Rethinking Holiday Dinner

I still remember the first Christmas when most of my family had become vegetarians. Suddenly my mother wasn't spending hours in the kitchen working on dinner. It may have been because she didn't have to prepare a turkey or because we had to figure out together what to make without the meat. Whatever, the reason, I remember that we actually got to spend some time together and have a yummy meal. I think there are a few lessons to be learned from that experience.

In my guest for ultimate awesomeness, I've compiled some helpful tips for making my holidays fun, cheap, eco-friendly, and less stressful. I've posted about gift-giving, and greeting cards, this third part is about the holiday meal.

Photo by basykes

Part 3: Rethinking Holiday Dinner

It's getting close, so if you're going to host and you haven't planned a date, menu or guestlist, it's a good idea to start with the people. Once you know who you want to be there, you can work on dates. Since it's the busy time of year, there's nothing wrong with having guests after the malls have stopped playing carols. After heading over to the families, I'd like to host my own gathering, the above and what follows are some things I'll keep in mind. 
First, remember that  less is more- While it's nice to have a big meal, you don't have to make every single dish you've ever cooked for one sitting. Your wallet, stomach, and dishes will thank you. The meal should be a time of abundance, more so in terms of conversation, joy, and connection, less so in terms of the kind that leaves you having to undo your belt.

What you do cook, prepare ahead of time if it's more convenient. Apples for a crisp, sweet potatoes for a curry, mushrooms for a stir-fry can all be cut and frozen for quite a while. I've saved these things for months to use when I'm strapped for time. I've also had some success with freezing cakes and cookies and that's a definite time saver. Even if you start the prep with only hours to go, try to get your ingredients earlier, it will save you time and stress if you can avoid hoards of last-minute shopper and avoid the risk that the grocer may be out of that ingredient you need.  

Photo by  theresac

If you're hosting several people, consider making it a potluck. Not only will it make the affair more affordable, but it will also be an opportunity to try new dishes and see others' traditions. To ensure that you don't end up with millions of cookies, consider asking people if they'd like to bring a main dish or a dessert and adjust what you prepare accordingly. If you feel uncomfortable having meat at the dinner, or have other food restrictions which you feel can be accomdated and won't endanger your life if they're not, mention these to the guests with a few suggestions. How well it goes over will depend on the crowd and the restriction, but it doesn't hurt to ask. It's your potluck so you should feel comfortable.

Even if it's just the usual gang around, asking for help has never been cooler than when there's a lot of stuff to do. I think it should be a family affair and everyone can help by contributing different dishes or preparing different parts of the meal. It's not only practical, but I love cooking with others. I learn new things, get better at working together, and have room for interesting conversations. If someone's really not skilled in the kitchen and doesn't want to give it a shot, there's always dishes to be washed, tables to be set, and other chores to be done.

Photo by Rachel Tayse

Consider adding more vegetables or even going meatless for the occasion. Vegetables are affordable and can be made into everything from soups to curries to patties to casseroles and more.  They also don't require the same preparation precautions that raw meat does, which makes it easier for everyone to get involved with the prep.  In my experience, preparing a turkey is a long affair, so if you do opt for meat, and the time stresses you out, consider something you find easier to prepare. No one said you must have turkey.  It's your holiday, don't stress yourself out.

How do you make your special meals work for you?  Leave a comment, I'd love to hear about it. 

Don't forget to subscribe. Coming up next- asking for help (a useful skill this time of year and always).


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