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Planning ahead can reduce your stress about a big holiday meal. Check out the timeline to get going on the holiday prep now!

Stress Less, Plan Ahead for Thanksgiving

by Katie Cullum

For most Americans, the holiday season starts with Halloween and goes through New Years Day. This is a very stressful time of the year because everyone has so much to do planning meals for the holidays, gift giving, shopping, and even just finding things in the stores! 

If you are not careful, you can over extend yourself in time, money, and energy.  So let’s find some ways to help you plan for the holidays so that you can reduce the stress of the holiday season and be able to enjoy this time with your friends and family.

  • How early do you begin to plan for the holidays? This year, we are starting early!  I've already bought ham and put in the freezer.  We're looking at the Christmas lists and planning to buy early. 
  • When do you start making your grocery list for holidays meals and goodies?  I've already starting purchasing some of the non-perishables like canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, flour, and sugar. You don't have to wait to purchase - when you find it, buy it!
  • What foods to you really like to make? What foods are a MUST to make?  I enjoy making Aunt Bessye's Sour Cream Pound Cake and Grandma's Orange Slice Cake (but not for the same holiday).  I also like Grandmother's Dressing, Mom's Fruit Salad, and Aunt Chris's Teacakes.  I also enjoy sharing some pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins.  But I can't make all of that in one day or even for one holiday.  So plan what foods you'll make for each holiday.  

Plan Your Menus 

  1. Determine what your menu will be and what you will be preparing for gifts. Why not plan for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s?  The stores will begin to have specials on some foods that are used in holiday festivities, such as turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, etc.  Keep an eye on newspaper ads and purchase the items you will be using to prepare these meals.  Many of the things may be on sale a month or more before the holidays, so purchase them and freeze them for the holidays.  This is also a good time to purchase extra sugar, flour, etc. that you may need to do your holiday baking.  If you are giving cookies, cakes, or breads for gifts, why not buy the ingredients when they are on sale and start baking early?  Freeze the baked goods (cookies, breads and cakes can be made and frozen a month in advance). Check out the free Timeline Download below!

  2. Gather some recipes that can make use of leftovers Casserole and salad recipes, such as Turkey Tetrazzini or Ham Salad, are some good choices for using leftovers.  With recipes for leftovers gathered, you can check the cupboards for what you already have on hand and then purchase items that you need to make the dish.

    Clean out the fridge and organize it!
  3. You will need to clean and organize the refrigerator before doing a lot of the shopping for the holidays.  You will want to make sure that you have enough room in the freezer for the foods you can prepare in advance and freeze. You’ll also need the refrigerator to have room for the things that will need to be prepared closer to the time of the meal (and for the thawing that may need to be done).  You do not need to buy more than you have storage space.

  4. Some preparation can be done several days before the holidays such as chopping onions & celery, baking the cornbread and crumbling it for the dressing.  These things can be stored in bags in the refrigerator and not take up as much room as bowls.  This is also a good time to make the marinated or congealed salad as well as to set the turkey in the bottom of refrigerator to thaw. Check out the Timeline for specifics! 
best price sign
Is it really the best price?  Stores try to trick you into thinking things are on sale when they really aren't.

Grocery Shopping Tips

Now that you have your plan, it's time to start shopping!  Take advice from Santa though - "Make your list and check it twice!"  

  1. Make your meal plan(s).  You may need to think about more than just the big meal.  What about the day before? The day after?  Breakfast?  List the ingredients you will need for all of the recipes for each meal and see what you have on hand and what you will need to purchase.  If you start purchasing a few of the things you will need several weeks in advance, you will save money at the store and not ruin your food budget. It is easier to buy a few extras each week and it does not do the damage to your food budget as if you wait and do all the shopping the holidays the week of the family gathering.  You may need to label the extra ingredients or put in a special place so that you or other family members won’t use them up before you plan.

  2. Check the sale ads for items you will need for your holiday preparations and purchase what you will need when it is on sale.  Many stores start running specials on things you’ll need.  Be sure and mark off what you have purchased and have on hand.  Only buy what you’ll need – do you really need 5 cans of pumpkin (if you can even find that many)?

  3. Make sure you have enough zip-closed bags, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap for store of foods and for preparation.  Don’t forget a supply of paper towels will come in handy for the holidays. If you'd rather save money and paper, plan on using a lot of kitchen towels! You'll need enough clean towels to use several a day.

  4. Purchase only what you have on your grocery list each week.  There are many things displayed during the holidays that catch your attention when shopping, but these items can really increase our grocery bill.  Some of these conveniences come with a high price tag (even more so this year) and we could save money if we would use what we have on hand or even prepare some of the convenience foods from scratch. Check back soon for tips on making from scratch!
Download this handy-dandy Timeline - you'll know exactly when do things and you won't forget something important like thawing that turkey or ham!


Don't miss my other posts in this series!

Make Ahead Desserts

Make Ahead Bread


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