Holiday Stress? 5 Ways Meal Prep Can Help.

updated Nov 21, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Holiday season can be stressful. Between the office parties, the potlucks, the travel, and the holidays themselves, it can be hard to stay on schedule. You likely need to make giant dishes for multiple events, and you somehow need to cook all the other meals your family needs to eat as well.

That’s why meal prep is your friend. If you’re new to meal prep, the holidays are a great time to try it out. You get the bulk of the week’s cooking done ahead of time, which can make your weekdays simpler and more enjoyable, and help you relax amidst all the rush! 

Here are five basic meal prep strategies to help you survive the holidays, feel more relaxed, and even save time, money, and energy in the process. Who doesn’t love that, right?

Related: My Strategy for Everyday Cooking During the Holiday Season

1. Write a menu.

Since you’ll already have a lot on your plate during the holidays, you want what goes on your literal plate to be simple and easy to assemble. “One way to do that is to make a weekly or monthly meal plan complete with a shopping list,” says Sofia Norton, RD

Shop for ingredients you can stock up on, such as those with a long shelf life, canned goods, frozen ingredients (meats and veggies), dried pulses and legumes, and cereals, she says. A bonus: They’re often very affordable.

2. Make large batches.

The less time spent cooking, the more time spent with friends and family. “Prepare large batches of food, ideally protein mains, that you can use in at least three different recipes,” Norton says. 

For example, if you roast a large chicken on one night, you’ll have leftovers you can use in a variety of ways the next couple of nights. You can also make hard-boiled eggs (that will work for a deviled egg appetizer, but can also make egg salad sandwiches, or go into soups or on salads).

Don’t feel like you need to stick to meats, though. “Plant-based options that can be used with different meals include mashed potatoes, mashed cauliflower, fluffy rice, cooked peas, hummus, and chopped salad,” she says.

3. Get the most from your freezer.

Freezing meals ensures you have a healthy last-minute option available when you most need it. “Meals that freeze well include casseroles, soups, stews, chili, meatballs, and falafel. Thaw them in the fridge, microwave, or oven,” says Norton. She notes that some meals, such as lasagna and pizza, can be frozen before cooking.

You could also freeze fresh vegetables, rather than buying them already frozen. In that case, Norton recommends blanching certain veggies (we do too) before freezing.

4. Don’t be afraid of convenience food.

Most of us who meal prep do so to save money and eat healthfully. Convenience food isn’t exactly something we associate with those things. However, Norton notes “There are ready-made meals that are just as healthy, nutritious, and not at all expensive as homemade stuff.” 

Some options? “Rotisserie chicken, pasta sauce (Rao’s is a great no-sugar option), canned tuna or salmon, and frozen falafel. Many of these foods have a long shelf life, so you can buy them weeks ahead,” she says.

5. Keep it simple.

“Tis not the season to make elaborate meals and start experimenting with new recipes. Stick to staple meals and things you already know how to make during the holidays,” Norton says. You don’t have time to spare correcting cooking mishaps or worrying if a recipe will turn out as delicious as it should.