Before you let a long weekend or midweek holiday throw a wrench in your meal planning and prep mojo, consider an adaptable, recipe-less gameplan to prevent weeknight dinner hour panic. This approach works well for those weeks when schedules are unpredictable and helps to reduce the risk of food waste.
Follow these five simple guidelines to keep everyone well fed during off-routine holiday weeks.
1. Jot down a tentative dinner schedule. Consider your plans – travel, parties, picnics, etc. – and base a loose dinner plan around them. Say the July 4th holiday falls mid-week and you’ll be on the road Tuesday and Thursday. I’d plan on cooking just enough dinner on Monday (to prevent leftovers that may be wasted), packing sandwiches for dinner on Tuesday, and stocking up on ingredients for an easy dinner when we arrive back on Thursday (like pre-cooked chicken, steam-in-a-bag broccoli, and microwaved sweet potatoes). We’d write Friday off and plan on pizza or take-out because we’ll all be exhausted by week’s end!
2. Rely on no-recipe meals. This isn’t the time for elaborate recipes. Deli-style sandwiches, breakfast-for-dinner, frittata, pasta with jarred sauce, and unfussy salads are where it’s at. And don’t forget about snack dinners.
3. Buy multi-purpose ingredients. Shop for staples and foods you can use multiple ways. Eggs can become breakfast sandwiches or hard-boiled and mashed into egg salad. Pre-cooked chicken sausage cooks quickly but also has a long fridge shelf life if you don’t end up using it. Seasoned canned beans can be warmed and tucked into tortillas along with shredded cheese (both of which can be frozen if not used). A bag of pre-washed and chopped kale is perfect for salads, can be sauteed down with olive oil and garlic, or frozen if unused for smoothies. Are you sensing a trend here?
4. Skip the major meal prep. The only thing worse than wasted food is wasted food you’ve spent time prepping! Because you’re planning simple, no-recipe meals (see #2) there shouldn’t be a need for a whole lot of chopping. Instead, pick up produce you can prep quickly when it’s time to cook. An uncut bell pepper can last for up to 2 weeks in the crisper drawer while a cut bell pepper will be good for about 3 days.
5. Give yourself a break. Sometimes the stars align, plans go off without a hitch, family get-togethers are harmonious (i.e. Uncle Bob and Uncle Fred don’t rehash their CNN vs. Fox News debate over dinner). And other times, well, not so much. Regardless of the season, holidays can be stressful and less than joyful for many. So serve yourself up a big deserving slice of grace and skip the meal planning altogether. Everyone can survive on PB&Js and Costco pizza for a few days. I promise.
How do you manage meal planning around the holidays?