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Oh how I love the holidays.

I love the baking, music, decorations, special dishes, being with family, and the general excitement that tends to overflow from even the youngest members of our family.

But, as much as I love the holidays, they can come with a unwanted stress level.

Come on, you know what I’m talking about.  The stress that returns to our faces right after smiling for that perfect family photo…yeah…that stress.  It can take the joy right out of the holidays.  So, as I am beginning the planning process for our celebration of Thanksgiving this year, I thought I would share how we organize holiday meals in our home.

I tend to do all the holiday cooking with the help of my hubby and kids because we have no family in town.  Family coming in town would have a hard time bringing holiday dishes to share so we just take care of the food.  This is okay by me because we have a unique blend of southern/southwestern dishes that are traditional for our family and it just wouldn’t be the same without them.

Over the years, we have come up with a three day food prep system that seems to serve us well.  I thought I would post it here for anyone looking for planning ideas.

I do grocery shopping every two weeks so it does take some planning to make sure that I have everything that I will need on those three prep days.  Many people shop sales and stock up but I really just honestly don’t have the time for that at this busy phase of life.  I make out the meal plan, list the ingredients, check my pantry for items I already have, and add any needed non-perishables to my normal grocery shopping list. I will run back out a few days before the holiday for the perishables.

Once I have all the ingredients, I plan to do three kitchen days.  On these days, we will eat very simple means for dinner or go out for pizza so that we can focus our attention and kitchen supplies on preparing for the holiday meal.  This year I doubled a few soup recipes the week before so that we could just warm up the homemade soup in a crockpot:)

Day 1 (This would be Tuesday for the Thanksgiving holiday.):  Early in the day, I will place the frozen turkey in the refrigerator to thaw.  Then, I will bake pies, sweet breads, cookies, rolls, and the spicy trail mix that we like.  All of these items could be frozen if space is an issue or I can just stick them in the refrigerator.  I try to remember to load and start the dishwasher before bed so that I have fresh supplies for day two.

Day 2: Day two is mostly veggie prep.  We are peeling, slicing, dicing, sauteing, baking, and steaming veggies.  This is a great place for little helpers to get involved.  My younger ones like to peel, the middles can slice and dice, and my older ones can saute.  I go ahead and prepare the veggies with all of the seasonings and then place them in gallon ziploc bags in the refrigerator.  For example, I will combine all of the ingredients for my green bean casserole except toppings and then seal it in the gallon ziploc bag.  I then prepare any toppings and place them in smaller ziploc bags.  Next, I bake my cornbread for our cornbread dressing, saute the onions and celery, and make the cranberry sauce.  If I have frozen any of the previous day’s baking, I pull it out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator or counter and…try to remember once again to load the dishwasher before bed:)

Day 3:  First thing on day three, I like to get some of our favorite music going.  This sets the mood and creates an atmosphere that everyone enjoys.  It’s amazing how music produces a peaceful environment.  I prefer Christmas, classical, or worship music but some of my older kids like to dj so I better get started with what I like early because when they roll out of bed, the music will soon change.

Well, on this day, most of my food is prepared and in the refrigerator waiting to be warmed…ahhh.  I can now focus on the breakfast that my family has come to expect on Thanksgiving and Christmas. We traditionally have homemade monkey bread, a protein dish of some type, and a self-serve, hot drink station.  My older kids love helping with these things and each have their favorite places to work.  This year, I am going all out and picking up some petite quiches from Costco for the protein portion of breakfast…haha.  The easier the better!  We will also use paper plates for breakfast to keep the kitchen from becoming overloaded:)

As soon as breakfast is out of the oven, the turkey goes in.  We have just one oven in our current home so timing is important.  This is always my husband’s job as he enjoys it.  He loves to try different seasonings, rubs, stuffings, etc..  I don’t really enjoy pulling the gizzards from the turkey so this suits me just fine:)

While he gets the turkey in, I get the sides going.  I take the cornbread that I baked on day one, crumble it, and create the dressing.  The cornbread dressing goes into a large crockpot and I move on to start warming the other sides.  I like to utilize all my crockpots on this day.  We have two large ones and one three crockpot station.  I get out my three crockpot station, grab the prepped veggies in ziploc bags, and dump them each in their own pot.  I let them warm until about an hour before mealtime and then place the toppings on them.  This way I can stir them if needed without ruining the toppings.  Once the sides are all warming, I whip some cream to top the pie and place it back in the refrigerator.  Now, I can relax until the turkey comes out.

Most years we just serve up our plates buffet style and then head to the table.  I have transferred the sides to dishes and placed on the table before but it creates an enormous amount of dishes to be done and honestly, I’d rather take the frisbee and football to the park than scrub tons of extra dishes.

Well, I’m off to start making my list of dishes and ingredients.

How do you organize holiday meals?