9 Holiday Meal Prepping Hacks
The time for toasting, roasting, and having a merry time is upon us. Between spending longer hours at the office before taking time off and preparing your home for guests, the checklist for the holidays can feel daunting. While the holidays are a notorious stress inducer, it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. The secret to reclaiming the holidays as the peaceful time it’s meant to be could just be a meal prep away—because let’s be honest, the food (and loved ones, of course) are what it’s all about.
Whether it’s for a holiday gathering or the sleepy days that fall on either side of a get-together, meal prepping for the whole family can act like a life preserver that keeps you afloat during the frenzy. Not only can getting into a meal-prepping groove help take some pressure off your holiday season, studies show it’s also associated with healthier eating habits. This may be due in part to the way that meal prepping can help circumvent something called “decision fatigue.” It seems that from the moment we open our eyes, we’re faced with a myriad of decisions that we must make to continue moving through our day. By the time it’s 6pm on a Wednesday, you might be more lenient with what you allow on your dinner plate in lieu of having to make yet another game-time decision.
To serve you through the holidays and beyond, here are four simple steps for getting into a solid meal prepping routine:
1. Know your favorites. With studies showing that routines can help lessen decision fatigue, having some staple meals or superfoods under your belt is a great first step to meal prepping. If you’re able to visualize a few meals you’d like to enjoy through the week, you can essentially deconstruct those and craft an intentional grocery list.
2. Prepare to, errr, prep. The more time you give yourself to plan the meals you want for the week, peruse the grocery store, and execute the cooking, the more successful you’ll be. If you’re feeling uninspired and don’t know where to start, registered dietician Stephanie Grasso, RD, suggests using a template that looks something like this:
3–4 protein sources
2–3 types of fruit
2–3 whole grains
2–3 multipurpose dips/spreads/sauces
2–3 snack items2
The plug-and-play ease of a template like this can be a godsend for a brain on the verge of burnout. A structure like this acts as a solid foundation for ensuring you prepare well-rounded meals for the week or event ahead.
3. Don’t plan on an empty stomach. If you’re hangry, you can’t expect yourself to gracefully prepare meals for the week. A build upon from the last step we covered is ensuring that you’re both mentally and physically prepared to take on the task. Bottom line: if you’re feeling unsatiated or exhausted, you’re less likely to make a sound decision that you can stand behind the following morning.
4. Relinquish control. When you’re meal planning for an entire family or guests, the responsibility doesn’t need to rest on any one person’s shoulders. If you have a partner, take turns with them or share the task to lessen the burden. It can even become a ritual that you leverage as bonding time. If you’re a single head of household, involve your children in the planning as a way to ignite inspiration.
To kick-start you in the right direction, we wrangled some cooking hacks and advice that can help you infuse healthier alternatives into your holiday meal planning.
Increase your plant-based meals.
It’s no wonder that some of the longest-living people in the world’s “Blue Zones” tend to eat primarily plant-based diets. If you enjoy meat, try to be mindful of portion size, sourcing, and balancing the meal with a sturdy helping of plant-based side dishes; think pot roast with a side of roasted potatoes and carrots or leafy greens.
Look to lentils and beans as an alternative protein source.
When paired with a carbohydrate, lentils and beans deliver a complete protein. Serving a large family or group of guests can make you reach for the nearest meat, but know that there is a lighter, still-filling alternative you can lean on to switch things up.
Substitute heavy cream with nut milks.
Between green bean casserole and hearty mashed potatoes, heavy cream can make quite the appearance during the holidays. Lighten your meals by substituting with cashew, oat, or coconut milk for flavorful yet creamy alternative.
Choose lower sodium options when possible.
Most foods just taste better with salt. Get creative with how you deliver savory treats with hacks like seasoning pasta water with seaweed or sprinkling a sea kelp blend onto veggies.
Cut back on cooking oils.
Get the same crispy oven-roasted veggies you love with less of the oil. Try steaming starchy vegetables until tender, then roasting in the oven. Non-starchy vegetables can go right into the oven with your desired seasonings.
So what are you waiting for? Pull out your casserole dishes, blast your favorite podcast, and get down to meal prepping business.
1. Monsivais, P., Aggarwal, A., & Drewnowski, A. (2014, December). Time spent on home food preparation and indicators of healthy eating. American journal of preventive medicine. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from HHS Public Access, PubMed Central®.
2. Allie Flinn Allie Flinn, & Flinn, A. (2021, December 23). This healthy grocery list is a dietitian's go-to. Well+Good. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from wellandgood.com.