Thursday, November 29, 2012

Simplifying Your Christmas Meals

It is still 3 1/2 weeks before Christmas.  I have found that successful planning helps to make things run smoothly, especially if you are the one hosting Christmas.  I used to go all out for meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  I spent more money and made a lot more food and plenty of treats as well.  The holidays were a bit stressful.  With all that cooking, came the clean up.  With all the rich food, came the pounds.  Instead of spending most of my time in the kitchen like I used to, I prefer to spend it with family and friends.  But, people need to eat.  There are some things you can do now, so you can minimize the amount of time you spend in the kitchen and limit the amount of money you spend.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER IS THAT PEOPLE ARE COMING TO VISIT WITH YOU, THEY ARE NOT THERE FOR THE FOOD.  People want to feel welcome and that they aren't causing a lot of stress for you.  Do what you need to do so you can ENJOY the holiday WITH them. 

1.  Plan a menu.  Figure out what your holiday budget is for meals.  Figure out how many people will be eating with you.  Figure out how many days they will be staying.  Once you know these three things, you can allocate a certain amount of money per meal or per day so you can prepare something that doesn't bust your budget.

2.  If people are staying more than a couple of days, think about dividing the meals between the people who will be with you.  This way, everyone has a chance to contribute and you won't find yourself exhausted in the kitchen, as you trade between cooking and cleaning all day.  You can even let others choose what meal they want to make and purchase the food for the meal they make. 

3.  If all else fails, head to Costco and serve a lasagna for a meal or some other really easy thing.  You can also have cold cereal available for breakfasts and save time and dishes that way. Some grocery stores offer cooked turkeys, hams or roasts along with sides, etc. for a full meal.  They may not taste as good as homemade, but it will save a lot of time and effort.  I bet your guests would rather have something simple than spend hours helping in the kitchen too.  Communicate with them ahead of time to get a sense of what their preferences are.

4.  Make things ahead of time to save money.  If you like to have homemade bread, rolls, coffee cake, cookies, etc, make them ahead of time.  By doing the work ahead of time, you can have the taste of homemade food, but not be in the kitchen all day with cooking and cleaning up.  If you have some meals that you know will freeze well, now is the time to make them.

5.  Serve easier things.  For example, instead of homemade treats, serve ice cream.  Instead of a sweet potato casserole, serve a salad.  Instead of a fancy jello salad, serve fresh fruit.

6.  Skip some of the side dishes.  It is easy to go overboard during the holidays.  But, if you choose to serve a limited number of side dishes, you won't have as much left to find a place for in the fridge afterwards.  You also will save yourself some money and time by making less.

7.  There is nothing wrong with having tacos or spaghetti for Christmas if you will enjoy your holiday more by doing so.  Remember, it isn't about the food.  Your guests come to see you.  Put a nice centerpiece on the table and keep the meal simple.  Remember the line of the song that goes, "You can't please everyone so you've got to please yourself."

8.  I hate to include this, because it isn't eco-friendly, but consider using paper plates, etc. for some of your meals if you have a crowd.  When you have large groups, there are times when I think it is worth using disposable tableware to save yourself from having to do tons of dishes.  Some families are helpful when they come, but some are not.  Do what you need to do to make it a good experience for everyone.

There are many people who charge up their credit cards to pay for Christmas, and then are left with lots of bills afterwards.  Don't use this same pattern when cooking for people.  Be careful not to spend too much or burn yourself out so you don't even enjoy having people come to your home.  Find a way to work things out for you and for them so you will have good memories and be glad that they came instead grateful that they are gone.  

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