5 Tips for Holiday Meal Planning with Low Energy

Low energy going into the holiday season? No worries! Here's how to simplify.

I love the holiday season. It’s been a favorite time of year for me since my childhood. But thinking of my childhood, it’s good to realize that our holiday traditions were simple, yet still magical for me.

Holiday meal planning doesn’t necessarily have to be stressful and overly difficult either. Elaborate and fancy meals are so much fun to plan, but when you don’t have the time or energy, it’s good to remember how simple holiday fun can be.

Because of health issues this year, we are picking and choosing where my energy goes, and this is true for holiday meals too. Here are four ways we are planning our holidays, with (and despite) low energy.

Simplify

I know this is obvious, but it’s so important! One quick example: Originally I had hoped to have gingerbread, hot cocoa, and popcorn for our tree trimming tradition. But we realized that, as nice, and even as doable as that was most years, it wasn’t always feasible for me. So our tradition now is something like this: Get a tree, put on our favorite Christmas music, and make homemade (and super easy) hot cocoa to sip on during the tree trimming.

Sometimes Joel and I make ours into mochas by adding a shot of stovetop espresso.

Pumpkin Spice Hot Cocoa -www.thenourishinggourmet.com

And you know what? As simple as the tradition is, it’s a fun tradition that we love that builds memories with a homemade and real food beverage.

Some years we may have the bandwidth for a Christmas cookie extravaganza, Christmas baking efforts, and loads of handmade Christmas gifts. It’s wonderful to have those years. But other years, things may be trimmed back, whether because of finances, low energy, ill health, or because there is a new baby in the house. And even though those trimmed back years may be more simple, there is no reason to think they will be any less memorable and wonderful.

For Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day meals, simplifying is important too. I’ll be honest. We love having our holiday meals be feasts! But we’ve also found that doing a more streamlined holiday meal can be satisfying. By carefully selecting favorite dishes that complement each other well, we’ve had lovely feasts that may not have made the table groan but were satisfying and perfect.

Buy

Pumpkin Pie Stuffed Apples (GF/DF) - The Nourishing Gourmet

This is a food website. Obviously, we talk about homemade food a lot here and I believe fully in the beauty of making your own food. But there are years when it’s a lot harder to make everything from scratch. There is nothing wrong with buying some of your holiday food pre-made. If you are lucky enough to live in a place like Portland, you could even buy your entire Thanksgiving meal (made with real food ingredients) to re-heat. While this will never be my first choice, and because of our food restrictions, likely never feasible, there is no reason to kill yourself for a holiday meal if you have other options available.

Other ideas: Buy premade pies or desserts, premade cranberry salad, or trimmed vegetables ready to cook.

Collaborate

Cranberry Goat Cheese Ball

Holiday meals are meant to be shared. While it can be a lot of fun to prepare the whole meal, on years where this is daunting, sharing the workload is helpful too! One year where I made the majority of the dishes, a friend showed up early to help me finish up all of the cooking, and it was so much fun! This year our Thanksgiving is shaping up well, and all of us only have a two or so dishes we are in charge of bringing.

Pre-make

Spiced-Cranberry-Orange-Sauce

When possible, pre-make what you can. Cranberry sauce, salad dressing, chopped vegetables, pie crust or pies, can all be made one to three days before the holiday. By doing just one simple task every day, you can spread out the work and have that homemade feast you love.

Enjoy

How to make mashed potatoes in a slow cooker (including dairy free options)

Finally, don’t forget, no matter how simple or how store-bought your meal ends up being, to truly enjoy the meal. The people you enjoy the food with are far more important than what is on the table. I love showing my love for them by the food I make, but I also know that laughing with them, enjoying my time with them, and showing them that I can relax with them is far more important than stressing over food. Holiday meals are meant to be joyous. If you have low-energy or are just having a crazy year, do what you can, and then sit back and enjoy the holiday. Put some music on, and maybe celebrate with a favorite holiday movie later. It doesn’t have to be fancy. But it should be full of joy.

The Art of Simple Skillet Dinners

Need dinner on the table fast? Make healthy and delicious meals using just a skillet! Read more about this method by reading this article at The Nourishing Gourmet.

