Easy Holiday Meal Planning Tips for the Busy Mom

Simple Living

Easy Holiday Meal Planning Tips for Busy Moms

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by Tu-trinh McGee

Happy holidays

Y’ALL!!! We are down to the last weeks until the holidays are here! Are you as excited as I am?! Yes? *VIRTUAL HIGH FIVE* No? 

That’s OK, I get it. 

The stress that this time of year has a tendency to bring on a lot of stress that is not fun for anyone. Keeping on track and sane this time of year is a tremendous challenge but if you take some time to plan ahead you can keep yourself and your family sane. 

Growing up my family’s holiday menu has always had a Vietnamese twist to the American traditions. My mom seasoned our Thanksgiving bird with Vietnamese flavors alongside traditional American dishes like stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, etc., we ALWAYS have eggrolls – it’s practically a requirement. 

Turkey with Vietnamese flavor.

Sometimes, we’ll add freshly steamed crab and/or other types of seafood to the table. Sometimes we have to be careful not to overload the dinner table – we have to be able to put our plates down somewhere!

I love family traditions, especially ones that surround the holidays. For me, this is such a special time of year. I can’t help but feel enchanted by it and excitement fills my brain as early as July.

Being able to sit down and feel the love around a table or inside a house, seeing the twinkle in children’s eyes, the lights strung up, the cooler air, calmer hearts – all of this is magical to me. 

It fills my soul to no end and is why I love the holidays.

I don’t care that there’s a Hallmark gimmick to it all. I don’t care if people get grumbly about Christmas songs starting BEFORE Thanksgiving has begun. I don’t care about people getting rude running around in the stores – I give them grace and tell myself that they are probably out trying to make the season special for someone they love.

I really don’t care about the presents – I’m a people person anyway. 

I’m currently sitting here at my desk with Halloween right around the corner and I’m daydreaming about how I’ll have my people here. Sometimes the stress of summer activities and back to school can turn me into a bit of a Grinch – but as the holidays get closer my heart grows week by week. 

Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of*ten Grinches, plus two! -Dr. Seuss

In our household, we host Thanksgiving, a holiday gathering with close family friends, Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas breakfast, and a small gathering for my daughter’s and sister’s December birthdays. It seems like a lot, call me a holiday chest-NUT, but I LOVE doing it!

As I said, being around family and friends fills my heart and there’s nothing I would ever trade for them or the moments we have together.

Holiday stress 

Yes Mama, I get it. As if you aren’t busy enough keeping your herd alive and the household intact, let’s bring on the holidays and have your schedule feel like it went from a large to a big gulp. 

I used to feel a great deal of anxiety during the holidays. Getting the perfect presents, having an enormous spread of food, making all of the experiences feel “magical.” A good friend of mine reminded me that childhood is magical.

And when I took a pause to think back, everything was pretty magical. 

My memories have fuzzy vignettes of playing in the snow (when it didn’t rain – thanks PNW), picking out the perfect tree, driving around to look at our neighbor’s Christmas lights, running out to the see what’s under the tree on Christmas morning.

I suppose that now that I’m a mom, seeing the excitement running through my children’s faces and bodies over what seems so miniscule to me, is my magic.

So take a breath and embrace the chaos.

Take it in and turn it around. Kids get a bit excited and made a mess of the flour while making cookies for Santa? Breathe in deep, ignore the stress going through your mind about having to clean it up, and keep rolling along. Your kids are only this young today. 

Plan! Plan! Plan!

Are you hosting Thanksgiving, Hanukah, or Christmas? Both? Multiple gatherings? Any of those can heighten your stress levels. Remember when I told you “ten minutes”? Well this is definitely a time that I suggest that you do this. 

Grab a notebook, pen, possibly wine or chocolate, and sit down. Write “Thanksgiving” on one side and “Christmas” on the other. Start jotting down what you want to see at that table. 

If you can, take a moment to close your eyes and imagine your table. Who is sitting around it? What’s being served? Is that what you want? Is there something a family member would prefer? What can you live without? What are the picky or food sensitive ones eating? Write it down. 

Make it fun – include your kids! Taking in their input is such a great way to get your kids involved and excited for the holidays. What would they like to see on the menu? Is this something they’d be able to make themselves or with help?

They may be old enough to whip up something on their own. Can you imagine the look of pride on their face when they receive compliments for a job well done? 

A fantastic tip I learned for cooking for large groups: If you have it, utilize your Instant Pot, slow cooker, or a toaster oven that you already have on hand. Did you know you can make mashed potatoes in your slow cooker? That’s one less thing off of the stove you have to tend to!

Dressing can go in the toaster oven – BOOM! Another thing you’re not having to schedule time to be able to cram into the oven.

