How to Plan and Cook a Holiday Meal

Whether you are planning one or two dishes or a whole meal for the holidays, it’s always nice to have some extra tips. Here is my quick guide to planning and creating a delicious meal that happens to be gluten-free (with dairy and egg-free variations). As I always says, you don’t have to be a chef to be the “family chef”; you just need good recipes and techniques.

Let’s start with the basics:

1.Plan your menu
2.Figure out amounts including what you would like to have for leftovers
3.Make your shopping list including what can be purchased before and what has to be purchased the day or so before
4.Create a prep list for the days leading up to the big day
5.Create a prep list for the day of, working backwards from when you want to eat
6.Eat and enjoy your meal!

That’s your high level guide. Now let’s get into the details.

Plan Your Menu
This is a combination of what you are in the mood for, what your family likes, and what you have time to make. Of course many people opt for the traditional minimum such as: turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, vegetable and/or salad, cranberry sauce, rolls, and pie for dessert. If you eat gluten, dairy, and even egg-free, all of these dishes can be made as good as their regular counterparts. Make sure to have your recipes ready to go. You can find gluten-free and dairy-free recipes perfect for the holidays in The Warm Kitchen cookbook; how convenient!

My suggestion is to start with a basic recipe, especially if you are new to this. Some people prefer the taste of the traditional recipes for the holiday meal; others like to experiment. The best advice is that if you are making a new recipe, test it out first to see how long it takes and make sure you like it.

Your menu drives everything else which includes your shopping and prep lists so it has to be the first step.

This is another tricky topic as most people love to have leftovers. Consider this in your planning. Generally for turkey, it’s one pound per person. For the gravy, I usually make 1 cup for 4-6 people (most will use around 1-2 tablespoons but others use more). A tray of stuffing will feed 6-8. For potatoes, I estimate one large russet potato to feed 2-3 people. If you want more, plan accordingly.

Shopping List
Now that you know what you are making and how much of it, start the shopping list. Check to see what is in the pantry first. If I see certain things on sale, I tend to buy extra if it’s not perishable. Sometimes I forget about things like eggs and sugar so make sure to check everything (unless you have neighbors who you can call upon for that cup of almond milk you need).

When you make the shopping list, include what can be purchased ahead like the frozen turkey, vegetable shortening for the pie crust, etc. and what needs to be purchased a few days ahead such as the fresh fruits and vegetables. The bottom line is the shopping list will help you to be able to plan the meal. Having some things in the house beforehand means that when you go to the store for those last few items, you won’t have to fight the crowds as you only will need a few things.

Prep Lists
When I worked in big kitchens, it was all about the prep list; what has to be done today as well as tomorrow. Think about what can be done the day or two before like making the pie crust, toasting the bread for the croutons, making the cranberry sauce, and even chopping the vegetables.  Don’t forget to defrost the turkey 2-3 days before. That should be on the list. I leave mine in the fridge; it is not recommended to leave it out to thaw (unless it’s outside, about 40F, and safe from animals).

For the day of the big event, figure out when you want to eat, leaving an hour for the turkey to cool down a bit and be carved. Work backwards for everything else. Potatoes can be cooked and mashed in the morning and then heated in a pan in the oven. I usually make my gluten-free gravy (here’s a recipe from my other blog) from the drippings so that’s always something done in the last hour. The stuffing can also be done ahead. Salads can be prepped but not mixed with dressing unless directed. Most veggies can be cut for the salad except for anything that browns like avocado, pears, and apples.

A prep list is also helpful when someone says to you “what can I do?” You can share the list and go from there. One thing I love to do is cross things off the list. Having someone else help with this is even better.

The Big Day
Remember the holidays are supposed to be a time for us to enjoy our family and friends. If you are stressed out or have made too much, it won’t be fun. If you have to, take a few things off of the menu or ask for more help. Then, get ready to sit back and enjoy yourself!

Here are some other gluten-free recipes you might enjoy:

Beet “Caviar”
Crustless Quiche
Roasted Tomatoes over Mascarpone and Polenta
Caesar Salad
Butternut Squash Risotto
Pumpkin Pie
Gluten-Free Brownies

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