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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.