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It’s the most wonderful time year. And by most wonderful, I mean craziest, most stressful, busiest, and most expensive time of the year. Between parties, shopping, decorating, crafting, and baking, it’s really easy to forget about things like…eating. And I don’t mean cookies and candy. I’m talking about real meals made with real food. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with everything holiday-related right now, here are some meal planning tips that’ll help you make it through the holidays!
Meal Planning Tips For The Busiest Time of Year
The best thing about these meal planning tips is that they can be used at any time of the year, not just during the holidays!
Meal Planning Tips: Update Your Calendar
There is usually a lot going on during the holidays. Make sure your calendar is up-to-date with all the office parties, school programs, and events you know about. A little flexibility is needed because you never know what fun thing might come up that you don’t want to miss!
Here are some other things to keep in mind when you’re updating your calendar:
- Schedule time for shopping and wrapping. It’s nice to get this accomplished when the kids are out of the house but that’s not always possible. Alex was always a sneak so it was doubly challenging.
- Don’t forget about school events. It’s the worst feeling in the world to have to run by the grocery store before school to pick up donuts or cookies because you forgot about the class party. I’ve been that mom a time or two and it sucks.
- It’s OK to pencil in some time for relaxing too. A little self-care goes a long way when days and nights are hectic. Take a night off and treat yo self.
Once you have a basic idea of what you have going on, it’ll be easier to see what types of meals work best on a given day. And sometimes, eating out is the easiest (or only) option and that’s OK too.
Meal Planning Tips: Make a List of Recipes
This is always my favorite part. With your calendar in hand, start looking for recipes that will work with your schedule. Scour sites like Pinterest, Allrecipes, and Yummly for meal planning inspiration.
And there are plenty of simple yet delicious recipes out there that will make your life so much easier.
To get you started with your meal planning, here are some ideas:
Slow Cooker Meals
There’s a reason that “slow cooker recipes” gets over 135K searches on Google every month! Your slow cooker is your friend right now. It’s not just for pot roast anymore.
Slow cooker meals are awesome because you can throw together a simple side or salad and dinner is done!
Just in the last few weeks, I’ve tried Swedish meatballs, mac and cheese, a cheesy bacon ranch chicken, and orange chicken (recipe coming soon)! They were all simple to prepare and were Alex-approved, which is really saying something.
15 Minute Meals
15 minute meals are great because, well, they only take 15 minutes. There’s hardly any prep involved and can be a great time-saver on busy nights.
Dishes like stir-fry, sloppy joes, salads, and quick soups are easy to make. And you can rest easy knowing your family is still eating real food even though you didn’t spend a ton of time in the kitchen.
One-dish meals are one of my favorite meal planning tips. Not only are they easy to make, clean up is easy too. I’d call that a win-win.
Think sheet pan meals, casseroles, or pasta dishes. And be sure to check out my recipe for one dish cheesy chicken penne!
I love homemade pizza but it can take a long time to prep if I’m making my own crust (which I prefer). An alternative is pizza casserole. It’s pasta and pizza in one without the prep and cleaning.
Freezer meals are another option when you’re meal planning. This does require a little more work but it pays off on busy nights when you can just pull something out of the freezer and pop it in the oven.
If I don’t have time to freeze entire meals, I at least like to keep ingredients in the freezer that I can defrost and use in a recipe. I typically keep shredded chicken and beef, ground beef, meatballs, and bags of frozen veggies on hand. I can thaw it out and make tacos, stir-fry or whip up a tasty pasta dish in no time.
Read more about how we approach freezer cooking in this post. And for a list of foods you can freeze but maybe didn’t realize it, check out this post!
Soups and Stews
Soups and stews are perfect for chilly winter nights. Check out this post for yummy chili recipes (and a short lesson on the differences in chili around the country).
You can grab a loaf of crusty bread and serve it with a filling soup for the perfect easy meal. Try my four ingredient tortellini soup for a simple and flavorful soup that’s ready in about 30 minutes!
Meal Planning Tips: Check the Pantry and Fridge
Before you head out the door to the grocery store, check the pantry and fridge for ingredients you may have forgotten about. It also might spark some creativity for a meal. Some of our favorite recipes over the years have been “dump recipes” when we throw random pantry stuff together to create something new.
And for some great meal planning tips for when you’re cleaning out your pantry, check out our post on how to use everything in your pantry.
Meal Planning Tips: Write It Down!
Make sure you’ve written down your meal plan after your calendar is updated, and you’ve planned out your meals. Putting it into a spreadsheet is great but if it’s not somewhere that you can see it every day, it’s not going to do you much good. I speak from experience here.
Use a dry-erase board on your fridge to keep track of your meal plans, or print it out and hang it on the fridge. It’s also going to give you the added benefit of relaxing a bit on busy mornings when you see it and realize dinner is covered. Even if you’re going out to eat, that’s one less thing to worry about!
Meal Planning Tips: Go Shopping
Once you’ve made your list of recipes and you’ve checked the pantry and fridge, it’s time to go shopping.
When making a grocery list, I’ve found it’s easier to break it into sections like meat, produce, dairy, etc. I’m a lot less likely to overlook something if I’m grouping like items together.
And yes, I’m Type-A but I’ve found it can be helpful to organize the categories according to the store I’m shopping at. I shop at ALDI a lot and I know that the produce section is the first place I hit when I walk in the door, next is bread, next is meat, and I think you get the idea. Overkill? Maybe. But it helps me so there’s that.
If you just don’t feel like dealing with the stores during this busy season, you could also order your groceries online and save time and hassle. More stores are offering online ordering and delivery. To find out more, read our post on the best sites to order groceries online.
Meal Planning Tips: Set Aside Time for Prep
To really streamline your cooking process, take some time to prep anything you might need during the week ahead of time. Chop veggies, boil eggs, pre-cook bacon, or whatever else you can do. You probably have a million things on your to-do list but making time for food prep is worth it.
Check out our post on weekly food prep for some great ideas on how to do it.
Take Time to Enjoy The Season
I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday season so far! I finally finished decorating the house, Alex and I are doing our big baking adventure next weekend, and I have a list of holiday crafts and projects to do. Life is good!
While it can be a busy and stressful time, the holidays should be a time of fun, togetherness, and gratitude. A little planning will make the days all that more enjoyable for you and your family. Be sure to take time out to appreciate the moments and make some memories that will last a lifetime.