6 steps to a relaxed Christmas: strategically feed your family

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About Jessica

Jessica Fisher is a busy mom to six children, making her home in San Diego. She writes about life, laughter and the pursuit of a clean house at Life as Mom and shares delicious ways to act your wage at Good Cheap Eats. She is the author of several books, including A Simpler Season and Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook.

A note from Tsh: I asked Jessica of Life as MOM to write this next step in our Relaxed Christmas series. Why? Well, she’s awesome, for one, but also because this mother of six knows how to feed an army—she recently released a book called Not Your Mother’s Make Ahead and Freeze Cookbook, and her Christmas e-book, A Simpler Season, is chock full of practical ideas to keep you sane. If you feel a bit overwhelmed about dinner during the holidays (I’m raising my hand here), then Jessica’s your gal.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

You’ve heard the music blare from the mall’s speakers or tuned into the refrain from your car. And it is. Christmas is a wonderful season where peace and goodwill abound.

Or at least it could be. Sometimes.

But, it’s also a season of increased busy-ness. In our efforts to craft a jolly holiday, we add more to our plates: Christmas concerts, church plays, holiday get togethers, and office parties. It’s tough to handle the day to day when we squeeze in numerous festivities amidst our daily life. We’re easily wired to short circuit.

One way to plan for peace is to set your family table for success—and I don’t mean making sure you can seat a party of 12.

It’s in our best interests to simplify family meal times so that we enjoy a calm breather and eat nourishing food during this busy—and most wonderful—time of year.

Here are some ideas to help you do that.

1. Make a meal plan.

Knowing in advance what you’ll serve for dinner helps you two-fold. You’re neither wondering what to serve, nor are you scrambling to find the right ingredients. Having a written-down menu helps you plan your day and your grocery shopping. Whether you approach it weekly or monthly, jotting down meal ideas will save you headaches when tummies are rumbling and the kids are crying for something to eat.

2. Try batch cooking.

My freezer buys me time—I love it. I recently stocked up on chicken breast on sale at a great price. As soon as I came home, I mixed up a number of different marinades, trimmed the chicken, and bagged it in freezer bags to stash in the freezer.

The hard work is done for the coming weeks, and I can now pull a bag from the freezer the night before and bake potatoes and steaming vegetables for dinner.

Freezer cooking, also known as batch cooking, is not that hard. There is an unbelievably wide variety of freezer-friendly recipes, and if you stage a mini-cooking session, you’ll save time and money during the holidays.

3. Eat simply.

Save the fancy meals for the parties and get togethers—at least this month. Take the rest of the week off to enjoy your family. Simple meals are often the best: meatloaf and mashed potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs, tacos. They don’t take a lot of legwork to pull together.

If your mind is off meal prep, you’ll be better able to concentrate on more important things.

4. Keep a stocked pantry and avoid the drive-thru.

Making “a run for the border” can pinch the wallet and contribute to that hurried feeling we actually want to avoid during the holiday season. It can also tip us over budget.

Instead, fill your pantry with quick “cheater” meals like mac and cheese, pasta and red sauce, or my favorite, beans and rice. Whether from scratch or from a box, they really don’t take that much longer to cook than a run through the drive-thru, but your evening will be more enjoyable at home with more pennies in your wallet.

5. Use take-out strategically.

It would be unrealistic to say that we’ll never eat out this month. But, you can use take-out strategically. Plan your favorite Chinese food as a special treat for movie night. Bring home a pizza the night you trim the tree and play Christmas carols. Make a reservation at your favorite restaurant the night you go lights looking.

Let the dining out experience be purposeful and fun, not hurried, last minute, and over-budget.

Christmas can be peaceful, wonderful, and everything you hope it to be. So your task this week? Take a few moments to plan out your December dinners, and you’ll be a few steps closer to the holiday you want.

Head here to watch for all of this year’s six steps (and feel free to pin it to make it easy for you to find).

How do you make the most of mealtimes during the holiday season?

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Comments

  1. I usually employ the techniques you have mentioned in this post; except for the meals during Christmas and New Years day of course. I try to make those meals extra special.
    Christopher Campbell´s latest post: Holiday Gift Guide: The Jet Setter

  2. Great tips! We really try to reduce our eating out this time of year and, like you recommended, plan our eating out based on fun occasions (not last minute “we don’t have a plan” so we will just go out occasions)! We also try to incorporate one nights dinner into several other nights as well. So if we make chicken one night we use leftovers for chicken soup/tacos/etc the next few days. Keeps it easy and quick too!
    Brittnie (A Joy Renewed)´s latest post: 16 week pregnancy update … Avocado baby

  3. Yeah, this one gets me! I feel like there’s so much “extra” to do in December that I forget that dinner still has to get made (and laundry needs doing, and the house needs cleaning!)

