Here are our favorite time saving holiday kitchen tips from our own family. Since Santa doesn’t bring the gift of time, this advice is the next best thing for your holiday meals. I promise, these ideas – plan, delegate, chop, cook – will help you get organized and enjoy the season so much more!
This article is an excerpt from our holiday book, Merry & Bright, which is meant to help you plan and carry out a stress-free, organized, DIY holiday season. For a limited time we’re offering this book free of charge when you join our newsletter family. To do that, simply sign up below!
Table of Contents
Managing Your Time
The first step is to make a calendar of meals for November and December. We’ll share more on that in a minute under “Menu”, but start thinking about it a little bit now. Take your time and be flexible, but try to plan your meals ahead of time. This article Meal Planning When Things Are Crazy from the Rootsy Network will help. The article only covers 14 days, so it shouldn’t be too overwhelming.
With a rough schedule in hand, you’re better able to decide how you’ll use your precious time this holiday season. There are several areas of time management we could focus on but we’re going to stick to one of the most challenging for holidays: meals.
Every Day Holiday Kitchen
Even the most pious religious holidays involves food, which is part of why we love them so much! I’m not going to intrude upon your special meal preparations for holiday recipes. We’re going to focus instead on your everyday food needs. I’m always happy to sacrifice time to create that special pie recipe but I neglect a healthy family dinner to do it!
Sacrificing steady, healthy meals this time of year is not a wise choice. With weather fluctuations, holiday programs in public places, sugary treats and general busyness, our immune systems can get hit pretty hard. If you and I can commit to maintaining a well-rounded meal plan, everyone will be able to enjoy the holidays in health and wellness!
With that in mind, here are some time-saving ideas for a healthy holiday kitchen.
4-Step Time Saving Holiday Kitchen Tips
When thinking about time-saving, the most important step is not to stress too much about it. There’s enough time to do the most important things like eat with your family and friends, give meaningful service and reflect on the meaning of these days.
Ok, after deliberately NOT stressing out, here’s what you to follow these time saving holiday kitchen tips.
Time Saving Holiday Kitchen Tip #1 – Plan Your Menu
It may be tedious, or you may feel like you don’t have time, but you NEED a menu each week. The only way to effectively shop and prepare food is to work from a menu. Believe me, I’ve tried to find any other way to do it, but I come back to menu planning every time.
Without a menu I’m short of supplies, wasting time trying to decide what to make and end up making popcorn for dinner because I’m too busy with other things. Not cool.
Pull out five of your favorite cookbooks or try these linked blog articles with roundups of various kinds of healthy meal plans for the holidays. Remember that, as homesteaders, were a little obsessed about good food made from quality ingredients. Most of our time working the homestead is to produce amazing food, right?!
Let’s not abandon our foodie principles just because we’re busy!
Menu Planning Links:
- To start, here’s a basic breakdown of eating seasonal foods for winter from Homespun Seasonal Living.
- From actual Homesteader, Weed Em & Reap, here’s one week of healthy meals from November.
- Here’s the Pantry Method of Meal Planning from Joybilee Farms that is actually geared to save you money.
- Here are 25 Healthy Meal Prep Ideas from Gathering Dreams. I second her suggestion about the Mason jars, incidentally. We use them every week for healthy, portable dinners to the dance studio and back.
- If you own an instant pot, here are nearly 30 Recipes for you to choose from Kristine’s Kitchen. It took me awhile before I joined the instant pot craze, but now I have two for my large family. The fact is, from-scratch cooking takes longer than using packaged items. As my teens’ schedules kept getting more complex, I was struggling to figure out how to keep up with the demands around feeding seven hungry people, three healthy meals a day. The InstaPot saves me not just time, but sanity.
Bonus Treats and Kids
- I Heart Vegetables will help you with 21 Healthy Holiday Treat Ideas. Bear in mind that everyone’s definition of “healthy” is different. Most recipes can be modified to fit your current healthy eating regimen. I’ve gotten so used to adjusting recipes to make them align with our requirement that I can’t even remember the last time I followed a recipe the way it was written!
