Stress-Free Holiday Menu Planning Tips + Festive Recipes

So are you telling me that you’re in mega-panic mode because you decided to host a huge holiday get- together at your house this year? No worries! Whether your guest list will be big or small, my Christmas and New Year's recipe collections plus savvy menu planning tips will help melt away stress so you can relax and enjoy this special time with family and friends.

Planning ahead is the key to assure the cook as well as the guests are happy…so make sure you do your homework!

Thought about your guest list? What goodies will be on your menu? Will your meal be sit-down or buffet? Is cost a consideration? How much time can you REALLY devote to food shopping and cooking? Are there “Junior Chefs” and other family members around to help?

Holiday Menu Planning Essentials

The Guest List. Social calendar and other responsibilities already over-the-top? To give yourself plenty of time, as soon as you have decided on a guest list, offer your invitation. Once you know your basic numbers, you can plan the appropriate selection of dishes as well as quantities of food to serve.

Choose a Menu. Your goal should be to create a menu that is fun and full of the flavors and colors of the season. Will you test the waters by choosing a few eclectic dishes or lean toward traditional family favorites?

Offer plenty of healthy selections too, as chances are many of your guests are quite food conscious these days, so processed, calorie-ridden foods should not be the star guest at your holiday table!

So consider swapping out the majority of traditional overly rich menu choices (like heavy casseroles, gravies, creamed veggies, etc.) for some of the lighter dishes you will find in my Christmas and New Year's recipe collections.

Not only will your menu be healthier, but your table will be enhanced with bright colors, tastes and textures from fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains. (leaving some room if desired, for “conscious treating” without guilt!)

Sit Down or Buffet? To be quite candid, if you are having a crowd, I prefer buffets as opposed to sit- down holiday meals which give the guests more opportunity to mingle. Buffets also allows the cook more time to relax, eat and socialize as there is no jumping up from the table to clear dishes while scrambling to present the next course. It’s certainly no fun if your guests are ready to leave just when you’re finally ready to kick back and schmooze, right?

Need to Go Budget-Friendly? Today, many families are watching their pennies when it comes to planning events and holidays are no exception. Be assured that lovely holiday menus can be planned on a budget that works for you. If after the menu is planned, you decide your food costs will be just a bit over the top, see if you can’t do without a dish or two, because like me, you probably make too much food anyway!

No Need to “Go It Alone.” I am betting there are friends or family that would be delighted to help- so do not be shy about asking. Not only will you be able to reduce some of the cost, but you won’t need to work as hard to cook a huge holiday meal while juggling work, family and other social responsibilities.

Take a Break from Food Prep: These days, there is an abundance of healthy store-bought foods, many which can be found in bulk food warehouses. Sure, you can make everything from scratch, but to save time (and sometimes money), I recommend scouting out potentially healthier alternatives available in your area. In the mood for a mini splurge? Investigate local bakeries for a selection of artful and delicious miniatures which will limit sugar exposure and calories to just a few bites. (And by the way, mini’s are really quite the rage these days!) Prefer to make everything yourself? Then make a promise to stick with festive desserts that are delicious yet simple to make.

Engage the Services of Your “Junior Chefs!” Having taught cooking to preschoolers for many years, I know just how much these wee ones love to help. And the holidays are the perfect occasion to practice their culinary skills. With age-appropriate kitchen tools, let your little ones perform tasks like making a simple fruit salad or arranging fresh veggies on a tray. Kids love to set tables too, so do show them how to fold napkins and place silverware. And if you have some extra time, I know they would love to make a special holiday centerpiece for your table. Oh-and don’t forget to request help from your bigger kids too!

Have guests with special dietary needs? No worries if you go with dishes that cover many bases such as the ones you will find in my Christmas and New Year's recipe collections.

Shop Smart: These crowd-pleasing dishes require few special foods and in fact… most of the ingredients can be found at your local grocery store or farmers’ markets (just starting up again here in the South) or even your favorite bulk food warehouse for additional cost savings. Just choose the dishes that interest you, make yourself a detailed shopping list and off you go.

Most Importantly… Relax and Have Fun! No matter how simple or fancy the food, make sure you and your guests “enjoy the moment.” With all the stresses we must endure these days, the Winter Holiday Season should be a time where everyone can relax and have fun. With careful planning and attention to detail, your celebration meal will be happily remembered by all.


More Festive Holiday Favorites










Have a Wonderful Holiday Season and a Very Happy New Year!


Hungry for More?

I invite you to visit my Recipe Collections where lots of goodies such as Pudge-Busting Dishes, Pack ‘n Go Lunch Favorites, Dinners in a Flash, Freezer-Friendly Meals, Favorite Crockpot Dishes, Healthier Indulgences and MORE are awaiting your discovery!

Can You Become a Meal Planning Maven Success Story?

YES! Contact me for more information about my services. I would love to share my healthy eating secrets you can use, today, tomorrow and always. My specialties include creating customized meal planners and one- on- one food coaching using tried ‘n true methods. Whether your goal is to feed your family healthier meals, build a collection of quick ‘n easy recipes, “go gluten-free,” or perhaps knock off that pesky “pudge” that has already found its way to your middle during this holiday season …I’d LOVE to help!

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Linda Shapiro, Meal Planning Maven

1 Response

  1. Oh my goodness, Linda, there is so much deliciousness here! Although it's definitely perfect for the holidays, I think this post will be an amazing resource all year round. Sharing! Thank you so much for all your support this year, my friend. Wishing you and yours a very Happy New Year!