Holidays are a time of gathering, connection and fun spent together with friends and family. But let’s be real, this magical season also comes with a calendar packed full of parties, potlucks, travelling and special events that make most people feel at least a little stressed, especially busy parents.
As a mom of three, I totally understand the week-to-week pressures of feeding many hungry tummies. As a registered dietitian well-versed in the art of meal planning, I am excited to share seven of my tried-and-true holiday food prep tips that will help ease some of the stress that comes along with holiday meals and baking! Let’s dive in.
1. Do a bit of menu planning
Menu planning for the holidays is a little bit different from regular meal planning. Usually, you’re cooking for a larger number of people, and using ingredients that you don’t normally have on hand. For that reason, I suggest planning dishes 2-3 weeks in advance to allow for time to find and purchase specific ingredients that are not part of your usual grocery routine. I know this may sound excessive, but I promise you, your future self with thank me 😉
The way your menu plan is less important – you can use a template that you love, you can jot it down on a piece of paper or put it in your “notes” in your phone. Get out your favourite cookbooks, old family recipe cards and print off your favourite online recipes too. Spread everything out, and take stock of what you already have (watch for expiry dates). Make sure that you order all of the ingredients that you’re missing (because the worst thing is when you forget just one or two key ones!)
Here is a summary of key steps to efficiently plan a holiday meal:
- Choose familiar, simple holiday recipes for the event
- Take inventory of the shelf-stable or less-perishable ingredients that you already have at home to avoid overbuying and food waste.
- Make a list of the other ingredients you will need to purchase closer to the holiday event. Check out the Little Spud Club Holiday Grocery List which contains my favourite dietitian-approved food products and ingredients, perfect for your holiday dinner and your baking too!
- Keep your fridge clean, and organized leading up to the event to allow for enough space to store holiday dishes that are made ahead of time.
2. Skip the line-ups and order your groceries online
One of the most efficient ways to purchase groceries is to use an online grocery shopping service like, my personal fave, Spud! How does online grocery shopping decrease stress over the holidays? Oh let me count the ways! You can jot down your menu plan at your kitchen table, take a pantry and fridge inventory, open up your browser and pick and choose the items that you need…. All in the comfort of your own home. No need to warm up and scrape off your car, get the kids bundled up and out the door, navigate through the busy store, wait in line, pack your car etc etc. You simply search for the food items on your list, add them to your online cart, and BOOM—have your groceries delivered directly to your doorstep. The bonus of using Spud is that you are supporting local producers and vendors that create high-quality, sustainable food products.
To make this process even LESS stressful, I’ve gone ahead and chosen my favourite Spud ingredients and food products for the holidays and put them into one shoppable landing page on the Little Spud Club. From cookie-baking ingredients to turkey dinner, it’s all in one spot! You can rest assured that these are dietitian-approved, nourishing, sustainable products that are free from diet culture language on the package.
3. Prepare some dishes in advance
This may seem like an obvious strategy, but it’s important to set aside time for this in the days leading up to your holiday event. It’s such a great time-saving strategy to make dishes (or components of dishes) ahead of time, especially when things always seem to become increasingly chaotic as the holidays get closer and closer. Create a calendar invite for yourself, to carve out dedicated time specifically for make-ahead holiday meals. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!
The truth is, that almost all popular holiday side dishes and desserts can be made ahead of time! Here are some examples that might be on your holiday list:
Make ahead 1-2 days in advance:
- Casseroles: Assemble ingredients ahead of time and bake in the oven on the day of the event
- Mashed potatoes: make and refrigerate, then reheat in the oven or microwave before serving
- Pies and tarts: these can be baked in advance and stored in the refrigerator or at room temperature for a couple of days before serving
Make ahead 2-3 days in advance:
- Soups and stews: prepare in advance, refrigerate then reheat when time to serve
- Cranberry sauce: cook a few days in advance then store in the refrigerator until ready to serve
- Holiday cookies: you can bake homemade cookies a weeks ahead of time, and store them in a sealed container in your freezer. Check out these festive cookie recipes perfect for the holidays!
Make ahead the day before:
- Salad ingredients: Components of a salad recipe can be prepped and chopped the day before and stored in separate containers, then combined right before serving
- Marinated dishes: such as marinated meats can be prepped and marinated overnight in the refrigerator
Dishes best prepared on the day of the holiday meal are roasted meats such as turkey, ham, and roast beef, as well as leafy green salads.
4. Stick to familiar, simple recipes
I usually don’t recommend that you go out on a limb and attempt a new, complicated recipe for a holiday dinner. Sticking to tried and true recipes is so much easier, and will help manage your stress levels leading into the event. Being well-versed in the preparation steps, timing, and cooking techniques allows for a smoother cooking experience, fewer unexpected mishaps (and a happier cook!).
Food is about connection and holiday meals often come with feelings of nostalgia and sentimental value. Sticking to familiar, reliable (maybe even generational) recipes will help recreate this ambiance for your family and holiday guests. On top of that, opting for relatively simple recipes makes it easier for your kids to get involved in the cooking and preparation process!
5. Delegate tasks and ask for help
Do not be afraid to ask for help. Especially if you are a busy parent of young kiddos that can’t yet be described as “helpful in the kitchen”. This might mean asking a close family member or friend to come over and occupy your baby or toddler while you get some meal prepping done. It could also look like the polite delegation of certain tasks (such as bringing the beverages) or whole dishes (such as making the mashed potatoes) to guests who will be attending the holiday meal.
Leaning on others for support (so you can have a few things taken off of your plate) can do absolute wonders when it comes to stress reduction around the holidays!
6. Use shortcuts and time-saving appliances
Here are some helpful tips and tricks that can cut down on the time you spend in the kitchen preparing holiday dishes:
Apple or pumpkin pie
Soups and Stews
Stuffing, pie filling, dips and spreads
7. Keep diet culture out of your holiday plans
Unfortunately, family gatherings and meals often invite the opportunity for well-meaning extended family members to impart their dietary wisdom (aka. Diet culture) to the group (or even directly to your children). This can do the opposite of creating a calm festive vibe at the table and may leave you feeling quite frustrated. Luckily, being well versed on intuitive eating and how it relates to the division of responsibility in feeding kids, can help you navigate these situations! If you prefer listening and learning, give my audiobook Raising Intuitive Eaters a try.
Sometimes feelings of guilt can sneak in, or worries of over-indulging (for you and your kids) can surface around the holidays because food is at the centre of everything! My advice? Lean in and enjoy. Food is so much more than just nutrition – it’s connection, joy, memories, and love. Let go of expectations around how you want your child to eat (i.e., certain foods on their plate and amounts) and trust them to tune into their internal wisdom of what their bodies need. Try your best to let go of the urge to micromanage your child’s intake, without stressing about eating too many holiday treats. You might be surprised at how this pressure-free approach creates space for a much more positive experience with food and nurtures your child’s long-term relationship with food.
Getting kids involved in cooking and baking can help to increase their confidence in the kitchen, allowing them to learn and be creative with food. If kids are involved in the prepping and cooking of holiday meals, they are also much more likely to give them a try (bonus)!
Sarah Remmer, is a registered dietitian (since 2006) mom of 3 and the proud founder and President of The Centre for Family Nutrition, a Calgary-based nutrition counseling practice that specializes in prenatal, infant and child nutrition, that specializes in prenatal, infant and child nutrition.