    Thanks for the reminder and strategies. My go-tos for busy weeks are simple meals and batch cooking, plus rather frequent pre-cooked rotisserie chickens from the grocery.
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy´s latest post: Classic Gifts for Girls

  4. Hm, funny that this post showed up this week.
    Wednesday: I finished Christmas card addressing/stuffing — leftovers for dinner.
    Yesterday: made 460 Christmas cookies, ordered pizza for dinner.
    Today: supposed to frost about half of those cookies, was thinking about leftover pizza for dinner! :)
    I think this weekend I’ll spend a couple hours and make up/freeze a few meals so that I don’t get stuck like that again in the coming weeks!
    Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm´s latest post: Favorite Christmas Books

  5. So timely for me as well. I had a really busy week right after Thanksgiving and my freezer stash saved my butt. Then I got hit with an illness this week (probably bronchitis, fun times) but having a well stocked pantry and freezer made it so I could rest and we didn’t have to resort to takeout. And I got 6 pints of beans cooked and frozen with almost no effort thanks to my crockpot. :) I’m mostly on the mend and heading into the baking frenzy time of the holidays (which I truly love so I plan ahead and prioritize to make it happen without stress) and we will be eating simple meals to save preparation time and not over do the extravagent foods.

  6. This time of year always calls for adding breakfast-for-dinner to the meal plan more often than usual. Quick and easy for me and always a treat for the kids.

  7. Thanks so much for this post and this series! With two under two, I was feeling apprehensive about the holiday season, but instead I feel more relaxed this year than ever. Tackling the tough items early, (budget, gift giving, calendar) really helped me prioritize and be realistic about what to expect from my family and myself.
    This is a great post to help through crunch time, the next two weeks, and into the new year. Thanks Tsh and Jessica for showing me a way to really enjoy every aspect of the season.
    megan´s latest post: This Moment

  8. I find myself making larger batches for dinners and then freezing the extras when December comes around. So far this month, I’ve cooked 7 out of the 9 days and each of those cooked meals made frozen leftovers to be used as dinner for another day this month. It makes it super easy to meal plan especially when I do my planning while looking at our calendar to figure out what days will be more busy than others.

  9. My freezer and my crock pot have been my “first line of defense” this season.

    Another thing is to plan ahead for those potluck events this month and remember that simplicity for those events can also be great. For one potluck this season, we made up a big platter of PB&J sandwiches. Simple, but the little kids loved it!
    Alissa´s latest post: …Until We Don’t

  10. avatar
    Elizabeth says:

    I pretty much do this all year and for a year my husband and I didn’t eat out at all (save the 2-3 times someone asked to take us out). We now have added pizza night every Friday so that is one less meal I have to plan (though sometimes I make it). I always have a meal plan and then I know I have the ingredients on hand. Yes it makes life easier!

  11. Except for the last tip, we regularly follow that list. I would suggest…get into those habits this holiday, with a goal of making them last the whole yr!
    Emily´s latest post: Why Green Cleaning?

  12. We started prepping for the holiday season by making double batches when cooking and freezing a LOT. We’ve already gone through a bunch. We’ve been busy running around and it’s easy to just stop for something “on the way home.” But that gets sooo expensive. I like saying, “We’ve got squash soup in the freezer” and I know it will be tasty and fast!

    When we do go out, it’s something healthy-ish.
    And, we bring home half (usually) for lunch the next day. Some of those burritos are as big as a football – enough food for 3 meals!

    When we order Chinese – we order BIG!
    Chinese around here isn’t expensive. So, we order enough to eat for a few days and freeze a bunch. This week I had left over fried rice. So, I cooked up some pieces of pork, tossed in some carrots and sugar snap peas and we had a new meal.

    I’m really looking forward to trying the Freezer Recipes you linked!
    ~ Dana, Cooking at Cafe D
    Dana @ Cooking At Cafe D´s latest post: Friday FREE-FOR-ALL! (Linky Party #4)

  13. those photos look so delicious!

    This season is when my crock pot goes into overdrive- chili, stew, soup plus a salad and quick bread
    priest’s wife´s latest post: Santa Silliness

  14. I love the Christmas tree cookie picture at the top of this post. I plan on giving cookies as gifts this year and letting my toddler decorate them so they’re extra special. Those trees look like a good way to go about it!
    Erin OK´s latest post: How To Appreciate A Blog

  15. Every single one of these tips are worthy! I know we tend to up the eating out during this month if our pantry is not stocked. And I have been lazy on the meal plan, but not this weekend! I made sure we are ready because I want my family to continue on eating healthy. The counter even has a great delicious big bowl of fruit on it. ;)
    Christine @ Oatmeal in my Bowl´s latest post: Xen Strength Yoga ROCKS! [Review + Giveaway]

  16. Some great tips here! This is one area that should be fairly easy to cut back on for a limited time frame. I recently wrote a post that some may find useful as well: 10 easy meals for busy nights
    Bernice

  17. avatar
    Nosgoth1979 says:

