A Simple Approach to Living With Less

Minimizing Holiday Meal Prep Stress

With the holidays around the corner, my thoughts are filled with plans for our big family meals. Big holiday gatherings can go one of two ways. Things either go smoothly and you arrive at the end of them tired but content. Or things can be a hectic stressful mess and you can’t wait for them to be over. Obviously, we like to aim for the first scenario.

Two years ago, I had an incredibly stressful Thanksgiving. That year I ended up cooking three separate Thanksgiving dinners. I don’t remember all the reasons that went into creating that kind of insanity, but I do remember vowing to never have that kind of experience again.

Minimalism is all about prioritizing the things that are important and getting rid of the rest. So when it comes to holiday planning, I try to focus on family and the time we spend together instead of wasting so much time and energy with extravagant meal preparations.

A Few Ways to Minimize Holiday Meal Preparation Stress

  1. Make less food. That one is pretty basic but so easy to miss. It is possible to not make a dozen dishes in the attempt to make everyone happy. If you enjoy having lots of leftovers just make more of the dishes that you know are a hit.
  2. Plan your menu early. Not only does planning early help you avoid last minute shopping trips but, feeling prepared will definitely help reduce your stress.
  3. Group items together according to preparation method. I like to know what items can be made the day before a big meal, which items need to cook all day, which dishes can be cooked on the stove versus those that require an oven, and which items can be cooked and kept warm in a slow cooker. (I love my slow cookers! I use them for as many things as I can.) Then I schedule what needs to cook when so we don’t run out of oven space.
  4. Let other people bring something. Guests often ask if they can help by bringing something with them. Let go of your pride and stop acting like you can do it all and let them bring something. You’ll feel better and so will they.
  5. Cook in disposable pans that double as storage. If the cooking of a big meal weren’t enough to induce exhaustion, storing extra food and cleaning up dishes will definitely do it! We have switched to foil pans that come with plastic lids and any leftovers can just be popped in the fridge after dinner. Once they’re empty just throw them out. We don’t worry about fancy presentation, we just serve things buffet style from the kitchen. Less mess….more time, remember?

These are just a few simple changes that we’ve made that have made a huge difference in the level of stress and time spent with preparing a holiday meal. I am certain that you have tips of your own to share and I’d love to hear them.


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Article originally published on 10/25/2010

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  1. It sounds as though you’re ready to go for the holidays. Thanks for the tips, however, after all of the reading I’ve done lately I’d be more stressed by throwing away/recycling the pans and lids than by simply using my usuals and washing them. Sometimes convenience needs to take a back seat to thinking about what we’re doing to the world with all of our throwaways. I’ll just toss them in the sink to soak for a few hours, then get the kids involved in helping me clean up. I consider that win-win because I’ll be teaching my children about reusing rather than filling the landfill, how to clean up properly, and just getting some quiet moments with them. Just something to consider. Thanks for your posts!

  2. I am going to be cooking 2 thanksgiving dinners in my TINY kitchen this year and I am just beginning to feel stressed out about it! But I think I’m going to just stick with the basics and not let myself get too overwhelmed with anything complicated. Honestly, They are probably going to be the exact same meals, just 5 days apart! Doing a lot of prep ahead of time is also going to be a life saver!

    • Faith Janes says

      Yes, prep time and spreading things out in the days before make a huge difference in both my enjoyment and level of exhaustion.

  3. One of the things that a friend does every year for holiday meals is plan for all of the leftovers. She has lots of small disposable containers that she divides all of the leftovers into at the end of the meal. Then sends them home in a big reusable bag with each guest. She puts absolutely no leftovers into her own refrigerator.

    • Faith Janes says

      That’s pretty cool too. Although, I do admit it’s nice not to have to cook the next day as people fend for themselves on the leftovers.

  4. I always make the mashed potatoes before everything else and then dump them in the crock pot until dinner. They come out so fluffy and wonderful.

    • Faith Janes says

      Me too! I can’t stand when the potatoes get cold if not everything is done at the same time. So the crock pot is great for that!

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