8 Ways to Simplify Your Holiday Dinners

November 15, 2022

When doing your usual holiday spread just isn’t practical

Does the thought of this year’s holiday spread seem more daunting than usual? You may feel this way for any number of reasons. Whatever the case may be, know it’s ok!

In this article, we’re going to cover some steps and ideas to simplify your holiday meal, so you can enjoy more time with your family. What’s the point in getting everyone together if you’re too busy and stressed to enjoy it?

Here’s a list of what we’ll be covering! You can click any of these bullet points to jump to the part of the article that most applies to you.

1) Decide to simplify
2) Ask for assistance
3) Make a plan
4) Make dishes ahead of time
5) Put something different on the menu
6) Try a one-pan approach
7) Order in
8) Go out to eat

Now that we’ve got our list in place, let’s start simplifying your holiday meals.

grandfather and granddaughter at thanksgiving dinner in front of a turkey

1. Decide to Simplify

Simple! Give yourself permission to step back and make things easier. Doing this might keep you from wanting to fling a spoonful at Uncle Fred when he says something off-color for the umpteenth time.

The hardest part about this is making the decision to simplify. So, once you do, act on it! Tell your family that you’re overwhelmed and need to adjust the holiday menu this year. Now that you’ve made this declaration, you enable your family to step in and do their part to support you. Remember, they can’t read your mind so, communication is key!

young granddaughter helping grandma simplify the holiday meal in the kitchen

2. Ask For Assistance

Pride aside, it’s humbling to admit that you’re not feeling up to taking on the usual tasks your family is accustomed to. Let’s be honest, that list might be looong! Asking for a helping hand will enable you to get other family members involved and take some of the burden off you.

“Many hands make light work”, as the saying goes. Assign tasks for family members! Doing this allows you to step back into more of the teaching role. You can still complete the star dish, but having the simpler dishes done by others will check things off your to-do list.

Plus, more than likely, it’ll be your kids or grandkids helping you out. What better way to pass on your holiday recipes to your loved ones, than have them help you in the kitchen? They will make amazing memories with you, and you’ll find a certain satisfaction knowing that you’re giving them some much needed culinary experience. It may even be that start of a new tradition.

notepad and pen ready to make thanksgiving meal notes on table surrounded by small pumpkins and gords

3. Make a Plan

Is your holiday list in your head? When it comes to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or other holiday meals, we usually go into autopilot.

Generally, we have a way of meal prepping that stems from our childhood, or tips and tricks we have learned along the way. However, if you’re like me, that also means you inevitably have a few “Shoot, I forgot the…. Insert missing spice or side dish ingredient…moments.” Then you end up making another trip, or two, to the store. Whoops!

For those of us who don’t usually write out our holiday menu, now is a great time to start. I would suggest at least a week out from the holiday.

Start by writing down everything you plan to make, beginning with the star of the show, likely ham, turkey or prime rib, all the way through the sides and deserts. Now, step back and look at that list. Have your red pen ready because, now is the time to edit! Is there anything that you can do without this year? Is that rice pudding that grandma used to make, but only one person eats, really worth your time? If not, scrap it!

prepared holiday dishes being set on the table

4. Make dishes ahead of time

Now that we have the menu trimmed down, let’s define anything you can make ahead of time. What can you prep. freeze and simply reheat on the big day? Prepare sauces and those annoying, but necessary, extras ahead of time and stick them in the freezer so you can pop them out and reheat day of!

Remember that dish you decided not to scratch off this list? Take one last look and reconsider, because this is about making your life easier this holiday season.

a mother her son and daughter prepping a bowl of pasta

5. Put Something Different on the Menu

Family favorite or not, some dishes are so time consuming, cue the heavy sigh just thinking about it. Here’s a chance to look for a simplified version of your recipe. Or maybe you just look for an alternative dish altogether. In any event, this is about simplifying your life and maintaining your kitchen sanity.

Google is your friend. So is YouTube. You’re probably well aware of the wealth of delicious recipes and how-to videos. Now might just be the time to explore some of them.

If, on the off-chance, a loved one mentions a certain dish missing, you can simply let them know you thought you’d try something different this year. While that might be met with mild uproar, you can be the one to gauge if you’ll put the other dish back on the menu next year. You have a whole year now to identify ways, or find a new recipe, to make it simpler.

several different trays of identical holiday dinners made in one pan laid out on a table to highlight simplified holiday dinners

6. Try a One-Pan Approach

We are loving this trend! It’s gaining popularity, and it might just revolutionize your holiday meals. The concept of putting everything on one pan, popping it in the oven and cooking it all at once means, after a little prep work, your job is essentially done. While these recipes do require a little planning (see the above “make a plan” section), prep time can be as little as 30 minutes with a cook time of about 50 minutes.

Below we highlight three we’ve found with high ratings!

This approach is especially effective if you’re serving a much smaller group.

Here’s the list:

  1. One-Pan Thanksgiving Dinner In One Hour by Tasting Table. This recipe serves 4, but you can easily double it. You might need a second sheet-pan, but it’s worth checking out.
  2. The Spruce Eats has a lot of fantastic recipes and this Sheet Pan Thanksgiving Dinner seems to be no exception.
  3. Finally, a State of Dinner, with their One Pan Thanksgiving Dinner. What’s great about the article and recipe is how customizable it is. The prep time is a little longer, but the servings are for six. Again, doubling this might be an option. The article offers tips and tricks to simplify and make prep work easier.

While these ideas are geared for Thanksgiving, they could be easily adaptable for any holiday.

showing a simple holiday meal by a delivery man handing a woman a bag of prepared from a restaurant

7. Order In

We were pleasantly surprised to see how many options you have for ordering in! It seems this is common enough that more and more stores/restaurants are offering Thanksgiving and holiday meals for pre-order. While the cost might be a little higher, most options are reasonable. And the best part? You only need to heat and serve.

Here are some local options:

HyVee seems to always have a holiday option. What’s great, there’s an a-la-carte option as well.

Omaha Steaks has a build your own Thanksgiving meal and a host of other options: Check it out here.

J. Gilberts also has an option to take Thanksgiving dinner home. You can also dine-in as well. https://www.jgilberts.com/omaha/menus/Thanksgiving

Finally, there’s Cracker Barrell’s heat-n-serve option.

a family simplifying their holiday meal by dining out together at a restaurant while a waiter takes their order

8. Go out to eat

We immediately picture the scene from a “A Christmas Story” where the neighbor’s dogs burst in and devour/destroy the Christmas dinner. Talk about soul crushing.

Once again, we were delighted to see all the great options offered for those who prefer to let someone else do the cooking and cleaning on the holidays! We found a really comprehensive article from The Omaha Mom. It’s “An Omaha Guide to Eating Out on Thanksgiving Day.” With links to local restaurants that serve great thanksgiving meals.

They also have a great list of at home options. If your favorite restaurant isn’t on this list, give them a call. They might also have a Thanksgiving (or holiday) option.

If you need more help

Thanksgiving and other holidays do not need to be as daunting as it has been in the past. With a little planning, a sprinkle of ingenuity and help from friends and family, you can enjoy a wonderful feast and not feel like you ran the Boston Marathon to get it done.

On a final note, sometimes the need to make these holiday adjustments comes from a loved one that needs more of your attention. If that’s the case, there are respite care options for caregivers. These services exist to provide a temporary, or long-term break, when caring for a loved one has become a bit more challenging that life allows.

So take it a little easier this season and have the happiest of holidays with your family.