How to Meal Plan for the Holidays like a Minimalist

How to Meal Plan for the Holidays like a Minimalist

Meal Planning at any time can be challenging…

But Meal Planning during the holidays can be downright stressful!

Not only are there usually more people that you are cooking for, but you are often hosting for multiple days at a time.

So how do you set up a killer meal plan that your family will love, without making yourself go crazy with all the extra work?

It’s not as hard as you think!

Here’s how it’s done:

How to Meal Plan for the Holidays

1) Stick With The Routine

Breakfasts

If you typically use a simple weekday breakfast every day of the week, like I recommend in this post, then continue doing that!

You don’t have to prepare fancy breakfasts every day just because you have a company.

If you like to do more elaborate breakfasts on the weekend as I talk about in this post, go ahead and do that if you’d like, but don’t make things too complicated!

Since you will be doing a lot more cooking than usual during the holidays, I recommend doing easy breakfasts every day (aside from maybe a special brunch on Christmas Day.)

How to Have a Simple and Stress-Free Holiday Meal Plan that your Guests will Love!

Lunches

If you eat leftovers for lunch every weekday as I recommend in this post and this one, you can still continue to do this when you have company there.

Especially since you will be putting in all the work of making delicious food every evening, it doesn’t hurt to get two meals out of each time you cook!

Just have an alternate easy meal ready for lunch each day that you have guests.. just in case you do not have enough leftovers.

Here are some examples of easy lunches that you can have on stand-by if needed:

  • Sandwiches
  • Salads
  • Casseroles
  • Soups
  • And any other Meals that are Easy to Make!

If you don’t end up using the easy meal for lunches because you had plenty of leftovers, use the food for dinners the following week after everyone leaves… then you can save yourself a trip to the grocery store and a bunch of extra time in the kitchen after a busy holiday… you’re welcome.

Dinner

If you are using my Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning Technique and have created Theme Nights for every night of the week, don’t throw your plan out the window just because you have extra company… use it to your advantage.

Other than the specific holiday, like Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, keep all of your theme nights the same.

So if I were hosting the Thanksgiving Weekend at our house, it would look like this:

  • Thanksgiving Day: Special Holiday Family Meal
  • Friday Night: Build-It-Meal Night
  • Saturday Night: Dips and Chips/Crackers
  • Sunday Night: Family Favorites Night

So the only night of the week that changed was the Thanksgiving night meal.

When we have Christmas at our house, I like to do a special dinner on Christmas Eve, but I keep the other meals the same on Christmas Eve.

When we host Christmas Day, I like to have a special brunch in the morning, a light lunch, and a bigger holiday dinner. Or we will have Christmas “Dinner” around lunchtime and have a light supper… it isn’t always the same every year, but it is generally one of those two options!

2) Plan The Holiday Meal(s)

Look at How Many People are Coming

Take into account how many guests you will have for the big holiday meal… Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Dinner, Christmas Eve Dinner…etc.

Do a headcount and figure out how many people will be joining you for the meal.

Decide How Elaborate You Want to Be

Just because it is Thanksgiving or Christmas or whatever other holiday you are celebrating, doesn’t mean that you have to spend a day, or week, or month preparing for the dinner.

If your family loves pizza, and you want to eat that for your holiday dinner, so be it!

We like to get takeout Thai food or Chinese food on Christmas Eve because I will be cooking a lot the following day. (And because we love Thai and Chinese food… who am I kidding!)

Don’t feel like you have to follow any sort of rules, just do what works well for your family!

Create a Minimalist Holiday Meal Plan that Your Guests Will Love

Decide on Your Main Dish

If you are having an involved meal (that is something more than takeout or pizza ;)), then you will want to decide on your main dish first.

Unless you adore cooking, I suggest only making one main dish (unless you can outsource as second main dish, see number 3 down below!).

Our main dish for all of our holiday meals is a vegan Special K Loaf. It’s a family favorite at our house and it goes well with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and traditional holiday side dishes.

Think About Your Side Dishes

You may feel like you have to have all the sides, especially if you are planning a traditional holiday meal… but side dishes are optional!

Think about which side dishes are important for you. Then throw out everything that you don’t love to eat or want to make (unless you can outsource it, see number 3 down below!).

Some side dishes that we love to have every holiday meal are:

  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Green Bean Casserole
  • Cranberry Sauce

Decide on Dessert

Decide on how many desserts and which desserts you would like to eat at your holiday meal (and throughout the weekend ;).

My must-have holiday dessert is an ah-MA-zing Key Lime Pie that my mom makes (if you aren’t afraid of making complicated healthy desserts, check this cookbook out! Everything we’ve tried out of it is divine.)

