Shortcuts to Destress Holiday Meal Prep
As family members across the country anticipate a delicious, elaborate holiday meal, many cooks are not quite so eager. It can be overwhelming, not to mention exhausting, to deliver the best, most dazzling meal of the year, cooking everyone’s annual favorites with just the right finesse and flavor. The holiday feast can be less of an ordeal for the chief cook with careful planning, a few shortcuts, and extra pairs of hands.

Plan for Stress-Free Meal Prep
The volume of food prepared during the holidays makes it the perfect chore in which to exercise delegation. The host will benefit from making a detailed plan early and determining which dishes to try to parcel out to willing and able friends and family members. Here are more holiday meal planning tips:

  • During the planning stage, take oven space and oven time into consideration. This way, when cooking is underway, you know what goes in the oven when and the feast isn’t delayed or missing important components.
  • It can be most helpful to determine whether elements of various dishes can be prepared and frozen ahead of time without compromising on taste. Entire cheesecakes, for example can be prepared and frozen far in advance.
  • The turkey is a prime consideration in planning. There are so many options on how to prepare turkey! Do you want to let Uncle Joe fry the turkey out back? Perhaps you have someone who is an expert at barbequing; smoked turkey is excellent. Depending on how the turkey is cooked, stuffing may need to be a side dish, which could also require additional thought. Of course, the thawing of the turkey is an issue that can make or break holiday meals. A 15-pound turkey requires three full days of thawing in the refrigerator. The general rule is 5 hours of thawing per pound. Do not thaw a turkey outside the refrigerator because bacteria breed and multiply at room temperature.
  • A common sense step is to clean out the refrigerator before the cooking begins, to make room for prepared dishes. Determine beforehand, as well, whether you have all needed cookware as well as serving dishes and utensils so that needed items can be borrowed or purchased. Cooking and serving are always more of a pleasure when required supplies are within reach.
    Reduce the amount of cleanup you’ll be facing during the holidays. Buy disposable baking pans and roasting pans. Keep in mind that for what’s leftover to clean, the conversations to be enjoyed as multiple generations wash dishes can be a high point of the day.
  • Buy needed groceries, including extra necessities, such as eggs and butter, before the grocery stores begin to become frenzied, as the general population prepares for their biggest meal since the last holiday season.

Time-Saving Meal Prep Tips
Some might call it cheating, but shortcuts are just smart ways to keep the cook happy. And what would the holidays be without our favorite cooks? They deserve all the help they can get. Shortcuts for making holiday dinner follow:

  • If you plan to start your meal with pureed soup, here are some timesavers for you. Make the soup one or two days ahead of time and refrigerate it. Then you can simply heat it up on the big day. Another option is Campbell’s Golden Butternut Squash Bisque heated up and served with croutons. The soup has passed taste tests and should be a pleasing start.
  • There are some great stuffing mixes to choose from, which could be an enormous timesaver. The “Best Stuffing Mix,” according to, is Trader Joe’s Cornbread Stuffing Mix. The fine-crumb stuffing has a subtle cornbread flavor and tasty bits of onion and celery.
    Cranberry sauce is an expected entree for most tables but doesn’t have to claim much stovetop time or space. Good Housekeeping (GH) boldly states there’s no shame in going with store-bought cranberry sauce. RealSimple goes a step further and recommends canned Grown Right Organic Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce.
  • Bread is a favorite component of holiday meals for Oprah Winfrey and many others, but the homemade variety shouldn’t be necessary to please the crowd. Robinhood Free Meetinghouse Five Herb Parmesan Biscuits have been dubbed favorites. Good Housekeeping recommends frozen French rolls from Alexia, which are available in whole-grain and sweet potato varieties. Good news for cooks who don’t want to sacrifice made-from scratch rolls. The dough for most yeast-risen bread can be stored for three to four days before popping them in the oven.
  • The Daily Meal offers several holiday meal shortcuts that they claim no one will suspect. Using frozen pie crusts instead of making homemade is among their guilt-free tips. Another is to do advance prep work for appetizers.
  • A shortcut shared by RealSimple reader Beth Ramos of Celebration, Florida, is to use onions, carrots, and celery instead of a rack when cooking the turkey. That way, the turkey and vegetables cook together and are ready to eat at the same time.

More Hands
Make holiday meal preparations a memory-making event for everyone. The kids will remember more than sitting down at the kids’ table if they are allowed to get in on the food prep. Assign age-appropriate tasks such as peeling potatoes, keeping the kitchen clean during the mayhem of final preparations, and chopping vegetables. If someone really wants to help on a recipe that doesn’t require perfected but unwritten seasoning skills, go ahead and allow them to share the workload.

Passing down traditions is a great way to make the holiday far more than a cooking chore. You may not, however, be quite ready to reveal the secret ingredients in the dish everyone insists you make yourself every holiday season.