With Thanksgiving and the December holidays upon us and the CDC lobbying for small gatherings, many families are having to adjust their menus. Ordinarily, extended families gather and attendees from multiple households divide up the preparation—someone brings the vegetable dishes, the potatoes, the desserts—but that is not happening for most of us this year.
Here are some tips for simplifying meal prep on the “actual” day:
• Do you need to cook a whole turkey for just a few people? If your immediate family prefers white meat, consider a turkey breast. If they like dark meat, there are some great turkey leg recipes. Herb-roasted turkey breast or turkey legs can even be done in the slow cooker!
• Evaluate how many side dishes you really need. If you aren’t feeding a big crowd, can you simplify and skip a labor-intensive side dish or replace it with a simpler vegetable?
• Many vegetable casseroles can be assembled ahead of time and cooked the day of the meal or can be cooked ahead of time and reheated in the serving dish. If you are making dressing for a turkey dinner, it actually tastes better if you let the flavors blend overnight!
• To free up oven space, cook some recipes in your crockpot or Instant pot. Sweet potatoes are ideal for this kind of prep and even green beans for the traditional green bean casserole can be cooked in the slow cooker and topped with the crispy fried onions for a final few minutes in the oven while the turkey is resting before carving.
• Things to buy this year, instead of making them from scratch: dinner rolls, pie crusts or phyllo dough for tarts, ice cream, pumpkin puree for pies (maybe even store-bought pies!), etc.
The point is that this has been a stressful year, so make a conscious decision to simplify some of the things you can control by preparing less elaborate holiday meals—especially if others who usually help cannot participate this year. Enjoy time with those who join you, whether in person, by Zoom or on a phone call. We have much to be thankful for, so let’s focus on that!