Power Hour Meal Prep

Meal Prep Plan: How I Prep Ahead for the Holidays at Home with My Family

updated Dec 8, 2021
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Power hour meal prep from clockwise top right: Spiced nuts in glass container, Lentil soup in Dutch oven, Short ribs on butcher paper, Frozen gougeres on parchment-lined baking sheet, 4 Mason jars of Morning Glory Overnight Oats
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell
Power Hour Meal Prep

While I’m not traveling this December, the holidays can still be a hectic time of year. That’s why I’m leaning into meal planning to put together family-friendly meals and snacks that make this time feel cozy and celebratory without a lot of last-minute work. With this meal plan and step-by-step prep guide, you’ll prep festive appetizers, satisfying brunches, and a hands-off holiday dinner — and with the upfront prep, you’ll still have plenty of time outside of the kitchen for holiday movie marathons and more family fun.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Design: The Kitchn

Meal Prep Goals

  • Brunch: Cozy and substantial breakfasts to serve mid-morning.
  • Appetizers: Simple and festive snacks and appetizers to serve during holiday movie marathons and family game nights.
  • Dinner: Hearty winter meals that are mostly hands-off, including a special slow cooker holiday meal.
  • Nutritional Goals: This meal plan is all about planning for an intimate week of at-home holiday celebrations, and assumes no dietary restrictions.

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: 4 to 6 people
  • Prep Time: About 2 hours
  • Meals Covered: 6 meals plus 3 festive holiday appetizers
  • Weeknight Cooking Required? Yes, but most ingredients are prepped and ready for the stovetop or oven or require easy supermarket shortcuts.

Meal Plan




Shopping List

The most efficient way to grocery shop is to arrange the list by department. Olive and vegetable oils, kosher salt, and black pepper are staples I always keep on hand and they are not included in the list below. Check your pantry, fridge, and freezer to make sure you are stocked with staples and to set aside ingredients you already have on hand.

Supplement this list with store-bought items like a coffee cake from your grocer’s bakery, yogurt, sandwich fixings, and salad greens to round out the meal plan without adding to your prep list.

  • Deli & Bakery: 1 loaf crusty bread, 1 loaf challah bread
  • Produce: 2 oranges, 1 package fresh thyme (about 10 sprigs), 5 ounces baby kale, 5 ounces baby spinach, 5 carrots, 2 stalks celery, 1 pound cremini mushrooms, 6 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup fresh rosemary, 1 red apple, 1 pound sweet potatoes, 4 yellow onions
  • Dry Goods: 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, 2 tablespoons honey, 2/3 cup maple syrup (plus more for serving), 4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 2 dry bay leaves, 1 tablespoon curry powder, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1/4 cup light brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger, 2 teaspoons ground chipotle powder, 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder, 1 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal, 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 2 boxes low-sodium vegetable broth, 1 cup low-sodium beef broth, 1 pound dried red lentils, 1/2 cup raisins, 4 ounces almonds, 7 ounces pecan halves, 14 ounces whole roasted unsalted cashews, 9 ounces walnut halves, crackers (for serving), 5 ounces dried Mission figs, 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Dairy: 2 dozen large eggs, 8-ounce block brined feta cheese, 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, 2 cups buttermilk, 5 1/2 cups whole milk, 14 ounces Gruyere cheese
  • Meat & Seafood: 1 pound sliced bacon, 3 to 3 1/4 pounds bone-in English-style beef short ribs, 8 ounces thickly sliced pancetta
  • Frozen: 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a 17-ounce box)
  • Alcohol: 3 cups dry red wine

Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done

  1. Make Ina Garten’s Chipotle & Rosemary Spiced Nuts: Heat oven to 350°F. Meanwhile, combine the cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice, and chipotle powder on a rimmed baking sheet and toss to coat. Add half of the fresh rosemary and salt and toss again. Spread into a single layer and roast until glazed and golden brown, tossing twice. Sprinkle with the remaining rosemary and salt, toss, and set aside to cool. Transfer to an airtight container.
  2. Make compote for Roasted Feta Cheese with Fig-Thyme Compote: Combine dried figs, water, honey, and thyme in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer the figs for 15 minutes, then remove figs to a Mason jar. Continue to boil the syrup until reduced to 1/4 cup. Discard the thyme springs and pour the syrup over the softened figs. Set aside to cool, then cover and refrigerate. Rinse out the saucepan.
  3. Make and freeze Gougères: Bring water, butter, salt, and dry mustard to a boil. When the mixture is hot and butter melted, remove the pan from the heat, add the flour, and stir until the mixture comes together. Return the pan to the heat and stir to dry out the dough. Transfer the dough to a stand mixer and beat until it stops steaming and is warm to the touch. Slowly add the eggs, waiting for each to be absorbed before adding the next, then beat in the cheese. Scoop tablespoon-sized portions of dough onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Freeze until solid then transfer to a zip-top bag.
  4. Prep the “Ham and Cheese” Breakfast Casserole: Brown the pancetta in a medium skillet. Remove pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate, then sauté sliced onion until golden-brown in the rendered fat. Combine the onions and pancetta in an airtight container. Whisk eggs, dry mustard, nutmeg, thyme, salt, and pepper together, then transfer to lidded jar and refrigerate. Place 1 cup (4 ounces) grated Gruyere cheese in a container and refrigerate. Dice a loaf of challah bread into 3/4-inch pieces until you have 4 cups of bread. Reserve the remaining loaf for serving with eggs or building sandwiches later in the week. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet to dry overnight. Once dry, store the bread cubes in a zip-top bag on the counter or stash it in the freezer until ready to use.
  5. Make Lentil Soup: Rinse the lentils and prepare the vegetables. Make the soup in a Dutch oven, then move to a back burner to simmer while you move on to the next recipe. Once the lentils are tender, cool the soup completely and refrigerate.
  6. Prep vegetables and cheese for Slow Cooker Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs: Sauté onion, carrot, and celery until soft, then add flour and tomato paste. Cook until darkened in color, then pour in red wine, and scrape brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and add 4 sprigs fresh thyme, and 2 dry bay leaves. Transfer to a large resealable container, and refrigerate.
  7. Prep vegetables for Vegetarian Skillet Pot Pie: Prepare the onion, sweet potatoes, cremini mushrooms, garlic, and thyme according to the recipe. Sauté in a 12-inch cast iron skillet until tender, then transfer to an airtight container.
  8. Prep Buttermilk Pancakes: Combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a Mason jar or other resealable container. Combine the egg yolks, buttermilk, whole milk, and melted, cooled butter in another jar. Seal the egg whites in a third jar. Label all the containers and refrigerate all except the dry ingredients.
  9. Assemble Morning Glory Overnight Oats: Place milk, oats, diced red apple, shredded carrot, raisins, maple syrup, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, and salt together in a large bowl and stir to combine. Divide the mixture between 4 to 6 Mason jars or other resealable containers and refrigerate.
Credit: The Kitchn
Credit: Joe Lingeman