Most people like to have a few different options for dessert, but desserts can take a lot of time, energy, and oven space to make.

One easy way to have a lot of variety with your dessert is to have each family that is coming be responsible for providing one dessert in addition to anything else that they are bringing.

This also ensures that every family will have their favorite and no one will complain that you didn’t make their favorite dessert because they could have brought it themselves!

3) Determine Who Is Cooking What

Decide What You Are Making

When you are hosting, you get the first pick of what you want to make (yay!).

Many hosts like to provide the main dish, but it isn’t a must, especially if you know someone else who would enjoy making the main dish and do a great job with it.

After you decide if you are going to make the main dish or not, choose any side dishes that you want to make.

How to Create a Simple Holiday Meal Plan Your Family Will Love

Ask For Help

Since most people don’t enjoy making decisions, instead of asking people what they want to bring, tell them what would be helpful for them to contribute to the meal.

Try to assign dishes to people who would be good at making them.

I always have my mom make the desserts because she does an amazing job and she is able to make desserts that fit with my wacky diet (vegan and sugar-free isn’t easy for most people to navigate!)

If someone coming doesn’t enjoy cooking, ask them to bring a salad or store-bought desserts.

But remember not to overload your guests. They may want to take a break from cooking if they are not hosting!

I find it helpful to list out all of the dishes that you want to have on a piece of paper and write down who will be in charge of each one.

Now send those texts or make phone calls to let people know what you want them to bring!

Decide What You Are Buying

If you aren’t able to make or delegate all of your dishes (or you just want a break from cooking altogether!) you can purchase just about anything that you want for your holiday meal at most grocery stores.

But be sure to order in advance so that you don’t have to worry about things being out of stock on the busiest grocery days of the year.

And that’s all it takes to create your amazing holiday weekend meal plan!

I’d love to hear what you are going to have for your holiday meal! Let me know in the comments below!

Ready to Stop Feeling Stressed About Meal Planning?

Then check out Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning!

In Set-it-and-Forget-it Meal Planning, you will learn how to 

  • Create a Breakfast Rotation
  • Create a Lunch Rotation
  • Create a Snack Rotation
  • Choose Theme Nights
  • Create Rotations for Each Theme Night
  • Fill in Your Meal Planning Calendar

Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning walks you through my unique method for setting up your meal plan so you will never have to start from square one again!

Plus you will receive the Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning Workbook and Spreadsheet and email support from me anytime you have questions.

I hope to see you inside the course!

(Or if you are more of a do-it-yourself kind of gal, you can check out my DIY Meal Planning Resources!)

How to Have an Awesome Meal Olan for the Holidays

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  • Create a Set-It-and-Forget-It Meal Plan
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Want 7 Extra Hours Every Week? Grab the Streamline Your Home Quick-Start Guide!

You May Also Enjoy…

If you’d like to set up your own weekly theme nights, check out The Secret to Meal Planning for the Absolute Beginner | Plus 50 Theme Night Ideas for Your Meal Plan.

If you want a step-by-step guide for setting up your meal plan, check out How to Begin Meal Planning When You Don’t Know Where to Start.

For ideas about how to eat everything you buy, read How to Work Leftovers into Your Meal Plan.

If you want to learn more about Decision Fatigue, check out Why Is Meal Planning so Difficult.

For Quick, Healthy Breakfast Ideas, read How to Get Started Planning Quick Healthy Breakfasts.

See you on the next one! Kassy
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How to Have an Awesome Meal Plan for the Holidays When you are having company.
10 Tips for Creating an Awesome Meal Plan for the Holidays
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How to Have An Awesome Meal Plan for the Holidays
How to Begin Meal Planning… When You Don’t Know Where to Start!

How to Begin Meal Planning… When You Don’t Know Where to Start!

Meal Planning for Beginners

So you know that choosing a few recipes in advance and writing out your shopping lists before you get to the store would probably make your life easier and save you money… but where do you start?

There are so many different ideas and suggestions out there that trying to figure out just how you should meal plan can be overwhelming… and that’s before you even get started deciding what to make.

Even if you do manage to narrow down which method you want to use for planning your meals, how are you supposed to decide which meals you are going to make.

With so many options for every aspect of meal planning, it can be a little… stressful.

But more stress is the last thing moms need in their lives!

Meal planning isn’t supposed to be complicated or confusing, it is supposed to make our lives easier and less complicated.

In this post, I’m going to show you how to create a simple meal plan that will help you save time, save money, and help you eat healthier.

And, just because I like you, I’ll even include the secret that helps me meal plan for my entire year in just a couple of hours

(If you don’t like to wait, the big secret is in #8!)

If you prefer to watch instead of read, here is the video that goes with this post!)

