Holiday Menu Planning 101 + FREE Printable

Staying organized over the holidays all comes down to keeping things simple and a little advanced planning.   Today I’m going to talk about holiday menu planning and how to stay organized and on task.  It’s as simple as a printable (that I share below) and some really smart recipes that can be prepared in advanced.   I’ve been using this method for a couple of years now and it is such a relief to have the menu preparations simplified and chaos free.  Who doesn’t want a little less chaos in their lives?  Let me walk you through how I plan and prep my holiday menu in advance while still managing to get dinner on the table all the days beforehand.   My goal is to always have most of the work done ahead of time so that I can spend as much time as possible enjoying my guests and family on the big day.  If I can do it, anyone can!

Recipe Selection:

One week prior to any holiday meal that I’m hosting I sit down to do a little advance preparation. This makes all the difference to pulling off a successful event. I start with the recipe selection. I pay particular attention to recipes that can be made ahead of time. To cut down on last minute prep I also make use of my two slow cookers….one for Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes and one for Slow Cooked Old-Fashioned Dressing (I don’t cook my stuffing in the turkey due to my son’s gluten allergy).  Both are really good recipes I’ve made many of times.

Just recently I came across this recipe for Make-Ahead Turkey & Gravy and will definitely be giving it a go this year.  The recipe looks really good and because you freeze the cooking juices along with the turkey I’m thinking it wouldn’t leave the turkey dry or tasting like leftovers (I’m hoping!).

My husband’s fancy carving job as taught to him by my Executive Chef brother-in-law:

Most side dishes can be prepared a day or two before with only some last minute prep time needed.  Here are some suggestions for you:

Creamy Vegetable Casserole

Oven-Roasted Asparagus

Garlicky Green Beans

Green & Yellow Beans with Mushrooms

Almond Cranberry Squash Bake

Bacon-Wrapped Green Beans

Even desserts can be made ahead of time and frozen:

Candy Cane Cheesecake

Peanut Butter Pie

Frosty Peppermint Dessert

image: taste of home

Peanut Butter Cup Pie

image: taste of home

Other family favorites:

Bread Machine Golden Honey Pan Rolls

(dough made in bread machine)

image: taste of home

Use a Holiday Menu Planner:

Once I have my recipes selected for the holiday meal I then sit down with my planner (below) and schedule the advance prep tasks in where I’m able to. I don’t want to get stuck staying up to 2:00 in the morning the night before trying to get everything done so I space the tasks out throughout the week prior. Dividing the tasks up into manageable portions so I’m not doing too much on any one day makes it a much more enjoyable and stress free process for me. Remember scheduling is key!

In anticipation of these additional holiday tasks I have throughout the week, I make a point of keeping the recipes for my regular weekly menu as simple as possible. Soup and sandwiches, breakfast for dinner, and quesadillas are all super easy ideas that aren’t time consuming. Be sure to check out my post for Easy Pre-Holiday Meals. I also highly recommend scheduling in a leftover night the day before a big holiday meal. You want to make sure you have your fridge cleaned out in preparation for all the new yummy leftovers you’ll need space for.

The holiday meal planner that I use makes my holiday meal prep process super easy. Feel free to print it off and use it as well if you’d like. You’ll see there is a space next to each day of the week to record tasks for advance prep work as well as a spot to tick them off as you get them done. That way when it gets to the big day there won’t be much left for you to do except sit and visit with your family and guests! Ahh now doesn’t that sound nice!! 🙂

Free Holiday Menu Planner Printable

Also you may find this printable below helpful for keeping track of your holiday treats.

holiday baking list jpeg

Holiday Baking List

Print Your Recipes Out:

Having all your recipes printed and clipped behind your menu planner means everything is in one spot.  No more looking in a few different places, everything is there ready to grab and go and keep you on track.

Get Groceries Early:

Now that you have your entire menu planned out for the week you can make a grocery list  and head out to the grocery store.  Getting groceries early is a huge part of simplifying the holiday.  The crowds are typically much smaller a week earlier and you can usually get done much quicker if you aren’t playing bumper carts in the aisles.  I’ve got a simple grocery list template printable if you’d like to use it.

Ask Guests to Bring a Dish:

Another thing to consider here is that if you are having guests over for the holiday dinner, they will more than likely ask what they can bring.  Don’t be a superhero and say nothing.  Everybody feels better if they arrive with something in their hands so be a blessing to them and let them contribute!  Ask them to bring a salad which is a great addition to any meal or even have them bring the buns or squares for dessert.  I’ve even had a friend bring the potatoes in a pot all cut up and ready to boil.  That was a real treat for me because I really dislike peeling potatoes…I’m a lefty and it’s not as easy as it looks in a right handed  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it 🙂

Take a Deep Breath:

Just remember the real reason you are all getting together in the first place…food, fellowship and fun!  I hope you find these tips helpful as some of you prepare this week for Thanksgiving and then later as we prepare for the Christmas holidays. A little advanced planning goes a long way to eliminating the stress that can occur at such a hectic time.  Of course all the planning in the world isn’t going to help if your oven dies while the turkey is cooking or your fridge stops working on you the night before.  Yes both happened to me on different years.  Sheesh!  So I guess that brings me to my last point.  Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and go with the flow.  It’s not the perfect holiday dinners we talk about years later, nope, instead we always remember and laugh about the time we ate Christmas dinner at almost 9:00 once we got the oven working again.  Ahh family memories!

Happy organized holidays everyone!

Do you have a favorite make-ahead recipe?  Please share the link in the comments!

Note: I know I link to a lot of Taste of Home recipes but it’s because they rarely let me down. I’m not affiliated with them in any way, just a happy customer 🙂
Filed under: Holidays, Recipes


10 Responses to Holiday Menu Planning 101 + FREE Printable

  1. 2
    Tracy says

    Can you share how to carve like that?? Please?? Mine always look like a complete mess.

  2. 5
    Rebecca Schmorr says

    I agree with making sure that everybody knows to bring a dish. Often times there might be confusion on what is considered the rules and what’s not. It’s often best just to be honest about being upfront with your guests before they come. I

  3. 6
    Beth in AZ says

    My favorite holiday tip is not a recipe. I like to make my mashed potatoes early in the cooking process and load them into my crock pot. They stay nice and hot right thru the second helpings. You can also use a crock pot liner (found by the roasting bags and probably foil/plastic wrap) for easier clean up.

  4. 7
    Jamie at Prepared to Eat says

    I always have a practice Thanksgiving with my little family the week before Thanksgiving. I like to make homemade rolls ahead and turn them into brown and serves by only baking them at a low temperature for about 10 minutes and then flash freezing them. I also have a recipe for a yummy sweet potato casserole over on my blog that would freeze well. The link is


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