Holiday Meal Prep Countdown

School may just be starting back up, but the holidays will be here before we know it. It’s never too early to prep— it reduces stress (and who doesn’t want that, especially this year?) and helps us reduce waste as well. While the festivities may not look like previous years, we can still gather online to enjoy each other’s company.

The key is in planning so we stay ahead of the rush and stress of it all. Whether this is your first time cooking for the holidays or you’ve been doing it for years, here is a three-day plan to prepare in advance so it is as easy and seamless as possible.

One Week Before the Holiday

One week before the holiday or gathering, it’s time to start scouting recipes and creating your menu. Depending on the gathering and what kind of meal it is, you may want appetizers, an entree with sides, a salad, and perhaps even a dessert. You also may want to plan any drinks you’d like to make or buy— wine, spirits, non-alcoholic cocktails, coffee, and/or tea.

Once you have your menu established, create your shopping list. It’s generally easiest to group the list in order of where you find it in the grocery store— so put all your produce together, for example, so you’re not running back and forth, especially during a time where we’re all trying to minimize our time in stores.

Three Days Before the Holiday

Time to go shopping! Don’t forget your shopping list based on the menu you created a few days ago. 

Holiday Meal Prep Tips

You may need to hit a couple of different stores depending on your needs including a wine shop, so plan accordingly. To keep your shopping as eco-friendly and time-efficient as possible, consider batching your shopping all at once so you don’t need to go out multiple times. Before you leave, organize your list by where you will be shopping— the grocery store, farmer’s market, wine shop, or wherever else, so you have everything easily accessible and clear for yourself.

Two Days Before the Holiday

Just a couple days out, so it’s time to start prepping the meal. We want to prepare the items in advance that will keep until our gathering. Now’s the time to defrost your turkey, if you’re going in the direction, or any other meat to cook tomorrow. You can chop up hearty vegetables like carrots, celery, and onions for a soup base, or your crudite platter and store them in Stasher bags so they stay fresh. Save more delicate produce like apples and avocado, which turn brown, for the day of. You can also make and freeze a pie dough or cookie dough if that’s on the menu!

The Day Before

The special day is almost here! Time to get cooking and prepping for tomorrow. Any additional vegetable and produce prep that needs to be done like peeling potatoes, cutting off the ends of string beans, chopping up onions, or roasting beets can get started now. Store them in your Stashers and they will certainly keep until tomorrow.

Tips for Holiday Meal Preparation

You will also want to start making moves on your protein— brine the turkey or marinate the meat, soak beans, marinate tofu, whatever aligns with your menu. This will make it easy to cook up your protein tomorrow. If you’re baking sourdough, you will need to make your dough today!

You can also make any dips today, as often they get better once the flavors marinate a bit. Maybe hold off on making guacamole in advance, but hummus or a salad dressing is perfect for day-before prep! 

Take a little time today to make a plan for tomorrow so you stay on track and ensure things go smoothly. Make a list of everything you need to get done— including cooking and meal prep as well as setting the table, cleaning the house, and more. Check to see what you can check off in advance (maybe today!) and organize an order of what will need to be done tomorrow, as well as delegate who will be responsible for that task if you have support.

The Day Of

You’ve made it! The holiday has arrived, and it’s time to get cooking. Refer to your plan from yesterday and get going. You’ll want to start with the things that take the longest— like cooking a turkey, for example. You can outline which things can go in the oven at the same time, and which order you will use the oven for. It’s also most efficient to have items cooking in different areas at the same time, so be sure to utilize the stove, the oven, a toaster oven, a grill, etc. as needed simultaneously for optimal efficiency. It’s a good rule of thumb to figure out your serving time and then work backward, ensuring a bit of a buffer.

Plate up any appetizers and dips, and throw together your salad to keep in the fridge while items are baking in the oven. Be sure to add your apples and avocado at the last moment so they don’t turn brown, as well as dressings, can be prepared in advance and left on the side.

While items are in the oven, you can also start to assemble a cheese plate or any other serving platters, and keep them in the fridge until your guests arrive or until you are ready to serve the people in your home.

The last few minutes are a bit of a juggling act, just getting everything out on the table at the same time! Either time your veggies to be done roasting at serving time, or if you roasted them in advance, provide a bit of a buffer before your meal for reheating. If you happen to have two ovens, you can use one to keep items warm as they come out of the oven if it’s close to mealtime.

Most importantly, enjoy! Savor your efforts and focus on gratitude for the meal and your loved ones. And if you have leftovers (arguably one of the best parts of holiday meals), you know where to store ‘em! 

This post was written by Sara Weinreb, an herbalist, host of the Medium Well podcast, sustainability and business strategist, and writer covering sustainability, wellness, and mission-driven business. You can keep up with her on Instagram.

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