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.

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!

3 Tips for Sharing Food with Others (Even When Life is Crazy)

It's so important to offer hospitality and to bring food to those going through hard times. But how do you do that when your life is crazy? I'm with you there. I share 3 tips here on how to get it done. -- The Nourishing Gourmet

We’ve had some very peaceful time periods. But if I’m honest, more often than not life has seemed very busy, hectic, and at times, stressful too. During the midst of stressful times, it can be hard to rip your eyes off of your own situation and share and serve others. I know it is for me.

But I want to share food with others (and serve them in other ways too). Why? Because people have done that for me. For example: When I was 16, I was in charge of my younger siblings while my mother recovered from a serious surgery and my dad helped take care of her and worked regular long hours. Our community rallied around us by bringing us dinners for weeks on end. To this day, I remember the support and help that brought us during a stressful time and am thankful for it. Years later I was pregnant with my second child and went through premature labor. I was hospitalized for two weeks until I stabilized. Friends brought me dinner every night so that I wouldn’t have to live off of hospital food. Once again, I still remember and am thankful for that tangible support.

That’s why for my very first Periscope, I shared on the topic of Sharing Food with Others During Busy Times. It’s a topic dear to my heart not because I am a rockstar in this area (I’m not), but because I have been greatly blessed when others have done that for me.

I loved sharing these tips on Periscope, so I wanted to share them here too!

(You can follow me here to watch future scopes! For those who aren’t familiar, it’s an app that allows you to broadcast live stream videos, and it allows you to respond in the text box in real time too! It’s very fun.)

Don’t be a perfectionist when sharing food

It can be easy to allow fears to derail our good intentions. We may wonder if others will like our cooking, or whether they will think our food is good enough, for example. When you are known as a “good cook” or (the horror of it) are a food blogger and cookbook author, expectations can be high, and that can put a lot of pressure on you. Once we invited a couple over for dinner, and when the husband walked through the door he said, “I feel like I’m in a dream. I can’t believe I am eating dinner with The Nourishing Gourmet.” I just about died right there and hoped that dinner was especially good. (I think it was a success, or perhaps my guests were just very good actors as they talked about how yummy it was!).

Sometimes that pressure has held me back, because, in all honesty, we eat plain and simple food most of the time! Nothing fancy! But then I realized that it was my pride holding me back. I don’t have a responsibility for people’s reactions to my actions, but I do have the responsibility to share and serve those around me. And you know what I’ve found? People are always thankful for you sharing food with them. I think our fears are unfounded. Even if they don’t love the food you brought to them, they will love the heart behind it.
Sometimes it takes a small amount of courage to share with others, and that’s okay. It’s worth the bravery to share life and love with others.

All you need is one meal

Some of the people who are the best at bringing food to others during times of need have one meal they always bring. It’s delicious, they know the meal so well they could make it in their sleep, and it’s generally frugal and family-friendly. For example, one lady I know cooks up a pot of rice, steams some vegetables, and bakes teriyaki chicken. She then layers the cooked rice, vegetables and chicken in a casserole dish to bring to someone. It’s delicious! Another brings makings for a healthy taco salad, and that’s always popular too. Another brings a big pot of hearty soup and homemade bread. Homemade pizza is popular as well.

The point is this, if you just figure out just one meal that is well-liked and that you can fit in your budget, it won’t be stressful at all to share that meal with others – whether they are coming over for dinner, or you are bringing them a meal.

Bonus points if the meal is allergen-friendly, as then you can serve it to a wider base of people. For example, it’s easy to make gluten-free teriyaki and even soy-free and gluten-free teriyaki!

Make it serve you (and your family) too

My sister recently had a baby, and although my life seemed very chaotic at the time, it was important to me that I offer help and support. While I wasn’t able to do all that I wished to do (I also have a nine-month-old baby, and she had a runny nose at the time, so we didn’t want to expose her newborn), I at least wanted to help provide meals for her during that happy, but fragile newborn stage.

So this is what I did. I set aside a couple of hours and got in a good cooking rhythm. I whipped up some hearty soups from my cookbook, Ladled: Nourishing Soups for all Seasons. I made a homemade marinara sauce with Italian sausage, and bought some nice organic noodles for her husband to cook up to go with it. I made teriyaki chicken and rice. I made granola and bought a whole milk organic yogurt to go with it for breakfast or snacks. I picked up some fruit too. My sister-in-law made another soup to add to the box, and then I was able to send over a whole box of food for her.

But here’s the deal. While I was doing all of that cooking, I doubled everything so that my family also had plenty of food for the upcoming week. It was heavenly to have all of the food already prepared and ready to be enjoyed. I was able to serve not only her but my family as well.