How to Begin Meal Planning

1) Have a Realistic Goal

It can be tempting to decide to try a new diet and only eat non-processed, organically- grown, sugar-free food as you are scrolling through Pinterest for recipe ideas. But I would recommend starting with how you currently eat.

If you want to start eating healthier, that’s awesome! But maybe just choose just one area to improve on to start with. Your goal for your first menu plan could just be to eat less processed food. 

Once you get comfortable with meal planning, you can add more dietary enhancements if you would like. But go slowly. Your family will thank you for not trying too many things at once… and you’ll be less likely to stick with the plan!

2) Get Your Gear Ready

Before I get to work, I grab my Set-It-And-Forget-It Google Spreadsheet, my Set-It-And-Forget-It Printable Workbook and Meal Planning Calendar (or if you aren’t a fan of my calendar, this was my favorite meal planning calendar before I created my own), My Favorite Cookbooks, and some Fun Pens.

If you are new to meal planning and you have a hard time coming up with ideas for your meals, theme nights, or rotations (that will make more sense as you continue through this post :), check out Meal Planning Magic where you get

EVERYTHING from the Set It and Forget It Spreadsheet PLUS…

  • 1, 2, & 4 Week Pre-Made Breakfast Rotations
  • 1, 2, & 4 Week Pre-Made Lunch Rotations
  • 1, 2, & 4 Week Pre-Made Snack Rotations
  • 40+ Dinner Theme Night Ideas
  • 40+ Plug and Play Dinner Rotations
  • 700+ Links to Amazing Recipes

Or if you just need a little help getting started, this free meal planning checklist will do just that!

3) Choose the Duration of Your Plan

If this is your first time meal planning, I recommend trying a two-week plan.

It is fairly easy to come up with meals for two weeks, and it is a short enough time that it is easy to stick with!

Plus, if you don’t have time to meal plan at the end of your two weeks, just start over at the beginning, and no one will know the difference. Your secret is safe with me!

You can choose any time frame you like, from one week to one year! 

4) Choose One Breakfast

How to Start Meal Planning Like a Boss

Pick your favorite easy breakfast and eat it every day.

Seriously. 

In our house we eat oatmeal every day of the week, except for Sunday.  

We mix it up with different fruits, seeds, and nuts mixed in; and sometimes we have a piece of toast or an egg with it, but the main component of our breakfast is reliable.

Why keep it simple in the mornings?

Mornings are usually when people have the least amount of time to cook, the least energy to make decisions, and kids are the most anxious to eat. 

Plus it’s one less decision I am required to make for my menu plan.

If you feel like mixing it up on the weekends with something more fancy or fun, go for it! But if not, there is no shame in doing the same breakfast every day of the week.

Sunday morning is our special brunch day where we make something a little more elaborate. The best part is that Ross makes it with the girls! 

Pro Tip: If your spouse likes to cook (or even if they don’t :), see if they would be willing to get involved with the cooking at least one meal on the weekends.

If you need some help coming up with quick, healthy breakfast ideas, check out my post,  Weekly Meal Planning for Beginners: How to Get Started Planning Quick Healthy Breakfasts.

Want 7 Extra Hours Every Week? Grab the Streamline Your Home Quick-Start Guide!

5) Make Lunch Easy

In our house, we eat the previous evening’s leftovers for lunch

Each night when I’m saving the leftovers, I put them into two containers: one for my husband to take to work, and one for the kids and me to eat the next day for lunch.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that! To ensure that I have leftovers, I usually double or one-and-a-half each recipe to be sure that I have enough for two full meals.

While I love the ease of leftovers, there are also many great salad and sandwich options that are easy to make and take wherever you are heading. 

Just make it easy on yourself!

This video has easy Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner ideas that you can prep the night before!

6) Plan for Afternoon Snacks

If you have kids in your house, you may want to plan out what the afternoon snack will be.

This could easily be the same thing every day just like we talked about with Breakfast and Lunch, just be sure it isn’t too filling or too late in the day or you will struggle getting them to eat supper.

We do our afternoon snack around 3:30 pm.

I don’t plan exactly what they will eat each day. Instead I have an array of fruits, vegetables, and nuts on hand and let the kids choose what they are in the mood for. I just have to pick up the options for them when I am grocery shopping.

They enjoy making this decision since I choose what we have for dinner each evening.

The Easiest Way to Start Meal Planning for Busy Moms

7) Start With Your Favorites

You are more likely to stick with your menu plan if you (and your family) enjoy the meals you are going to create. Choose a “Family Favorites” day each week. 

You can always do Family Favorites on Friday evenings as a fun way to start of the weekend.

Now take your family’s favorite meals and plug it into the calendar (it’s ok to use the same one every week, kids love family traditions!)

