While I’m not traveling this December, the holidays can still be a hectic time of year. That’s why I’m leaning into meal planning to put together family-friendly meals and snacks that make this time feel cozy and celebratory without a lot of last-minute work. With this meal plan and step-by-step prep guide, you’ll prep festive appetizers, satisfying brunches, and a hands-off holiday dinner — and with the upfront prep, you’ll still have plenty of time outside of the kitchen for holiday movie marathons and more family fun.
The most efficient way to grocery shop is to arrange the list by department. Olive and vegetable oils, kosher salt, and black pepper are staples I always keep on hand and they are not included in the list below. Check your pantry, fridge, and freezer to make sure you are stocked with staples and to set aside ingredients you already have on hand.
Supplement this list with store-bought items like a coffee cake from your grocer’s bakery, yogurt, sandwich fixings, and salad greens to round out the meal plan without adding to your prep list.
Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done
During the holidays, we take mornings rather slowly. Instead of eating immediately after everyone wakes up, we start the coffee pot and gather in the kitchen for brunch instead. Not only does this make mornings feel less hectic than our everyday schedule, but it also means that I don’t have to prep breakfast and lunch — a win-win!
Make-Ahead “Ham and Cheese” Breakfast Casserole: The night before serving, grease a 1 1/2- to 2-quart baking dish. Spread the dried bread cubes in the bottom of the dish (if you’ve frozen the bread cubes, there’s no need to thaw before adding to the baking dish). Top with the pancetta and onions and sprinkle with the Gruyere cheese. Shake or whisk the egg mixture to redistribute the seasonings, then pour into the baking dish. Press the bread cubes down gently, then cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, take the casserole out of the refrigerator and heat the oven to 350°F. Bake uncovered until a knife comes out clean, 35 to 50 minutes.
Morning Glory Overnight Oats: Serve these chewy harvest oats cold from the fridge or pop them in the microwave to take the chill off. Leave jars of walnuts and unsweetened coconut flakes at eye level in the pantry or on the kitchen counter so that the family can serve themselves.
Lofty Buttermilk Pancakes: No holiday is complete without a plate of fluffy pancakes, and I don’t even mind making them since I’ve already measured everything out. Pour the dry ingredients from the jar into a large mixing bowl and add the egg yolk and milk mixture. Once that mixture is just combined, stir in the egg whites. Set aside the bowl of batter and slide a baking sheet of bacon into the oven to crisp. After the last pancake comes out of the skillet, scramble up some eggs with leftover shredded cheese from the fridge.
Gougères: Bake just one (for a special midnight snack!) or the whole batch of gougères to serve the family. Arrange the racks to divide the oven into thirds, then heat the oven to 450°F. Place frozen gougères 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F and bake until golden-brown and dry to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes.
Roasted Feta Cheese with Fig-Thyme Compote: Heat the oven to 400°F. Take the compote out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. Remove feta from the brine and rub with olive oil. Place cheese in a small oven-safe dish and bake for 15 minutes. Spoon one-third of the prepared compote over the cheese and garnish with fresh thyme. Serve immediately with crackers. Serve leftover compote with yogurt or oatmeal.
Slow Cooker Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs with Creamy Stovetop Polenta: Instead of serving turkey for yet another holiday meal, serve savory, slow-cooked short ribs and cheesy polenta. Since the flavor is even better the next day, cook the short ribs the day before you plan to serve them. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper and sear until brown on 3 sides, then transfer to a slow cooker. Add the red wine and vegetable mixture and 1 cup low-sodium beef broth to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW until the meat is tender, 8 to 10 hours. Remove the short ribs to a container. Strain the liquid, discarding vegetables and loose bones. Refrigerate the short ribs and sauce together. When ready to serve, scrape off and discard the fat and reheat the short ribs on the stovetop. Meanwhile, prepare the Creamy Stovetop Polenta with shredded Gruyere cheese.
Vegetarian Skillet Pot Pie: Thaw puff pastry according to package directions. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the skillet and return the sautéed vegetables to the skillet to reheat. Add the flour and then slowly pour in the broth, whisking until smooth. Cook, stirring until thickened, then add the baby kale and milk. Unfold pastry and place over the filling. Cut slits in the pastry as vents, then bake until the crust is golden, about 20 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
The Absolute Best Lentil Soup: Reheat servings of the lentil soup. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls and finish with a dollop of yogurt and a sprig of fresh thyme if there’s any left. Serve with a slice of crusty bread.
Power Hour Meal Prep is the series where we help you put it all together. We show you how to eat well during the week with an hour or two of Power Hour prep over the weekend. Every plan is different; mix and match to find your own personal sweet spot.