If you deal with health issues, or just have a busy lifestyle, being able to kill two birds with one stone will be very helpful.

Finally, this list of gluten-free freezer meals may come in handy as well when sharing food with others. I often share freezer meals with others. This allows me to cook when I am able and then share when a need comes up.

What meals do you like to share with others? Has there been a time when people brought you meals? I’d love to hear about it!

How to Render Tallow from Your Beef Broth

After you make homemade beef stock/broth, there is always a lovely layer of tallow on the top of the broth. Learn here how you can render and save it for lots of cooking projects! Don't waste it! It's an excellent cooking fat. --- The Nourishing Gourmet

So, you’ve made a delicious, nutritious, homemade beef broth, and it now has a glorious layer of beef fat on the top. Now what? Don’t waste it! With just a few short steps, you can render it for a delicious cooking fat! This lovely cooking fat is stable at high temperatures, making it lovely for sautéing or roasting vegetables and meats, and many other uses!

As long-time readers know, I try to balance using quality, good ingredients, with a realistic budget. A practical way to make that happen is by not wasting anything. Certainly, saving and using this quality fat is a great way to eat well AND save money! Because we try to only buy top quality oils and fats, this helps tremendously in how much we spend on our oils/fats.

And don’t worry. It’s simple to make!

How to Render Tallow from Beef Broth

After you make homemade beef stock/broth, there is always a lovely layer of tallow on the top of the broth. Learn here how you can render and save it for lots of cooking projects! Don't waste it! It's an excellent cooking fat. --- The Nourishing Gourmet

1. After you have cooled your homemade beef broth in the refrigerator, there should be a layer of fat on the top. How much fat there is depends on what type of bones you use. Because we try to use at least some marrow bones in each batch, we typically have quite a bit. Scoop this fat off and place into a pot. (I use a small pot for one batch of fat.)

After you make homemade beef stock/broth, there is always a lovely layer of tallow on the top of the broth. Learn here how you can render and save it for lots of cooking projects! Don't waste it! It's an excellent cooking fat. --- The Nourishing Gourmet

2. Gently heat the fat over low heat until it is completely liquid.

After you make homemade beef stock/broth, there is always a lovely layer of tallow on the top of the broth. Learn here how you can render and save it for lots of cooking projects! Don't waste it! It's an excellent cooking fat. --- The Nourishing Gourmet

3. Pour over cheesecloth placed over a fine sieve over a heat safe bowl (or 4 cup measuring cup) to strain out any bits.

After you make homemade beef stock/broth, there is always a lovely layer of tallow on the top of the broth. Learn here how you can render and save it for lots of cooking projects! Don't waste it! It's an excellent cooking fat. --- The Nourishing Gourmet

4. At this point, you can do the lazy method of simply pouring the fat into a mason jar and re-hardening it in the refrigerator. Any leftover bits or small drops of broth will go to the bottom of the jar, and because fat is a type of preservative, the fat won’t go bad and I just don’t use the very last bit of fat at the bottom of the jar. This is what is pictured above.

5. Or, to make it completely free of any broth or bits, pour into a wide container such as an 8 by 8-inch pan. Let re-harden in the refrigerator, and then remove from the pan and turn upside down. You can then scrape off any bits or broth from the bottom of the fat. Reheat to liquefy, and pour into desired container of choice.

Keep refrigerated. Will keep for at least several months when refrigerated (freeze for longer storage).

How to Render Tallow from Your Beef Broth
 
Serves: 1 cup
 
You will need a fine sieve and cheesecloth for this recipe.
Ingredients
  • Fat skimmed from the top of homemade beef stock
Instructions
  1. After you have cooled your homemade beef broth in the refrigerator, there should be a layer of fat on the top. How much fat there is depends on what type of bones you use. Because we try to use at least some marrow bones in each batch, we typically have quite a bit. Scoop this fat off and place into a pot. (I use a small pot for one batch of fat.)
  2. Gently heat the fat over low heat until it is completely liquid.
  3. Pour over cheesecloth placed over a fine sieve over a heat safe bowl to strain out any bits.
  4. At this point, you can do the lazy method of simply pouring the fat into a mason jar and re-hardening it in the refrigerator. Any leftover bits or small drops of broth will go to the bottom of the jar, and because fat is a type of preservative, the fat won’t go bad and I just don’t use the very last bit of fat at the bottom of the jar. This is what is pictured above.
  5. Or, to make it completely free of any broth or bits, pour into a wide container such as an 8 by 8-inch pan. Let re-harden in the refrigerator, and then remove from the pan and turn upside down. You can then scrape off any bits or broth from the bottom of the fat. Reheat to liquefy, and pour into desired container of choice.
  6. Keep refrigerated. Will keep for at least several months when refrigerated (freeze for longer storage).

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