Food For Thought: Menu Planning Tips to Keep Your Holidays Jolly

In the hustle-bustle of the holidays, it is so easy to have good intentions go awry. Every year the reminder that you need to get on the stick and get organized to make the holidays happen, is exacerbated by the fact that the retailers can’t seem to resist putting the holiday decorations out earlier and earlier.

I almost had a panic attack when I saw my local Walmart unloading back-to-school supplies by mid-July, and Halloween goodies by mid-August.

I may not have my holidays down pat by September, but I do have meal planning down to a science. During extremely busy times, like the holidays, I always fall back on these important tips:

1. Implement the 10 o’clock rule: Ideally, your meals should be planned out for the week. Not everyone is “there” yet, though. So here’s a fall-back plan. If you know you’ll be shopping in the afternoon or out doing some kind of holiday activity, make sure you have planned what you will be having for dinner the night before by 10 p.m. You need to also plan for enough time to make it.
If, on the other hand, you know you’ll be home all day, but busy with baking, crafts, decorating, etc., make sure you have decided on dinner by 10 a.m. Pull out something to thaw, check the ingredients — make sure you’re ready to roll before the dinner hour and before you’re forced to call the pizza guy again.

2. Use a servant: We all have them — those indentured servants that live in our dark cupboards in the kitchen. You know, the appliances that were going to make our lives easier, that we all just had to have? That crock pot is the ultimate indentured servant, waiting to whip up culinary wonders while we are out all day at work, shopping, or whatever.
Plan a little time to get everything in the crock pot in the morning and leave the rest of it up to your servant, the crock pot. It’ll take care of everything and promises not to burn it, too. What more could a busy person want?

3. Go into a deep freeze: Next time you are making dinner, try doubling or even tripling that meatloaf recipe and freezing the extra portion. It really doesn’t take much extra time, and believe it or not, if you stock your freezer this week, by the time the holidays are going full throttle, you should have a mini-mother lode of dinners just waiting to be thawed and heated. Now that makes freezer cooking a breeze! Get more help with freezer meals here.

4. Make it convenient: Once upon a time, I wouldn’t normally buy lettuce in a bag, already washed and ready to go. Times sure have changed! In my opinion, this kind of convenience really pays off — like during the holidays, for example. Make a list of convenience foods you might not normally buy, and make sure you have a few on hand to use “just in case.”

5. Try breakfast for dinner: Scrambled eggs and toast really are substantial and take all of 10 minutes to make. If you put a little cheese on top of the eggs and pour orange juice into wine glasses, and maybe even light a few candles, no one will suspect you didn’t have the time to do your normal dinner “thing”— and the kids will love it!

These tips can carry you through the holidays with hardly any effort. Plus, they may be able to help you out at another stressful time, too. In any case, give them a try.

Sometimes a couple of tips make the difference between dinner being there . . . or not!

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