The holidays are stressful, right? These holiday meal planning tips are the key to getting everything under control this year. It’s like your own stress-free personal holiday checklist!

We already know meal planning helps keep everything in line: it helps your busy schedule, reduces stress at dinnertime, keeps your grocery budget on point, and helps you stay on track for eating healthy.

But during the holidays?

It’s even more important! You NEED to meal plan when you add in things like holiday parties, visiting friends and family, decorating the house, cookie swaps, and shopping for gifts. Taking control of meal planning will free you up to focus on everything else that needs your attention this holiday season.

Here’s your game plan for making sure the holidays are stress-free this year! Let’s keep your meal planning going strong through the holidays!

Make sure your calendar is under control

Gather your calendar and everything that might go on it for the holiday season: school calendar, party invitations, cookie swaps, days you need to bring food to someone, volunteering, and local events that are fun for the kids. Put everything on your calendar.

Also, set up a regular holiday shopping day and put it on your calendar. When you know you’re shopping on Wednesday mornings, you can plan ahead for other things that come up, and you’ll feel less frazzled towards the end of the season. Oh, and it’s always a good idea to wrap those gifts as soon as you get home instead of staying up until 2 am on Christmas Eve 😉

Create a monthly meal plan

Take that calendar you just made and figure out what days you’ll need to make dinner for. Put a star on days you are really short on time (like your holiday shopping days!) and make sure you’re making quick, easy meals those days. Put an arrow on days you have to bring a meal or dish to someone else.

I highly suggest making a rotating meal plan, or using Theme Nights to create a monthly meal plan that will keep it super simple.

READ: Monthly Meal Planning: Make it Fast + Easy!

Stock the house with food ahead of time

If your budget allows, this is the time to have lots of healthy “grab n go” snacks on hand since you’ll be running around, and some extra food in general. Think of long-lasting fruit and vegetables (prep them ahead of time – see the next tip!), granola bars, cheese sticks, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, etc. and buy extra for this time of year. Not just for the kids either, this is for you too!

READ: 10 Healthy Pantry Stapes You Should Always Have

Rescue Meals

Rescue meals are those meals that you go to “in case of emergency”. Find 5 of them that meet the criteria, and add the items needed to your grocery list (these do NOT go on the meal plan!). Examples: tacos, spaghetti, burgers, soup, etc.

The Rescue Meals criteria is:

  • Can be made in 30 minutes or less
  • You don’t have to consult a recipe
  • The ingredients are easily kept in the pantry or freezer

READ: 10 Healthy Pantry Stapes You Should Always Have

Take advantage of freezer meals

Freezer meals are another awesome “in case of emergency” type meal. I love ALL the recipes in these e-cookbooks because they’re mostly dump-style crockpot meals. If you want to plan a freezer meal day – or maybe a party with your friends? See the next to last point below – and have all the recipes and ingredients done for you then I highly recommend this freezer meal app. It makes freezer cooking super simple!

Holiday Meal Planning Tip #6: No new recipes!

This is the time to keep things simple. No need to try out new recipes for the family or for the holiday dinners you’re preparing, or even a bunch of new cookie recipes. You have plenty of other things to focus on!

Use your slow cooker and sheet pans religiously

Slow cooker and sheet pan dinners are my hands-down favorite types of meals on busy nights. Mainly because I hate doing dishes (with a passion!). The last thing you want to do is face a sink-full of dishes after a busy day of running around! I have Pinterest boards dedicated to each of these, come follow me for easy kid-friendly recipes!

Grocery shop as little as possible

When you make your meal plan, try putting all the meals that use fresh, easily spoiled ingredients in the 1st and 3rd weeks and the meals that use frozen, canned, or shelf-stable items in the 2nd and 4th weeks. This allows you to grocery shop twice a month instead of every week.

READ: Super Simple Grocery List for Two Weeks

Do your Holiday Dinner meal planning ahead of time

Are you hosting Thanksgiving or Christmas? We host the Feast of the Seven Fishes at my house (hello, yes we’re Italian!) and it involves a lot of planning ahead, prep work, and figuring out the start times for each dish. I have a Holiday Meal Planner in the Freebies Library for you that will help you figure all this out. Now, once that’s done – put all the ingredients on your grocery master list.

Don’t forget the meals you bring other places

Create a list of all items you’ll have to make and bring for holiday parties, cookie swaps, or volunteering efforts. Hopefully you added these to your calendar already, now make sure you add the ingredients to your master grocery list.

Make separate shopping lists

You can now create a master grocery list since you have your meal plan done, added rescue meals, added healthy grab-n-go snacks, and have your ingredients for cookie swaps and holiday meals.

Also make separate lists for other stores you go to during the holidays: big box store, craft store, Target, Walmart, online shopping, liquor store, etc. If I’m writing temporary lists, I write them on the back of index cards (turned vertically) – they fit nice in my purse next to my cell phone that way. Otherwise, I use Trello to organize all my lists, especially my gift-giving.

READ: How to use Trello to Organize your Entire Life

Repurpose leftovers from Holiday meals

I often forget that we’ll have turkey and mashed potatoes for days when I’m planning regular dinners. Make a plan to use those leftovers and turn them into new dinners, or just let everyone fend for themselves. Either way, you can take a few days off your meal plan for those days!

Holiday Meal Planning Tip #13: Prep food ahead

As soon as you get home from the grocery store, put all your fruits and vegetables (with skin) in a big bowl – or your sink – filled with warm water and a splash of white vinegar. Let them sit in it while you put everything else away then cut up anything that needs cutting, separate things that need sorting, etc.

Here are a few bonus tips to help keep your holidays stress-free!

Batch your household tasks (and weeks)

It’s been proven that when you focus on one task (or the same type of task) at a time, it wastes less time overall. Put all your household tasks on a sheet of paper and group them together. I would even take it a step further and make a “theme” for each week – like this:

  • Week 1 is meal prepping and making freezer meals
  • Week 2 is reducing clutter (to make room for new, ha!)
  • Week 3 is deep cleaning
  • Week 4 is relaxing!

Ask for help

I know this is a hard one, especially for moms. But this is the time to ask everyone and anyone to pitch in! Give your kids age-appropriate jobs in the kitchen. Partner with your friends or neighbors and have a freezer meal party, or match up your shopping lists and have each person go to a different store and shop for everyone!

Remember the reason for the season

Every Christian has heard the “keep the Christ in Christmas” and even if you’re not a Christian, it’s a nice reminder to focus on the things that truly matter to you. Family memories, fun holiday events, holiday bucket lists, volunteering and helping others in need, etc. What do you want to focus on? What can you eliminate or reduce?

Say no more often

I also need to mention here that you might need to cut some things out – say no to some events and responsibilities! It’s your job to protect your time and sanity during this crazy-busy season.

With all of these tips, you can get your entire meal plan under control and stop losing your mind during the holidays!

The holidays are stressful, right? These holiday meal planning tips are the key to getting everything under control - your own stress-free holiday checklist!