During the holidays, we take mornings rather slowly. Instead of eating immediately after everyone wakes up, we start the coffee pot and gather in the kitchen for brunch instead. Not only does this make mornings feel less hectic than our everyday schedule, but it also means that I don’t have to prep breakfast and lunch — a win-win!

Make-Ahead “Ham and Cheese” Breakfast Casserole: The night before serving, grease a 1 1/2- to 2-quart baking dish. Spread the dried bread cubes in the bottom of the dish (if you’ve frozen the bread cubes, there’s no need to thaw before adding to the baking dish). Top with the pancetta and onions and sprinkle with the Gruyere cheese. Shake or whisk the egg mixture to redistribute the seasonings, then pour into the baking dish. Press the bread cubes down gently, then cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, take the casserole out of the refrigerator and heat the oven to 350°F. Bake uncovered until a knife comes out clean, 35 to 50 minutes.

Morning Glory Overnight Oats: Serve these chewy harvest oats cold from the fridge or pop them in the microwave to take the chill off. Leave jars of walnuts and unsweetened coconut flakes at eye level in the pantry or on the kitchen counter so that the family can serve themselves.

Lofty Buttermilk Pancakes: No holiday is complete without a plate of fluffy pancakes, and I don’t even mind making them since I’ve already measured everything out. Pour the dry ingredients from the jar into a large mixing bowl and add the egg yolk and milk mixture. Once that mixture is just combined, stir in the egg whites. Set aside the bowl of batter and slide a baking sheet of bacon into the oven to crisp. After the last pancake comes out of the skillet, scramble up some eggs with leftover shredded cheese from the fridge.


Gougères: Bake just one (for a special midnight snack!) or the whole batch of gougères to serve the family. Arrange the racks to divide the oven into thirds, then heat the oven to 450°F. Place frozen gougères 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F and bake until golden-brown and dry to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes.

Ina Garten’s Chipotle & Rosemary Spiced Nuts: Nothing more needs to be done to enjoy these savory spiced nuts. Add them to a charcuterie board spread or snack on them during a family board game battle.

Roasted Feta Cheese with Fig-Thyme Compote: Heat the oven to 400°F. Take the compote out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. Remove feta from the brine and rub with olive oil. Place cheese in a small oven-safe dish and bake for 15 minutes. Spoon one-third of the prepared compote over the cheese and garnish with fresh thyme. Serve immediately with crackers. Serve leftover compote with yogurt or oatmeal.


Slow Cooker Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs with Creamy Stovetop Polenta: Instead of serving turkey for yet another holiday meal, serve savory, slow-cooked short ribs and cheesy polenta. Since the flavor is even better the next day, cook the short ribs the day before you plan to serve them. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper and sear until brown on 3 sides, then transfer to a slow cooker. Add the red wine and vegetable mixture and 1 cup low-sodium beef broth to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW until the meat is tender, 8 to 10 hours. Remove the short ribs to a container. Strain the liquid, discarding vegetables and loose bones. Refrigerate the short ribs and sauce together. When ready to serve, scrape off and discard the fat and reheat the short ribs on the stovetop. Meanwhile, prepare the Creamy Stovetop Polenta with shredded Gruyere cheese.

Vegetarian Skillet Pot Pie: Thaw puff pastry according to package directions. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the skillet and return the sautéed vegetables to the skillet to reheat. Add the flour and then slowly pour in the broth, whisking until smooth. Cook, stirring until thickened, then add the baby kale and milk. Unfold pastry and place over the filling. Cut slits in the pastry as vents, then bake until the crust is golden, about 20 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

The Absolute Best Lentil Soup: Reheat servings of the lentil soup. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls and finish with a dollop of yogurt and a sprig of fresh thyme if there’s any left. Serve with a slice of crusty bread.


Power Hour Meal Prep is the series where we help you put it all together. We show you how to eat well during the week with an hour or two of Power Hour prep over the weekend. Every plan is different; mix and match to find your own personal sweet spot.