Ideas for Creating a Holiday Meal You Look Forward to

We were out recently with some friends we don’t see very often when it hit me just how out of the ordinary our family must seem, especially during the holidays. As we drove to dinner the conversation turned to how much holiday shopping they’d done yet how much they still had to do.  My response that we haven’t really shopped for Christmas in a couple of years, opting instead to make donations or gift experiences or cash, was met with an uncomfortable silence and thankfully the topic was quickly changed by my husband.

There’s actually been a lot of silence in the past few weeks.  I’ve listened silently as friends commiserated about holiday overwhelm.  I’ve listened with little to add as neighbors wonder aloud about how they’ll ever get everything done in time for the holidays.  I’ve remained tight-lipped as I listen to folks talk about how much they detest decorating for the holidays and lugging boxes of ornaments, lighting, trees and decorations up from the basement, down from the attic or in from the garage.  Yesterday during one of these conversations, I could actually feel my chest tightening a bit as it used to when I too was experiencing those overwhelming feelings steeped in the desire for that perfect holiday experience.

Thankfully, the holidays are less of a stress event for us because we’re no longer seeking perfection, choosing instead to simplify our holiday experience.

We started several years ago by simplifying our gift giving.  A couple of years later we began experimenting with not putting up a Christmas tree. Last year we seriously scaled back our holiday decorating and now decking out the house for the holidays, both inside and out takes less than a couple of hours as opposed to the couple of days it had not that many years ago.

This year the focus has been on simplifying the holiday meals – giving ourselves permission to let go of what we think a holiday meal should be.

It started this Thanksgiving morning, when instead of waking up early and going straight to the kitchen to bake the customary two chocolate pies, two milk pies and one apple pie, I declared it a no pie holiday.  Later that day we all enjoyed a delicious apple cranberry crisp my mom baked instead of gorging ourselves on too many pies.

Also this Thanksgiving my mom decided, because over half of us are vegetarians, to not cook a turkey. It was the first time I can remember her house not being filled with the smell of turkey cooking on Thanksgiving day.  It was also the first time I can remember that we weren’t having to jockey for space to bake everything else after the turkey finally finished cooking.  The kicker was when my father shared with us how much he enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal that didn’t feature turkey, because he never really liked turkey anyway.  It never ceases to amaze me what we learn when we’re open to changing things up!

This week, instead of giving into the frustrations associated with creating a Christmas dinner that would accommodate all the different diets, tastes and food preferences of those partaking, my mom and I are opting to simplify even more.  We’re calling it Comfort Food Christmas. Each of has requested our favorite comfort food and that’s what we’re having for Christmas dinner.  The American Diabetic Association wouldn’t necessarily approve of our choices of mashed potatoes & gravy, dumplings, scalloped potatoes, homemade noodles, green bean casserole, corn bread, steamed carrots with brown butter, meatballs, falafel and a couple of different pies, but it’s one meal, not a lifestyle choice. The best part is that we’re all looking forward to our favorite comfort foods on what’s forecasted to be a chilly day and mom and I are looking forward to a meal that will be pretty easy to prepare.

Shouldn’t holiday meals be something you look forward to, instead of something you dread?

As you plan your holiday menus and write-up your grocery lists, what might you change-up to simplify your holiday meal experience?  What will make your holiday meals something you look forward to?  Maybe you absolutely love to cook and prefer being in the kitchen all day creating spectacular holiday feasts.  If so, then do that, because it’s obviously something you look forward to.  But if you know this isn’t you and you’d rather spend more time relaxing and enjoying the company of others than hanging in the kitchen then you have plenty of options.  Maybe you opt to cook one less dish, or two or even three less dishes.  Maybe you opt for simpler recipes with fewer ingredients.  Maybe you opt to pick up a pie from the bakery instead of baking it yourself.  Maybe you opt to skip cooking all together and go out for dinner or get take out.  The opportunity is to make the meal something you look forward to.

I’d love to hear about your holiday experiments with simplifying your holiday meals or simplifying any other aspect of your holidays. What did you try?  What was different for you because you simplified?  What kind of impact did simplifying have on you and your holiday experience?

Happy Holidays to You and Yours!

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