The Stress-Free Guide to Planning a Holiday Menu

Updated 11/01/18
Holiday Menu Planning
Salt and Wind

Planning for the holidays requires a lot of flexibility and juggling and even more patience. This is especially true when it comes to the meal portion of the holiday, which is essentially the main act we've been waiting for all season long. To help you plan a holiday menu that will make everyone happy, including you, read on for tips below plus delicious holiday recipes at the end. 

Tip One: Decide How You Want to Set the Tone

First and foremost, you should think about how you want your friends and family to feel during the holidays. Do you want to honor the special occasion by making it a formal gathering or do you want your guests to feel laid-back and relaxed like they would during another meal? From there, you can start mapping out a menu that reflects the mood and level of formality you're trying to accomplish. This will also help you create a spread that's consistent and works well together. 

This would also be the right time to get your guest list together so you know how many you'll be cooking for and if any of the guests have dietary restrictions to consider. 

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Tip Two: Research Options and Write Them Down

Next, make a list of the traditional recipes you know you'll be making, and then start researching new recipes you want to try this year to switch things up a little. Mixing in both familiar and new dishes will strike the balance between exciting and comforting. Once you've got a good set of options, start narrowing it down by recipes that feature a mix of textures, flavors, and colors to beautify your spread.

Then when you have all the frontrunners mapped out, think about it as a cohesive whole rather than looking at each dish separately. This will help ensure they pair nicely together. If any have flavor combinations that stand out too much, go back to the drawing board and swap them out with something else. Choosing recipes that you can make ahead of time will also help you out as the date gets closer and your to-do list gets longer. 

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Tip Three: Start Stocking Your Kitchen In Advance

If your pantry is running low on a lot of the basics, make sure you stock it ahead of time. This will prevent any major issues when the holiday arrives. And make sure you limit cooking elaborate meals in the days leading up to the event, as you may end up using up all the ingredients you just shopped for in advance. Plus, you won't burn out from too much kitchen time. 

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Tip Four: Set Reminders and Bring a Shopping List

As the holiday gets closer, chances are that times are even busier than usual. And when we're spread too thin, things tend to slip through the cracks. So to make sure you actually stick to the menu plan you mapped out earlier, set reminders for yourself so you remember the details, like when to call the butcher, when to go to the local farmer's market, and which ingredients you'll probably run out of. 

Then, when it comes time to go to the market, make sure you bring a shopping list with you so you don't end up having to make a million trips to the market day of. It can help if you make the list in advance when you're less stressed out and still have time to pay attention to the little details. 

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Tip Five: Prep Ingredients In Advance and Stay Flexbile

It will make things so much easier if you do the first steps in advance. We're talking about all the chopping, peeling, simmering, and roasting that will free up more of your time when the day actually arrives. If you're making a big dinner, then consider making breakfast the night before or simply leave out some cereal for everyone. The grand meal deserves more of your time and attention, anyway. 

Last but not least, make sure you keep an open mind. If the turkey isn't available anymore for whatever reason, it's okay to ditch the original plan and improvise with another comparable dish. 

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So now that you've considered all the holiday meal prep tips, start planning out the actual meal with these delicious, seasonal recipes below. 

Holiday Cocktail Recipes
The Modern Proper

For cocktails… a holiday sangria punch from . 

How to Plan a Holiday Menu
Wu Haus

For an easy starter… a veggie snack board with carrot harissa dip from . 

Salt and Wind

For a fancy starter… mixed mushroom toasts with parsley salad from . 

Half Baked Harvest

For a hearty side… crockpot three-cheese mashed potatoes from  . 

Half Baked Harvest

For a healthy side… a winter beet and pomegranate salad with maple candied pecans and balsamic citrus dressing . 

Salt and Wind

For fancy side… persimmon, fried sage, and goat cheese bites from .

Salt and Wind

For a vegetarian main course… roasted Eggplant, crisp garlic, and basil spaghetti from . 

Half Baked Harvest

For a classic main course… a roasted beef tenderloin with mushrooms and white wine cream sauce from . 

Salt and Wind

For a simple dessert… Italian walnut shortbread cookies from . 

The Modern Proper

For a decadent, classic dessert… pecan pie, chocolate cream pie, caramel apple pie, and ginger pumpkin pie from 

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