Simplifying Christmas Dinner
Just in time for the holidays, this is a guest post from Robert Wall of Finding Frugality.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about Christmas dinner. Christmas is a holiday celebrated by the majority of the people in the United States, and it’s a cause of concern, stress, and unnecessary worry for probably three quarters of the general population.
There’s so much Christmas stress to think about and discuss, but for right now I’d just like to hone in on the topic of Christmas dinner.
At this point you’re probably expecting me to spout some sort of great minimalist platitude, something along the lines of “forego your usual Christmas fare, and learn to enjoy the simple beauty of a steamed turkey breast.” Yeah, that’s not me. I’m about traditional food – but that traditional food doesn’t have to stress you out.
In order to keep your stress to an absolute minimum, I’ve identified a few issues with what we’ve done with Christmas dinner, and I’d like to propose some solutions. If you’re not the one who cooks Christmas dinner for your family, read this with an eye toward lightening the load of the person who does!
The first issue with Christmas dinner is variety. Specifically, there’s too much of it. My mother is known for this – she’ll prepare ten to twelve dishes. Everybody samples a bit of each, the popular ones disappear, and she’s stuck with leftovers. Some of these are for dishes that she doesn’t want or even like, but she prepares them because she thinks other people want them. Most years a family of six could eat for a week on what she has left over from Christmas dinner.
There’s a simple solution for this. Ready?
You only make an amount of dishes and/or quantities that people have a chance of eating.
If you have six people coming, and you have ten dishes that each serve twelve, you’ve got way too much food. Even if you have twelve or thirty people coming, ten dishes is still ten separate things that you have to make. Why not double up on the stuff that everybody likes, and forego a few of the oddball ones? Get your food variety under control, and you’ll be on your way to a stress-free holiday.
The second issue with Christmas dinner is unwanted leftovers. There’s nothing wrong with leftovers, except when you have a three-quart casserole dish full of a green bean casserole that Aunt Mildred absolutely loves – but nobody else within a ten-mile radius will even consider eating. I propose a new rule:
You don’t make any dish that you personally won’t eat as a leftover.
If Aunt Mildred loves the green bean casserole, give her a call. Tell her that you’ve got a lot going on this Christmas, and ask her if she could lighten your load by making the green bean casserole for you. That way she brings it, and it’s her responsibility to haul it off at the end of the day.
The third issue with Christmas dinner is that it’s not planned organically.
No, I don’t mean that you need to go to the organic market to buy things. I mean that planning Christmas dinner should be a nice quiet area alongside the stream of normal meal planning – not a sudden whirlpool in the middle of an ocean where you’re lost without an engine or navigational equipment.
Some cooking practice throughout the rest of the year will translate nicely into Christmas dinner success. And some advance planning will allow you to easily deal with the miscellanous leftover items. Let’s look at a few options:
- Leftover meats can go into soups, or be used on sandwiches. Turkey can go into chicken noodle soup or vegetable soup. Or you can add some southwestern spices and turn it into burritos. Ham goes great in bean soups, or cut up into some macaroni & cheese.
- Leftover potatoes freeze well, for quite a long time. You could even double or triple your potato recipe (provided you have the cooking space) with the intention of not having to make mashed potatoes for the next several months. Or you can mix some leftover potatoes with an egg or two (to bind them together) and fry them up as potato patties.
- Leftover gravy can be served later in the week over meat, or on leftover potatoes. You can even chop up some turkey into the gravy if you like. This is really good over potatoes!
- Leftover stuffing can be frozen with some meat and potatoes for a homemade TV dinner.
- Leftover vegetables can go into soups or stews. Even if you served them with butter, adding a little flour gives you the base of a roux, which is the base of a thick stew or chowder.
The idea is to have a plan for what you’re going to do with leftovers before you have them.
The fourth issue with Christmas dinner is trying to do too much yourself.
You know what you’re capable of. You know what you can put together, and what you can’t. Figure out a base amount that you can do, and find appropriate ways to divide labor.
Maybe there’s a child or a grandchild that’s getting to the age where they can do some of the work. Perhaps you have a friend that could come over and help you get things ready the day before.
Most importantly, don’t over-analyze things. Sure, if 8 year old Susie mashes the potatoes a few may get on the counter. There might be a couple of lumps. So what? Life will go on, I promise. Between a couple of lumps in potatoes and a ton of extra stress on my shoulders, I’ll take the lumps any day!
This time of year we need to remember that Christmas is a holiday that’s about people, family, and togetherness. Bring some of that togetherness to the kitchen, share with each other, and teach the next generation. It’s worth your time, I promise.
Robert Wall is the author of Finding Frugality – a blog dedicated to conscious living through the application of minimalism, simplicity, and good old-fashioned frugality. If you liked this post, stop on over and check it out.