8) Pick Your Weeknight Meals

Think of meals that are quick, tasty, and are easy to clean up. Grab your go-to cookbook (I like The Revive Cafe cookbooks) and start plugging in recipes. 

I recommend choosing dishes that you already know for most weeknight meals. (I don’t know about you, but it always takes me a little longer to make a new dish when I need to keep checking a recipe.)

I find it helpful to have a theme assigned to each night of the week. Then I know what I am looking for as I go through my cookbooks and Pinterest Board. 

Having theme nights saves me SO. MUCH. TIME.

Check out 50 Theme Night Ideas for your Meal Plan if you want some ideas for which theme nights you should choose for your family!

Our Weekly Themes Are:

Sunday: Family Favorites: Time-Intensive

Monday: Family Favorites: Quick and Easy

Tuesday: Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

Wednesday: Try a New Meal Night

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: Build-It Meals

Saturday: Haystacks

I love having at least one night every week dedicated to leftovers. It’s Thursday night in our house because I like to have room in my fridge before I start the weekend (we make a lot of fun food on the weekends!). 

Since my oldest has swimming lessons every Tuesday and Thursday, I put my easiest meals on those days because I don’t have much time to cook.

Pro Tip: Keep your weekly schedule in mind when you are picking your Theme Nights and/or Meals.

9) Decide if You Want to Try New Recipes

If you don’t enjoy trying new meals, you can skip to #10. But my favorite part of meal planning is deciding what new meals I want to try.

 If you enjoy trying new meals too, I recommend choosing one day each week to be your “Try a New Recipe Day.”

In my house this is Wednesday evening because it tends to be the day that I have the most time to prepare dinner during the week. You may want to do this on Saturday or Sunday if your weekdays are too busy.

Now grab your cookbooks or look on Pinterest and find a new recipe to try. If you have too many recipes that you want try… close your eyes, open the book, and point! What’s the worst thing that could happen?

I usually just go to the beginning of my cookbook and choose the first recipe that I haven’t tried yet if I’m stuck.

10) Choose Your Weekend Meals

The Busy Mom's Guide to Meal Planning

Next look at your typical weekend. What’s it like? Do you typically relax at home with plenty of time to do a special meal? Or do you run from one activity to another?

If you have lazy weekends, plan some fun family favorites for your meals that may take a little bit more time to make. We love making pasta from scratch on lazy Sundays.

If you have busy weekends, choose a few fun sack lunches that you can easily prepare on Friday evenings. 

Do some looking on Pinterest, or ask a friend; try to think outside the sandwich!

Last year we had a picnic at a park for my my oldest daughter’s birthday. One of our friends brought homemade burritos. I had never thought of burritos as a sack lunch before, but it was a great mess-free idea.

11) Write Your List and Go Shopping

Before you leave for the grocery store excited to get ingredients for your new meal plan, take inventory and make a list. Go through each recipe and check your pantry and fridge for the ingredients first. 

While it will take a little longer to get out the door, it will be worth the time you spent when you aren’t playing a guessing game at the store or spending money you don’t have on ingredients you don’t need.

Now that you have your list, don’t forget to take it out of your purse at the store and use it. I always take a pen with me to cross things off and stay organized.

If you organize your list by sections, you will save even more time when you are shopping!

12) Have Fun!

Don’t stress out if things don’t go perfectly the first couple of weeks. It takes time to find your groove. Learning is half the fun!

You May Also Like…

If you want a more in-depth walkthrough of how I meal plan, check out this 6-part Youtube Series I did on Meal Planning!

Want a different way to Meal Plan? Here’s The Ultimate Guide to Seasonal Meal Planning.

Want to take saving money with meal planning even further? Check out 37 Ways to Save Money on Groceries.

Not sure if Meal Planning will work for you? Read The Pro’s and Con’s of Meal Planning for Moms: How to Know if Meal Planning is Right for You!

Ready to Stop Feeling Stressed About Meal Planning?

Then check out Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning!

In Set-it-and-Forget-it Meal Planning, you will learn how to 

  • Create a Breakfast Rotation
  • Create a Lunch Rotation
  • Create a Snack Rotation
  • Choose Theme Nights
  • Create Rotations for Each Theme Night
  • Fill in Your Meal Planning Calendar

Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning walks you through my unique method for setting up your meal plan so you will never have to start from square one again!

Plus you will receive the Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning Workbook and Spreadsheet and email support from me anytime you have questions.

I hope to see you inside the course!

(Or if you are more of a do-it-yourself kind of gal, you can check out my DIY Meal Planning Resources!)

See you on the next one, Kassy
How to Begin Meal Planning for Busy Moms