    Wonderful tips. I actually just got a cookbook on my iPad and I’ve been trying out some simple recipes and snacks from that. Trouble is I’ve got to prepare for someone who needs the food gluten-free and someone who’s vegetarian, so it’s becoming pretty challenging. Luckily there is some good stuff in this cookbook (although I’m always looking for more). I never thought I’d be using my iPad for that though. I originally bought it for Pages (for my writing when I’m on the go), and the Dish Remote Access app that a coworker at DISH told me about that lets me stream my channels to my iPad along with program my DVR anywhere I go. I do use it for those two things quite a bit, (especially for watching TV while I’m travelling), but I’ve found myself using it for more and more tasks. It does practically everything. Now if I could only get it to actually do the cooking and entertain my in-laws…

  18. I like to cook, but this trips me up every year. Somehow in all the holiday baking and prep for the big meals I forget that we have to eat dinner every night, too! Thanks for the heads-up, while there’s still time to actually do something about it :)
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy´s latest post: A Christmas Snapshot

  19. I’m making meals bigger than usual. I just made a big pot of soup and we ate it for a few days til we were sick of it. Now it’s in the freezer for a later date.
    Steph´s latest post: Pre-Christmas Purge

  20. Totally agree with you on all of these.. Menu planning is such a sanity saver during this season.. {but then, when is it not?} Another thing that also works for us is experimenting with cuisines.. Keeps the interest alive and more often than not, are more fun to make than regular meals..
    Prerna@The Mom Writes´s latest post: Top 5 Awesome Gifts for Work-at-Home Moms: Practical Indulgence for the WAHM

  21. amen, on all counts. thank you. so much excess and stress comes from the ways we try to cut corners (like the drive thru) and wind up making it all so much worse. you are singing my song!

  22. Agree! My meal plans save us each week and taking the time to plan it helps me stay on top of my husband’s work schedule too. He often has evening events so I try to cater my meal plan to make sure he gets his favorites when he is home.
    Emily @Random Recycling´s latest post: Monday Menu Plan Dec 10

  23. avatar
    Dawn Yeager says:

    This year has been extremely difficult. To the point of near tears. I had tendon replacement surgery that kept me off of work for NINE months. By the grace of GOD…my employer kept my job…but hours reduced. Every past Christmas has been rib roast and ham. We are not able to do that this year. I have 4 year old son and make everything better. We are are doing a champagne brunch. Eggs Benedict, biscuits and gravy, ham sandwiches, fruit salad, croissants and lots of Christmas cookies. (Everything we are using is on sale in our grocery ad) Despite this being a rugged year, I have never looked forward to any other Christmas as much as I am this one.

    Cheers!

  24. Menu planning is the big one for me! I just have too many other things to think about this time of year to worry about dinner!
    Pam@behealthybehappywellness´s latest post: Building relationships – Traditions

  25. I’ve managed to pretty much use up my freezer stash of pre-prepped meals, so I need to get cracking! Thanks for the nudge.
    Lori @ In My Kitchen, In My Life´s latest post: Past Blast: Reality Check

  26. Great post! I almost couldn’t read the rest of it, though, because I was so excited by the sight of those Christmas tree scones – genius! I was going to be making scones anyway this week – totally going to turn them into Christmas trees now!
    Megan´s latest post: Day 6: Pecan Brittle

  27. Thanks for the reminder on the batch cooking! We did this as we were expecting our births. Makes total sense to do it in preparation for the holidays too.

    Yeah a big chest freezer can serve you well if you know how to stock it in a healthy way.

    Happy holidays everyone!
    Chris´s latest post: What is Unschooling? 3 Reasons Unschooling May Help Your Child Be Happier and Love Learning

  28. If you feel a bit overwhelmed about dinner during the holidays (I’m raising my hand here), then Jessica’s your gal.

  29. avatar
    Hildred Thornhill says:

    I’ve managed to pretty much use up my freezer stash of pre-prepped meals, so I need to get cracking! Thanks for the nudge.

    http://www.mikebjohnson.com/

  30. avatar
    Hildred Thornhill says:

    I usually employ the techniques you have mentioned in this post; except for the meals during Christmas and New Years day of course. I try to make those meals extra special.

    http://www.mikebjohnson.com/

  31. Fantastic tips Jessica. BIG thanks! :)
    Danijela´s latest post: Honey Coffee Recipe

  32. As always, Jessica, great reminders and ideas for keeping sane in the kitchen. I think you can also utilize batch cooking for breakfasts and lunches as well. Having sweet breads, muffins, scones, and breakfast quiche ready to go in the mornings takes out a lot of the stress of the holiday season, too!
    Kelly Wiggains´s latest post: Stocking Stuffers: Our Breakfast of Champions

  33. avatar
    Gwenn Horowitz says:

    A Simpler Season, is chock full of practical ideas to keep you sane.

    http://smartvue.com/

  34. Eating new foods is always interesting. Seeing the photos already gave mouth water and want to try them all.

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