Ok, wait a minute...It feels like Labor Day just happened, and now we’re well into the holiday season? What happened?
Just when you think things can’t speed up any more, the holidays are upon us.
But it’s not like the holidays happen in a vacuum; surrounding those holidays are school plays, trips to visit family, friends coming into town, food shopping, gift buying, present wrapping, cocktail parties. We are all just dancing as fast as we can during these last months of the year.
Somehow, in between all of these activities and the Big Holiday Meals themselves, we have to keep feeding ourselves and our families. Often during this time of year, finding meals that can accommodate the comings and goings of all of your busy family members is even more challenging.
But seven days a week, dinner still needs to happen. Well, happen it will. Let’s see if we can make it happen without any of us losing our marbles.
How to Meal Plan During the Busy Holiday Season
Below are five suggestions for meals that are easy to make, serve a crowd (or make leftovers for the week), and can accommodate busy schedules. Pick one or two for your meal plan each week to help ease the stress.
Remember, anything that can be made ahead and frozen is a boon to the busy person. Most of the suggestions below are freezable, so whenever you are making one of these types of dishes, double the recipe and freeze half.
For soups, stews, and chilis, you would be very smart to freeze them in zip-top bags for easy storage and quick defrosting.
Also, at dinner time, leave a little pile of plates or bowls, napkins, and serving and eating utensils right near whatever you are offering up. This way, it’s easy for everyone to serve themselves. (And remind your family that they are responsible for their own dishes!)
A hearty soup or stew is one of the greatest types of dinners to have going when you have people eating at different times. It can either sit over low heat on the stove for an hour or so (give it a stir now and again), or you can make it and let people reheat bowls of leftovers when they are ready to eat.
If there are lots of vegetables in the stew, it’s really a one-bowl meal. You could also put out a green salad with some dressing on the side.
- Irish Beef Stew
- Moroccan Lamb and Butternut Squash Stew (The Mom 100)
- Chicken Stew with Tomatillo Sauce
2. Slow Cooker Meals
The slow cooker is a total gift during the busiest months. First of all, you can throw your ingredients into the pot as you race out the door in the morning, and be greeted with delicious smells wafting from the kitchen when you walk back in the door in the evening.
It also keeps things warm automatically once the cooking period is done, so you don’t even have to worry about precise timing.
You can make so many different kinds of comforting dishes with your slow cooker, which is especially gratifying during cold, busy months. Here are but a few:
- Slow Cooker Cider Pulled Pork, which you can use in all sorts of ways!
- Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff
- Slow Cooker Taco Soup
Technically I guess you could call a chili a stew (though avid chili fans might take umbrage with that statement!), but we love them so much that I thought they deserved their own category.
These also can be kept warm over very low heat with the occasional stir, or just let people reheat a bowl when they're ready.
Leave a pot of warm cooked rice in a covered pot on the stove. Put some toppings nearby in small bowls, such as shredded cheese, sour cream, cilantro leaves, and minced onion or scallion.
Not every dinner has to be a hot meal, and there is something just so satisfying about a well-built sandwich.
You can choose between making individual sandwiches or one big sandwich on a long Italian bread or hoagie roll and letting everyone slice off a chunk when they are hungry.
Wrap up the sandwich(es) and leave it for folks to grab as needed, either at room temperature if it’s a short window of time, or in the fridge for longer stretches.
Or, put out a mini make-your-own-sandwich bar: bread, sliced cheese, cold cuts (you can also leave those in the fridge if the dinner stretch is a long one—leave a note telling people where to find them), lettuce, tomatoes, condiments, and let everyone assemble their own when they are ready to eat.
5. Quiches and Frittatas
Egg-based quiches and frittatas are good warm, at room temperature, and even cool from the fridge.
They have other things going for them as well, like the fact that you can make them from all sorts of leftovers or odds and ends you have hanging out in the fridge and pantry (that last cup of roasted broccoli from last night’s dinner, that small chunk of Gruyère from the gratin the week before). They can easily be made in vegetarian versions, which can also come in handy.
And you can make these ahead - at least one day, and pull them out of the fridge when you want them. You can certainly warm up a piece in the microwave, but again—room temperature is very much A-OK with these dishes. (Plus, these are foods that most of us would be happy to eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, so there’s a lot of pinch-hitting these dishes can do!)