Lack of time or energy for cooking can be the death knell for healthy eating. We’ve had a year like no other, and developing strategies for quick, healthy meals has been essential. (Read about my new series: The Low Energy Guide to Healthy Cooking)

Enter skillet dinners. Oh, how I love thee, skillet dinners.

7 Reasons I Love Skillet Meals

  • They are fast
  • They are frugal
  • They use up leftovers
  • They are easy to make
  • You don’t need a specific recipe to conquer them
  • They are healthy and vegetable-centered
  • You can use whatever you like to flavor them

This one-skillet dinner has been a true help. They are wildly adaptable to what you have in the fridge, and you can flavor them however you like. Ginger and garlic, dried herbs, fresh herbs, turmeric, curry powder, garam masala, green onions, regular onions, red onions, and more!

In my last post, I shared how we have been using pre-washed and cut vegetables on a consistent basis and how much time and how many dinners they have saved. Skillet dinners are one of the most common ways we use prepped vegetables.

Need dinner on the table fast? Make healthy and delicious meals using just a skillet! Read more about this method by reading this article at The Nourishing Gourmet.

Method:

Dinner can be as simple as this: Heating some oil in a large pan, and sautéing together a package or two of prepared vegetables with a pound of ground meat (any kind you like), or adding leftover shredded meat after the vegetables are cooked. Serve with roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes, or throw some leftover rice or quinoa into the pan as well, and dinner is served.

While the below options are meat-centric, I see no reason why you couldn’t use cooked beans or lentils instead. In fact, a lentil centered skillet dinner sounds fabulous.

What is essential to this dish is a very large skillet. I favor our largest cast iron pan. And when I say large, I mean large. I use a 12 inch cast iron pan which is adequate for our five member family, but I’d even like a bigger one eventually.

Some combinations we’ve liked:

  • Shredded cabbage with beef (add garlic and salt and pepper to flavor) served with rice or quinoa.
  • Vegetable Pork Skillet Dinner: Onions, Mushrooms, garlic, dried herbs, with pork and bacon.
  • Cauliflower Fried “Rice” with Chicken: Cauliflower “rice” with celery, green onions, ginger, garlic, grated carrots, and chicken.
  • Gingery Broccoli and Mushroom Stir Fry: Ground meat of choice, broccoli, mushrooms, ginger, and garlic.
  • Leftover Fried Rice: Onions, broccoli, and cauliflower mix, leftover shredded roast, leftover rice
  • Every day Skillet Dinner: Onions, Zucchini, mushrooms, meat of choice or eggs
  • Extra Greens Skillet: Onions, greens, meat of choice, seasoning of choice

Really, there are no limits to skillet dinners. One of my recent favorite combinations was one in which I used bits and pieces of leftover bags of vegetables which made a delicious and coherent dinner. Skillet dinners can be a great way to use leftovers and the odds and ends you have in your refrigerator!

Do you make similar dishes? I’d love to hear your favorite combination!

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How Buying Prepped Vegetables is Saving Our Dinner

I'm so thankful I can buy prepped vegetables. They are helping us get dinner on the table! -- The Nourishing Gourmet

The first tip I wanted to share in my series, The Low Energy Guide to Healthy Cooking, is a simple one, but it has made such a difference for us during a challenging year.

Buying prepped vegetables.

Can I be honest for a minute? I never really thought I would buy pre-cut and prepared vegetables. I do hate the extra plastic packaging that pre-cut vegetables tend to have. Plus, I never saw a problem with an extra five to ten-minute preparation it took to prep my own vegetables.

It never seemed like a big deal to just prep them myself.

But then my kind of low-grade health issues sky-rocketed. This whole last year has been one long sick year for me (we finally got a diagnosis last week, but more on that later). Suddenly those five to fifteen minutes of extra preparation were a big deal. It could mean the difference between having a vegetable side or not, or getting a homemade dinner on the table that night.

I wanted us to eat healthy. I needed us to eat well. But there are seasons when you need all the extra help you can get to make that happen. This has been one such season for us, and having vegetables ready and waiting in the fridge for us to cook up has been a big help.

My husband has been helping much more with the cooking, which has been extremely helpful. But he often gets home late-ish, so having the dinner cooking process as streamlined as possible for him was also important. Once again, it’s been so helpful to have at least some of our vegetables prepped.