- Here’s a bonus article if one of your goals is to get the kids into the kitchen more often this holiday season. Melissa K Norris shares practical advice, especially with knife skills and kitchen chore suggestions by age. Does bringing kids into the kitchen get the job done faster? No, absolutely not. Does it accomplish some of the goals you wrote down about enjoy the holiday season more fully with your family? Hmmm….
Time Saving Holiday Kitchen Tip #2 – Delegate
This step only works if you have multiple people in your house over the age of eight. If you do, create a meal schedule that includes all three meals of the day. (Do this with dishes once or twice a day, too.) Everyone gets to come up with breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you know you’re going to be traveling or need school lunches, plan ahead for food that’s easy to transport.
If it’s too stressful for you to start this meal rotation right now, just use the oldest child or your spouse. There’s simply no reason for you to be preparing every single meal this holiday season.
Holiday Meal Preparation Assignments
Let me share how my schedule is set up and maybe it will help you create one, if this isn’t something you’ve done before. I include every day of the week except Sunday, when I cook dinner and we all sort of graze the other meals. I also include doing dishes on our schedule because of the older kids’ school schedule – we had to organize our chores around their availability. They’re still at home but they’re involved in some online courses this year. (Homeschool does NOT equal getting to sleep all day, my teenage friends.)
You’ll notice that this list includes both Mom and Dad on dish duty. The “Veggie” chore is the chopping one that we talk about in the next section. We make breadstuffs and dairy products (just called “yogurt” for the sake of space) throughout the week, too. We also have one day of the week that I assign for dishes called “floater”, which is based on the cycle of Kid-of-the-Day that we talk about in The Homestead Family chapter of our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead.
Kids Can Do This!
FYI, instead of sharing my children’s names, I’m giving you their ages so you can get a rough idea of who is doing which chore. Bear in mind that this schedule changes every school/dance/orchestra year as the other parts of our schedules change. The plan usually alters a little within the first week of writing it because we have to adjust for revealed reasons as we try it out.
This year, we ended up with kids doing meals twice in the same day. I don’t recommend that, it’s just how it turned out for us. It’s working alright so far this year. I do help with meal planning and we have stacks of healthy cookbooks to give inspiration. (Probably too many cookbooks, but that’s a topic for another day.)
|Misc.||Bread, 16||Naan, 12||Yogurt, 16|
** Dad helps * Mom helps
Add a Dish Chore, Too!
My 12-year-old is perfectly capable of doing the dishes on her own, but since we take Sunday as our Sabbath and don’t do dishes, Monday’s dishes are enough to make a saint swear. Seven people, no dishwasher, big family meal – yeah, there are a few dishes come Monday morning. Being realistic about the chores and expectations for yourself and your kids is at the heart of making a schedule like this in the first place.
Don’t be too shy about asking your family to step up and help. Neither be too demanding or uncaring about their schedules. Everyone’s time is precious. They may fuss at you about the workload and how you’re so mean to make them wash so many dishes and make so many meals. Walk it off – you’ve got this. Give them a hug and a wet, sloppy kiss and tell them how much you appreciate them and their efforts to keep the family and homestead humming.
Time Saving Holiday Kitchen Tip #3 – Chop Vegetables
Of all the meal preps we’ve employed over the years this is, hands down, the one that saves us the most time. Every day in our house each person has several chores that they pick from a list. Twice a week the chore “chop veggies” appears. It’s the job of that person to ask me which veggies need chopping for our upcoming meals.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m terrible at writing my menus down in an organized way. Instead, I make sure that the kids and I have a rough idea of what we’re each making during the week. If they want to write it down, that’s fine with me. However, I know myself and if I bother to make a list, I’ll just lose it. Instead, I write my meals on our white board up in an out-of-the-way corner. Someday we’ll be totally organized but, for now, this works.
The veggie choppers chop anywhere from three to five types of vegetable for their chore. There are some items that do better than others for pre-chopping.
Here are some veggies that last at least a week in the refrigerator:
- Green onions
These others do alright if you’re using them within a few days:
Some Special Notes:
*Eggplant will turn color after exposure to the air, but it lasts pretty well in the refrigerator after being chopped. If you’re mixing it into sauce or a recipe like Moussaka, no one will notice its color.
