It’s OK to Outsource Your Holiday Cooking

Simplify your meals and hold onto your sanity

Thinking back to past Thanksgivings, what is the #1 thing that caused you stress? Actually, let me clarify: What was the #1 thing you worried about what it came to food? When it comes to family drama and everything else, I’m sorry, I can’t help. You’re on your own.

But back to the food.

Is it planning the menu? Shopping for ingredients? Timing everything perfectly so it makes it to the table at the same time?

It goes without saying that agreeing to host holiday meals places a lot of stress and pressure on you. Here are a few of my favorite tips to make sure you don't sacrifice your ability to enjoy the holiday just to make sure everyone gets fed!

Plan Your Menu

Just like any less-stress week, holiday meals can be simplified with some advanced planning. After all, we are working on an exact timeline here!

Simplify your menu AND your recipes.

Although we might love the idea of an elaborate meal with multiple show-stopping dishes, the reality is the more complex your menu and recipes are, the more time and effort goes into them. If you want to feature a new recipe, introduce one or two exciting dishes and stick to the classics for the rest.

The same goes for ingredients and flavors. If we're being honest, your uncle is probably not going to notice the difference if you busted your butt on a gourmet version of mashed sweet potatoes. Save that effort for smaller meals or dinner parties!

Plan more than just your menu.

You may have read that as take on more work than you originally agreed to. But hear me out!

This refers to delegating tasks and recruiting some help. If you're hosting holiday meals, you likely know of at least a few people planning to attend who would be willing and able to lend a hand. You could plan to ask them to bring a side dish in a crockpot (save valuable oven space or stovetop space AND time) or arrive a little early to help coordinate the cooking.

In the season of gratitude and giving back, I find that many people are willing to step up so don't be shy about asking for what you need.

Plan to make less.

Don't get me wrong, I love my leftovers and so does my family. But there comes a point when it just becomes too much.

If you're planning to feed a set number of people, try to estimate how much will actually get eaten and scale your recipes based on that. If the thought of eating the same leftovers day after day or struggling to find creating ways to repurpose them brings stress, plan to cook smaller quantities of each dish.

Added bonus: you might end up with less food waste and save a little money on your grocery bill!

Shopping for Ingredients

One you sufficiently plan your menu, it’s time to start buying ingredients. Here's how I like to approach things:

Consolidate your trips.

Ain't nobody got time to be driving all over town to hit every specialty grocer or market in a 30-mile radius. Although it can be fun to seek out unique ingredients, it adds stress when you're trying to fight traffic and beat the clock to source a handful of ingredients.

Review your recipes and see what can be swapped for a more readily available item and make as few trips to your familiar grocery store as possible.

Shop your pantry, fridge, and freezer.

This is my downfall. I often forget to check to see what I already have before I write my list and head to the store. Once, in the not-so-distant past, I ended up with four open canisters of oats. Don't be like me! Check to see what you already have that can be used for your holiday meals.

Include your non-food items on the list.

Take another quick inventory to see what you might need in addition to your ingredients. Would it help to have an extra cutting board or two? Would it save you a trip if you grabbed an extra roll of trash bags?

Do your best to think ahead for what you might need or want on the big day and it might save you from making a frantic 10:00 pm dash to the store the night before your holiday meals.

It's OK to Outsource

If it still feels overwhelming to manage it all, give yourself a little grace. Although we might feel pressure to put together a perfect meal from scratch every time, no rule that says we have to do that.

There's nothing wrong with cutting corners in order to maintain your sanity this holiday season. It's tough to make memories with people we care about when you're feeling too stressed to enjoy the moment.

Say it with me now: Most people won't mind if you go the store-bought route. They’re thankful they don’t have to do it themselves.

For that reason, I sometimes turn to my local grocery store deli to help me out a little bit. These are some of the things I picked up last year that I’m planning on repeating this year.

Green Beans with Crispy Garlic and Parsley

Green beans are a perfect candidate for crockpot reheating. I simply add a small amount of veggie broth to the bottom of my crockpot, add the green beans to fill it 3/4 of the way, and leave it on “low” a few hours before the meal is served. I also add slivered almonds for a little crunch factor.

Roasted Rainbow Carrots with Sauerkraut

When oven space is limited, opt for side dishes that are pre-cooked but just need reheating. After the turkey (or ham, or turducken, or whatever) comes out to rest, you have a window of time to reheat or crisp up your other sides. I spread roasted carrots on a sheet pan and they ended up being hot, but not overcooked, just in time for serving.

Creamed Spinach and Kale

Know someone who just doesn't think the meal is complete without that one side dish no one else cares about?

Um, wait. That person is me.

I adore creamed spinach but it's not as popular with other family members. If you want to enjoy something similar in a smaller quantity, outsourcing is a great idea because you aren't committed to making a full-blown batch for only a few people to enjoy.

Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pepitas

Worried there won't be enough? Outsource and have a little extra on hand!

That's what we do with Brussels sprouts. My immediate family loves them enough I have no worries about them eating everything I make. But when we serve a bigger crowd, I'm not sure if they'll go for them or not. So I prep what I know will get eaten, but reserve a little extra in the fridge that can be pulled out just in case.

And, worse-case scenario, if they don't get eaten that day they're one of those leftover options that will definitely get eaten up before they go to waste.

I hope these tips help ease your stress if you've signed on to host holiday meals this year. If you're simply showing up to someone else's feast, you're off the hook!

Not really, I mean, showing up with a bottle of wine is never a bad idea *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*

Lover of carbs and puns, call me Cara Carbstreet | Anxious Millennial | Coffee Enthusiast | Non-diet Dietitian

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