Unfortunately, not all prepped vegetables are inexpensive. However, I have been very happy with what I can find at Trader Jo’s. They have a large selection of prepped vegetables, including: cut and washed broccoli and cauliflower, riced cauliflower (frozen and fresh), washed lettuce greens, prepped kale, butternut squash “zigzags” and noodles, a multi-chopped vegetable container (that is very tasty), and more.

While I still have to prep some of our vegetables, having more than half of them prepared for me has been a dinner saver!

The next best thing is hiring someone to prep vegetables for the week for you, or setting aside time (perhaps with a spouse) to prep vegetables for the week using a food processor when possible to make it easier. Neither of these options works well for us right now, so we are really thankful for the prepped vegetables we can buy. If you have any available in the stores near you, give it a try!

Vegetable Pork Skillet Dinner

Serve over rice, baked sweet or white potatoes, or use as a burrito filling. Yum! -- The Nourishing Gourmet

Why cook up plain pork when you can add so much rich flavor with onions, garlic, mushrooms, and dried herbs? If desired, you can serve this over rice, quinoa, or sweet or white potatoes. I also think this would make a delicious burrito stuffing – just add salsa, avocado, or whatever you desire for toppings! Or eat it as is for a simple skillet dinner.

While I have to say I didn’t give this recipe a very snazzy name, the combinations of flavor are just lovely! I’ve been working on increasing my intake of vegetables, and it’s been a delicious choice as well as a healthy one.

Yes, delicious!

This simple skillet dinner is an example of how you can make a flavorful dish simply by combining a variety of vegetables and your choice of meat with a few spices and some garlic. The meat flavors the vegetables and vice versa for a more rounded flavor.

The other thing I love about skillet dinners is that they are very easy and fast to make, so they make perfect dinners for busy nights. Right now we have three evenings with soccer practice! Yup, it’s a busy time! To see why I am making vegetables a priority right now, read my post. Why We Should Eat More Vegetables. While you are there, sign up for the 10 Day Vegetable Challenge! I’m super excited about it! It will start on the 12th.

I’ve been trying to get in more sulfur containing vegetables. In The Wahls Protocol, Dr. Wahls has you eat 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables every day. She says, “Finally, I want you to eat 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables, which in addition to antioxidants, also have health-promoting sulfur compounds in them. Sulfur may not get the media attention that antioxidants do, but it is an incredibly important compound for health.” She goes on in her book to explain why sulfur is important for your connective tissue, joints, skin, hair, nails, skin disorders, arthritis, and blood vessel health, as well as being important for anyone with an autoimmune disease.

Sulfur containing vegetables include the cabbage family (such as broccoli and cauliflower), the onion family and the mushroom family. This dish has two of the three. But if you wanted all three, why not slice some cabbage to add to the dish!

Notes on the Recipe:

  • If desired, add a diced sweet bell pepper
  • The bacon is optional. We make it without just as often.
  • This is also delicious with a couple of thinly sliced zucchini cooked into the mixture. Yum!
  • This is the type of recipe that makes me LOVE owning a large saucepan. I personally favor my large cast iron.
  • AIP note: Leave out the pepper, and don’t use the bacon unless it’s AIP safe.

Vegetable Pork Skillet Dinner

PDF file for printing

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices of bacon, or 2 tablespoons of fat/oil of choice (avocado oil, coconut oil, etc).
  • 1 large onion, peeled, cut in half, and thinly sliced
  • ½ to 1 pound of mushroom, ends trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 pound of ground pork (pastured, organic is best, if possible)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and put through a garlic press
  • A generous pinch of dried oregano and dried thyme
  • Unrefined Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper.

Instructions:

  1. In a large saucepan or cast iron over medium heat cook the bacon, if using, until crisp and done. Flip to cook evenly. Remove from pan and set aside. There should be about 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan. If you had leaner bacon, you can add fat of choice to the pan to make up two tablespoons.
  2. 2. Add the onion and mushrooms to the pan and cook over medium heat if using cast iron, or medium-high, if using stainless steel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and stir as needed to cook evenly and prevent sticking. After five to seven minutes, when the vegetables are soft, add the pork, garlic, and oregano and thyme. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the pork is thoroughly cooked through and the vegetables soft.
  3. Crumble the bacon on top, season to taste, and serve as desired.