Potatoes are hearty and will last in the fridge after being chopped, but they turn an unappetizing gray color (a process called oxidation). You can submerge them in water in a covered dish to keep them from coloring overnight. Add a little lemon juice to the water to lower the pH and keep them from oxidizing longer. This wouldn’t be a good option if you had to store them a week, but overnight is just fine. Also, if you want potatoes to incorporate easily into dishes like chowder, pre-bake the whole potato and slice it when needed.
Tomatoes and avocados are both perishable enough that you want to chop them right before use.
Time Saving Holiday Kitchen Tip #4 – Make Ahead Meal Parts
I don’t do the whole once a month meal thing because I just can’t handle it for some reason. I love the idea, but I just never do it. Instead, I make ahead components of meals and I’m happy to share what we do.
Have enough storage containers on hand well before the season. Include some that you don’t mind gifting to others when sending home leftovers or delivering cookies. Plastic is always a popular choice – bags and containers with lids. You can also use canning jars with their lids. I have five athletes who dance their guts out several times a week and canning jars are the easiest, cleanest and best transport dish we’ve found for real food dinners that include broths and sauces. Also great for single or dry items are beeswax wrap and upcycled containers like holiday tins lined with parchment paper.
Just a heads up: I won’t be recommending that you purchase packaged items because of health concerns. We’re trying to balance a healthy lifestyle with a busy schedule.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
Pre-Cook and Pre-Mix:
- Pre-cook meats (I love my InstaPot, but slow cookers, ovens and grills can all help with this.) Eat at Home Cooks can teach you how here.
- Pre-mix dry ingredients (flour, salt, sweet, leavening, spices, etc.) for baked items like biscuits and pancakes. Rootsy can teach you how to do that here. We usually ferment these items before we eat them, so they have to soak overnight, but it still saves us a lot of time if the dry ingredients are already mixed and waiting for us to dump into a bowl.
- You can also pre-make dough like cookies and biscuits. These can be stored in the fridge for next day use or the freezer.
- Pre-bake pie crusts or freeze whole, unbaked pies. I’m including Attainable Sustainable’s recipe for pie crust because it’s delectable.
- Make condiments like mayonnaise (Peace, Love and Low Carb makes making mayonnaise SO easy – I promise!) Other products like ketchup and salad dressing can also be made in large batches so you’re not scrambling to make them last minute or forced to use store-bought versions. For the most part, commercial condiments contain unsavory ingredients like soy products, high fructose corn syrup and dyes. If you have to use them, don’t stress over it; if you can, though, make up several batches beforehand. Don’t forget the homemade cranberry sauce!
- Grate cheese at least a few days before you need it. The pre-grated cheese from the store comes coated in anti-caking agents. Your home-grated cheese may clump a bit, but it’s cheaper and healthier to buy it in blocks and grate it yourself. Soft cheeses like mozzarella will not last as long as drier cheeses like cheddar, FYI.
- If you’re able, can up pie filling, pumpkin chunks and other fruits for crisps and pies during the harvest season. It’s so quick to dump a jar of apple slices into a pie crust, throw on a crumble top and bake it up. Canning foods is NOT a quick process but using the products you’ve created during a busy holiday season sure is! Here’s a canning schedule for all twelve months of the year to help you organize the goal of home-canned produce.
- Make several gallons of bone broth and freeze in one, two and three cup measurements. Melissa K Norris can teach you how to make bone broth and several ways to preserve it.
- Dehydrate small fruits for holiday treats like cookies, biscotti, pies and sweet breads. (Incidentally, She Loves Biscotti is THE place to go for a biscotti recipe – or any Italian dish you crave.)
- Dehydrating is usually done during the harvest season. For example, raisins are made when grapes ripen (August/September). However, you can buy raisins in the store on sale and pop them into the dehydrator for no-sugar, no-preservative raisins. Do the same with apricot, pineapple, ginger and cherries. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can follow the same process in an oven.
Learn how to dehydrate grapes into raisins to get you started.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree
and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
― Abraham Lincoln