar, flour, condiments, dressings, pasta, rice and canned goods like pumpkin, fruit or veggies etc. You can also add frozen items to your list like cool whip, frozen pastry or pie shells, frozen shrimp etc. Try to pick these up the next few times you go grocery shopping. Then you will only need to pick up the fresh produce, dairy and meat items at the last minute.
- You might also want to take a picture of the ingredients list on each of your recipes. Keep these on your phone so you aren’t guessing about what or how much of each item you need to get.
4) Impromptu entertaining. Do you ever have guests dropping by at the last minute or more guests show up than you planned for? This happens to everyone, especially during the holidays, but there is no need to panic! If you have pre planned for this unplanned chaos you can whip up a quick cheese or antipasto platter to feed a few or a crowd!
- While you are at the grocery store stocking up on your pantry items pick up an assortment of the following:
- Cured meats: Genoa salami, prosciutto, pepperoni etc
- Gourmet cheeses: fresh mozzarella or marinated mozzarella balls, sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, blue cheese, goat cheese, Asiago or Parmesan
- Assorted briny olives: canned, jarred or bulk from your supermarket deli
- Marinated vegetables: artichoke hearts, mushrooms or roasted red peppers
- Sweet dried fruits like apricots, figs or plums
- Assorted crackers
- Assorted nuts: almomds, walnut halves etc
- Cured meats and aged cheeses typically have a long shelf life and will keep, unopened, in your fridge for several weeks. Everything else can hang out in your pantry until called upon for emergency holiday visitor duty!
5) Pie anyone? Will you be making pies for the holidays? Prepare your crusts weeks in advance!
- If you make your own pie crust, make it weeks in advance and freeze it, then allow to thaw on the counter and roll out
- Whether you are using store bought or homemade pie crust, line your pie plates with your pie crust, flute the edges and freeze until you are ready to bake or fill and bake. No need to thaw first just pop them in your preheated oven!
- Make several extra crusts just in case you have last minute dinner guests!
6) Let them eat cake! And muffins, breads, cupcakes and cookies! Will you be baking yummy breads, muffins, cakes, cupcakes or cookies for your holiday menu or for gift giving? Let’s make them in advance!
- Most breads, muffins, cakes and cupcakes can be baked weeks in advance. Simply bake as usual, cool them completely and seal them in airtight containers or freezer bags and freeze. Thaw on the counter top or overnight in your fridge.
- Most cookie recipes, except meringues, can be made well in advance. Once you have made your cookie recipe you can scoop them onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and freeze. Place the frozen dough into an airtight container or freezer bags until you are ready to bake.
- If you want to bake them in advance simply bake as directed, cool them completely then place into airtight containers or freezer bags with parchment in between each layer. Thaw on your counter top.
7) Be prepared! Prep the veggies for your meal(s) in advance.
- Whether you are cooking the day of or days before, you can prep, slice and chop your veggies in advance and freeze them. Onions, shallots, bell peppers, celery etc all freeze very well. So if you will be using these items in your cooking, prep them in advance or better yet buy the frozen pre chopped veggies and keep them on hand in your freezer.
8) Are you in charge of the holiday bird? Making the turkey can be a little intimidating even if you do it every year! It has to be perfect and so does the timing! I remember my grandma stuffing that turkey and putting it in the oven in the wee hours of the morning on Thanksgiving day. Then she would baste it countless times and just when you thought you couldn’t wait one more minute, she would pull out the long awaited perfectly golden brown bird answer set it on the table. Finally, we could begin the feast! For me, putting that guy in the oven and hoping it is ready by the time you are ready to feed the masses is much too stressful. And if you put him in too earltly he’s cold by the time everyone arrives. Here’s my solution.
- If your family does not traditionally make a big deal of carveing the turkey at the table, then prepare roast it a day or two in advance, cool it, and slice it. Arrange the sliced turkey in a 13 x 9, pour some of the turkey drippings over the top, reserving some for your gravy, then cover and refrigerate. About an hour before your meal gently heat at 250-300° until warm.
I know this is a long “to do” list, and you may already feel overwhelmed but just try it. A little bit of pre planning now will save your sanity and make your life much easier when the holiday chaos begins!