Feast Without Frenzy: Plan Ahead

Mention the phrase “meal plan” and you’ll likely hear a litany of reasons for why there’s no time. Yet even 15 minutes to plan ahead can help you set a simple framework that will make your holiday feast less stressful. Here are three steps to crafting a plan for your holiday meals.

feast-without-frenzy-plan-aheadStep 1 — Brainstorm. I always like to start my meals planning with a fun brainstorming session. Pen and paper in hand (and often a glass of wine too), I jot down recipes that have caught my eye and ideas I’ve been wanting to try. Right now, my menus for Christmas week include “awesome potato something,” “duck confit” and “winter salad with persimmons, pomegranate and frisée.” And I’ll continue to add to the general list as my family’s arrival date draws near. Let yourself get creative during this stage; part of its purpose is to get you excited about cooking rather than dreading what’s ahead.

Step 2 — Fit the pieces together. Once you have a list of recipes you’d like to make, it’s time to assign what to when. Make a rough grid—either on a pad of paper or on your computer—with the days of the big gathering on the top and the meals of the day on the left. Fill in the big meals and work backwards, fitting in dishes like pieces of a puzzle. Think about the logistics not just of the big feast, but of each day surrounding it. On a busy day, go with an easy pasta or stir-fry for dinner. If you’ve got a game-night planned, put a pork shoulder in the oven for tomorrow’s lunch. Follow a heavier day with lighter soups and salads. The idea is to strike a balance–of filling and light, of fancy and casual, of complex and super-quick–so your meals complement the dynamics of the days rather than becoming stressful to-dos.

Step 3 — Make an initial list. Once you’ve brainstormed and fit your pieces together (and don’t be shy about crossing out and shifting around . . . this is a work in progress, after all), make a quick list of the major items you’ll need. You can work out specifics as the dates approach, but having a rough idea of what’s ahead can help prevent being stuck without eggs, or ripe pears or avocados, or a special cut of meat come mealtime.

This week, bring a bit of goodness and light to your gathering by taking some time to plan out your holiday meals.

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11 Replies to “Feast Without Frenzy: Plan Ahead”

  1. What a great idea to keep the creative juices flowing, have fun and de-stress the planning. What would you like in your wine glass tonight? Ok, I’ll admit, I can’t wait for the duck confit! I’m thinking Grenache, Mourvedre or Syrah… ooh, that’s gonna be a tough choice, I better start noodling it now.

  2. I like to plan ahead, too, and get a lot of joy doing it. I also save my menu lists in a special file in my (giant) recipe file boxes: Holiday Menus. That got me started for Thanksgiving this year.

    Question: What about when you’re a guest a) in someone’s house for the holiday? Call or email to find out what we can bring is all I’ve come up with. Your post has got me thinking about things I like to eat and share that I can make ahead and/or which store or travel well.

    Another question: We’re going to be at a condo at Part 2 of our winter holidays – I’m planning to shop locally and delicately confer with our friends (my son’s girlfriend’s family!) about us maybe hosting them for a meal at our place or cooking something to bring to their place. Any other ideas?

  3. I like to plan ahead, too, and get a lot of joy doing it. I also save my menu lists in a special file in my (giant) recipe file boxes: Holiday Menus. That got me started for Thanksgiving this year.

    Question A: What about when you’re a guest in someone’s house for the holiday? Call or email to find out what we can bring is all I’ve come up with. Your post has got me thinking about things I like to eat and share that I can make ahead and/or which store or travel well.

    Question B: We’re going to be at a condo at Part 2 of our winter holidays – I’m planning to shop locally and delicately confer with our friends (my son’s girlfriend’s family!) about us maybe hosting them for a meal at our place or cooking something to bring to their place. Any other ideas?

  4. I don’t plan ahead as far as I’d like – maybe it will be a good New Year’s habit.

    The carnitas recipe sounds delicious. It’s something I haven’t tried making because it always seems so complicated (and I can’t fry anything to save my soul). My husband loves carnitas.

  5. Pat . . . so true, and it IS fun to take even just a sliver of time to let your mind wander around food. Amazing what a difference it makes. I also keep a spiral notebook in the kitchen for my brainstorming, so I don’t (frustratedly) have to search for all the scraps of paper I jotted on.

    Cara . . . I think you’ll really like this recipe. No frying–until the very end if you want to pan-fry a few chunks to get them all crispy on the outside. But that’s as easy as sauteing. Enjoy!

    Lyra . . . I think your ideas for both A and B are good. And, going back to the getting excited about planning ahead thing, you may want to do it sooner rather than later. That way the people you’re sharing with will know you’re excited about it and you’ll be able to gauge how involved they want to get in directing you. For your time at the condo, maybe even offer to host one dinner at “your place” and cook another one together at theirs? Fun!

    Christopher . . . Um, hello, what about Cab Franc? 😉

  6. Yum – that looks good. We were given a large bag of homemade beef tamales and homemade mole by a co-worker of mine. She is an awesome Hispanic cook. I have to say – both were better than mine! I limited myself to two and tried to eat slowly.

    I don’t plan ahead. But then we don’t ever host. Our meals are always at the ranch. So, we bring whatever they tell us to bring. Of course I try to think of new things to bring.

    I’ll definitely try the carnitas.

    steph

  7. Hi Lia,
    Great suggestions. OK, here’s another question – how do I delete the first comment I made?! Somehow, I thought I had…guess not! Cheers.

  8. I really cannot believe how easy this was to cook, and how delicious. Feel like I have wasted years of my life not feeding myself and others this super satisfying meal. I had it the first night as part of a very simple but amazing taco salad, then the next night with mashed potatoes and a ton of sauteed veggies. The rest is in the freezer. Psyched. Thanks Lia!

  9. Pingback: Nourishing Resolutions: Plan Ahead in 4 Steps! | Nourish Network

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