The holidays are fun, but there never seems to be enough time to enjoy them. These nine tricks have really helped me get a handle on everything I have to do to get ready on time without totally stressing out.
1. Plan My Menu.
At our house, holiday meals are always the main event. That means lots of cooking, food shopping, and the rest. It all goes quicker and easier if I plan my menu at least ten days out. I always want to cook more than I really have time for. Planning a big menu is a little like window shopping. I initially put a lot of dishes on the list, keep adjusting it and playing with it, and have fun thinking about what I might make. Four or five days before the meal, though, I get serious, whittle it down, and make decisions about what I’ll really serve. Once I do that, I can breathe a sigh of relief and move on to the next task: making my shopping list.
2. Make a Complete Shopping List.
Once you plan your menu, don’t think you’ll remember all the ingredients you need when you go shopping. You won’t. Write it down and make sure you take it with you when you go to the store. Shopping takes a lot of time and if the supermarket is crowded, it can end up being stressful, too. With a list, you’ll go quickly to what you need without needing to prowl aisles that sell ingredients you won’t be using. Plus, you won’t have to run out at the last minute to find something you completely forgot you needed because you didn’t write it down.
3. Use Online Shopping and Delivery.
This is a true time (and gas) saver: no driving to the store, looking for a place to park, fighting the crowds in-store, packing up your groceries, and lugging them back into your house. Take your list, sit down at your computer, order online, and schedule a delivery time that’s convenient for you. If you’re not already using your store’s delivery service, they’ll probably give you a store credit or discount to get started.
4. Prep in Advance.
The less complicated cooking I need to do on a big day, the better. Pies, cookies, holiday bars, and cakes can be made a week or two in advance, frozen, then thawed and frosted or topped the day before they’ll be eaten. Vegetable side dishes can be partially cooked, frozen, then finished up the morning of the meal. Potatoes can be peeled and cut into quarters a day in advance as long as you keep them covered with cold water so they’ll stay fresh.
5. Use Mise en Place.
Don’t you hate it when you’re in the middle of some crucial cooking step and you can’t find the ingredient that you need? Before you get started, put all the ingredients you’ll need for the dish you’re making within easy reach right on the counter. It’s what the French call “mise en place” (put in place) and it will reduce prep time, confusion and stress significantly.
6. Clean Up as You Go.
Keep a couple of sponges at the ready so you can wipe down surfaces, clean up spills and swish out mixing bowls and pots as you go along. Put dirty dishes and silverware right in the dishwasher as you use them.
7. Have an Extra Set of Measuring Spoons.
I use one set for measuring dry ingredients, and one for liquids. I keep both sets in individual glasses right where I an see them. It’s a surprising time saver.
8. Use Kitchen Shears.
They’re a quick way to snip spices into sauces, gravies and salad dressings or trim the ends off green beans. Many are labeled dishwasher safe and will separate for more thorough cleaning. I put mine right in the dishwasher.
9. Clean the House After the Holiday, Not Before.
I never worry about cleaning my house top to bottom on a day I’m serving a big meal. As long as the bathroom sparkles and there aren’t obvious dust bunnies on the floor, I don’t try to find time to clean when there’s so much else to do. Besides, I’ll have to clean up after the party anyway. Once guests arrive and people start having a good time, no one is going to worry about whether I vacuumed.
What do you do to save time over the holidays? Share your secrets, please!