Outsource jobs

Honestly, this is my favorite way to do the holidays if possible. I have a special relationship with food and one way I show my love is through food. I love it even more when people bring their dishes and we have this conglomeration of delicious foods to share. 

Some of the time, the spread turns into leftovers and I have no problems with that! Not having to cook the next day is a BLESSING. I love that sharing food is a way to connect, spread, and receive love.

Last year, Thanksgiving landed on my plate while I was about 6 weeks postpartum. I had a lot of everything going on for me and I was ever so grateful that I only made 2 dishes – mashed potatoes and gravy. 

My mom took care of the bird and eggrolls, my husband ran out and got Costco rolls, and my sisters stepped up with other dishes. We still had a feast and I can’t tell you how much of a relief I felt to not feel like I had to “do it all.”

When planning your gathering find out what others may be bringing, or you can delegate who will bring what if a person wishes to contribute and doesn’t necessarily know what to bring. Fill in the spots on your plan with those dishes – you’ll still have the feast you are looking for, but someone else is doing that work for that part of your list.  

Do you want to make the turkey this year or could you ask grandma to make her juicy bird? Can mom or an aunt bring their delicious pie? What about sides? Maybe your brother can bring rolls? Write their name next to the dish on your plan and don’t stress about it.

Don’t feel like turning things into a potluck or you aren’t having enough guests to feel like you can call for one but also don’t have time to cook? Grocers have precooked holiday meals! 

My parents did this a few times while we were young, and it was incredibly easy. Us kids, helped to prepare it for the table and it really began our excitement to be part of the process.  We may not have made the food from scratch ourselves, but it was still a meal full of love and holiday cheer.

Favorite easy recipes

In her cookbook, Magnolia TableJoanna says that she spent a year’s worth of Saturdays perfecting this biscuit recipe, Goldilocks-style. They couldn’t be too heavy, flat, light, salty, dry — too anything, really. They had to be just right.
  • Tip: When you’re done cooking the bacon use the leftover fat to cook sausage. Then use the fat that’s leftover to make gravy!

Grocery shopping

Make time for a long shopping trip. Have your spouse watch the kids or call a babysitter and tag team it with your spouse. This could be a fun way to get away from the household, have a date night, and get things DONE.

Trust me, a long grocery trip WITH kids is not fun for them or you especially. If I know I have these types of shopping trips, I put hubby is on kid duty and will go to the store at night with a clearer head.

Don’t have time to make an extra trip to the store? Make it easier by ordering everything online or on an app! Have Amazon Fresh bring it to your door. There’s no need to make this part any more stressful than what life already has going for you if the option is available.

Leftovers, recipes, and how to

It’s the end of the night and everyone’s gone. Now you’re stuck with the food and clean up. Seems like a drag but bring light to it! Have your partner and/or the kids help clean! 

Cut up your bird or ham and put it away for now but save those bones!! I love keeping the bones and turning it into bone broth! You already paid for it, why not get every use out of it as possible! Plus you can freeze the broth for future use! Turn your leftover turkey into turkey soup with the broth you made or meal prep the leftover turkey enchiladas or tetrazzini. 

Side note: you can even turn the leftovers into freezer meals and soups that you can pull out for those hard days when cooking is just not in the cards for you. 

I usually will pop the bones into a Ziploc bag overnight (because let’s be real, after hosting do you really want to cook again? Applauses to the supermoms out there that can do it though – you guys are amazing!). 

Then I’ll toss the carcass into the Instant Pot the next morning with onions, carrots, celery, and spices, set it to slow cook mode and let it sit for 24 hours. It is likely that you’ll already have these ingredients for broth in excess from the holiday meal preparation. 

Once time’s up, I’ll discard pretty much everything, strain the broth through cheesecloth, and pour the broth into jars. Once cool, they go into the freezer for future use. It’s so easy to do and great to have on hand for other meals or recipes that call for broth.

Leftover meal prep recipes

Don’t put all of your energy into stress around food as the focal point. The reality is that you and your company are THE shining stars in all of this. Those people sitting around the table, in your house, the kids running around, (and possibly screaming) are the highlight. 

Remember Mama, you’re amazing and you got this! 

They love you and they don’t require you to be bougie (unless you want to be – then by all means, do it girl.)

Thanks for listening to my daydream, Mama. I hope that your days are as wonderful as what I know you can do. 

Something I learned recently was to pray for joy.  This is something I never really learned about or realized that you could do.  Isn’t that so lovely?!  So Mama, I pray for your joy throughout this season. I pray that your joy is contagious and everyone around you is engulfed in your love. 

From our family to yours.

Wishing you a loving time of year

From our family to yours, we wish you a joyous and loving season that is bountiful in laughter, smiles, and most of all, moments to remember throughout a lifetime. 

Related: The Autism Mom’s Guide to a Stress-free Holiday Season

Related: Simplify Meal Planning for Busy Moms

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