5 Ways Parents Can Save Time (and Energy) During Holiday Food Prep

Meal planning for the holidays can feel like an overwhelming task (to say the least). Especially as a busy parent who continues to have the responsibility of planning regular weekly meals on top of the extra work that goes into preparing for upcoming holiday feasts.

It goes without saying…the last thing that anybody wants is to feel the dreaded meal-planning burden around the holidays. As a dietitian and mom of 3, I am no stranger to this. But over the years, I have mastered several time-saving hacks! Without further ado, here are my top 5 ways to save time and energy when it comes to holiday meal planning and preparation:

1. Plan out holiday meals well ahead of time
As the household cook, you are likely familiar with weekly meal planning. Whether it is for regular meals or a big holiday feast, allocate dedicated time for writing a grocery list, shopping, and meal preparation. For holiday meals, plan and choose dishes at least 2-3 weeks in advance. I know this might sound a bit overzealous, but it will help you to have enough time to find and purchase ingredients that may not be a part of your regular grocery run! No one likes last-minute panic shopping the night before a holiday event…

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Asking for (and offering) help is a game-changer around the bustle of the holiday season. When tackling holiday meal prep, the stress dissipates, and your time in the kitchen feels less frazzled when you enlist the support of friends and family. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it is having someone watch your baby while you focus on meal preparation or requesting contributions like a side dish or festive cocktail ingredients. Sharing the load enhances the joy of the season!

3. Use meal prep shortcuts where you can
Did you know that almost all classic holiday dishes can be made ahead of time (or at least in part)? Hot tip: categorize your meal planning based on what can be done in advance, and what needs to be done the day of your event can greatly save time in the kitchen. I’ll let you in on a little secret—not once have I had someone complain that they were served a bakery pie instead of homemade. If you’re not much of a baker (or simply want to save time), don’t be afraid to pick up a delicious pie or tart from a local bakery for your holiday meal! Another time-saving trick is to stick to tried-and-true recipes that you have at least made once or twice before. This will help prevent unforeseen recipe mishaps, allowing for a much smoother planning and cooking process. And lastly, kitchen tools are your best friend when it comes to saving time and energy when making large portions of food! What’s that? You have an old food processor collecting dust? Time to whip it out to mash potatoes, make a homemade pie crust/filling, as well as stuffing, dips and spreads. Don’t want to stand over a hot stove for hours on end? Time to pull out your pressure or slow cooker to make holiday soups and stews. The last thing you want is to be in the kitchen all day and miss out on connecting with friends and family!

4. Get your kids involved in the cooking process
If I’m being honest, getting kids involved in the cooking process can actually make everything take longer, depending on how old your child is and how motivated they are to help. However, the opposite is also true… if your kids are preoccupied with age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen it really can help save you time (and reduce the number of unwelcome interruptions by said kids)! You know your child best and will be able to make this call when the time comes. One of the best ways to get kids involved in holiday meal prep is with holiday baking! There are so many things they can do from mixing the batter, dumping in ingredients, and even scooping/rolling cookies or pouring batter into cupcake tins. Having kids handle, smell, and see food in different stages of preparation helps to boost their confidence and curiosity about the food and what it will look or taste like when it is finished! This is why when kids help with cooking, they also are more likely to taste and even enjoy the dish that they helped create. Now that’s what I call a win when it comes to energy-saving activities during holiday meal prep!

5. Make meal time a space for family connection
As parents, we all want for our children to be well-nourished and healthy, making micromanaging their
a logical intervention, right? Unfortunately, pressuring or coaxing children to eat a certain way guarantees the opposite result—increased pickiness, distrust or fear of trying new foods, and heightened emotion and stress at the table. Not exactly the festive cheer we would’ve hoped for, am I right? I get it, the urge to intervene in your child’s intake (with the goal of optimizing their nutrition) is huge. I, too (even against my better judgement), have been in the midst of uncomfortable mealtime power struggles. The truth is, kids are born with the intuitive ability to eat in a way that supports their body’s needs for proper growth and development. As parents, we need to take a deep breath and trust in their ability to listen and respond to internal cues, letting go of any preconceived ideas (largely driven by diet culture) of what and how much they “should” eat. How do we do this? A couple of things need to happen. First, try our best to stick to our role of feeding, allowing our kids to do their role of eating. Second, make mealtime a space for family bonding and connection, striving to take the focus away from “getting your child to eat”, and instead facilitating positive experiences with food. Explore new food with curiosity, asking questions like “what colors do you see?”. At your holiday dinner serve new dishes in small, less intimidating portions. Aiming to keep the environment calm, positive, and pressure-free will not only make mealtime run more smoothly, but it will also boost the chances that your kids will try something new this holiday season!