Presenting Your Ultimate Holiday Meal Plan!
When you live far from extended family, as many military members do, you might end up sharing holiday meals with friends and co-workers. However, I’ve found that as an exchange officer in a foreign country, my husband and I still end up eating holiday meals with just the kids. I try to make the standard assortment of side dishes and desserts, but then I always end up with way too much food. This year I will attempt to make just the amount we need, but if I have extra I’ve got a leftover meal plan ready to go, too.
Before we get to the Christmas meal though, I’d like to share what came to be a family tradition: the breakfast casserole. My mom would prepare the casserole on Christmas eve, so when the kids woke up, she could just put it in the oven. While it baked, she could sit and watch the kids open presents. An hour or so later, after all the gifts were unwrapped, breakfast would be ready!
I’ve compiled some recipes that would be good to use this holiday season. Recently, my family and friends have shared a number of recipes through Facebook. While I admit that I have not attempted all of these myself, I’ll share them with you, too, because they look SO good.
Food Network has a list of 101 Christmas Starters. I don’t need that many, so I’ve narrowed it down to a few I know my family will enjoy. All of these are great easy recipes to serve while the main course is cooking.
- Bacon-wrapped dates – Toast them up in the oven on a cookie cooling rack over a sheet pan (to catch drippings) to make the bacon nice and crispy. Make a bunch and keep warm in a crock pot if expecting a crowd.
- Smoked Salmon and cream cheese dip on crackers. Or try this one if you prefer capers to dill. These are great because you can make them a day or two in advance.
- Crab wontons use the cream cheese dip from above, mix with shredded crab, fold into wontons and bake as instructed here.
- Cocktail shrimp with cocktail sauce. Peeled and de-veined. No frills here!
You may only want to pick two or three of these dishes if you are only having a small gathering. For more guests, you could either double the size of the dish or simply make another side or two. Often, people will make large portions for large gatherings. However, when multiple people bring a variety of oversized dishes, you are likely to end up with too much food. When organizing a get-together, coordinate dishes and let people know how many guests you expect.
- Homemade Egg Noodles – This is a family secret and family staple.
- Mac n Cheese – My husband enjoys making this dish a variety of ways, but this is a good recipe to start with. Mix it up by adding a variety of different cheeses including smoked gouda or Parmesan.
- Mashed Potatoes – I’m not sure anyone needs a recipe for this, but one tip my mom gave me was to add more “butter than milk.” I like to season mine a variety of ways, but if you want to use any leftovers for fried potato cakes, might be best to just season these with salt and pepper OR Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes if you want something truly indulgent.
- Green Bean Casserole – Another standard holiday dish that needs no explanation. Beans, Cream of Mushroom, splash of soy sauce, salt, pepper and onion powder, topped with fried onions. My only suggestion: Use french cut green beans. If you really need a recipe for this, try Campbell’s.
- Holiday Stuffing – Everyone has a different recipe for this dish, but the one from Rustic Bread Stuffing recipe from Cooks Illustrated is by far the best I’ve ever made.
- Sweet Potatoes – Try this recipe for Hasselback Maple Pecan Sweet Potatoes if you want to update your sweet potato recipe from mashed/cubed topped with marshmallow. However, those recipes are delicious, and time-honored traditions, too.
- Homemade Yeast Rolls – I have made this Cooks Illustrated recipe before, and I will most certainly make it again. Delicious!
- Turkey – Not enough people at your party to cook an entire turkey, then get a turkey crown and bake with your favorite herbs like thyme, parsley, or rosemary. Try this recipe if you like to cook with bacon. Now I’ve got your attention!
- Holiday Ham – You must always add fresh cloves and brown sugar to a holiday ham. I’m pretty sure it’s a law. My mom always used apricot jam, and possibly pineapple on top, too. Add all of those things to your holiday ham and it will be delicious. I don’t have a recipe for this, but you can’t go wrong with those ingredients. Just take the cloves out before you eat, though!
- Roast Beef – If you waited to shop and all of the turkeys and hams are taken, try this recipe and you can have “Roast Beast” just like the Whos.
- Pumpkin Pie, Pecan Pie or Chocolate Moose – It would be difficult to pick just one.
- Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes – My daughter and I made these and topped them with Cream Cheese Frosting last year for Thanksgiving, but pumpkin spice does not need to end there. These cupcakes were so moist and so incredibly delicious. It’s worth revisiting the flavor!
- Cookies – of course! Cookies of every flavor are great, but my favorites for the Christmas season are chocolate chip, gingerbread and snickerdoodle. Drizzle them with chocolate for a fancy touch. Also, make plenty of sugar cookies for decorating. While this is typically done in preparation for Santa’s visit, make sure you save some for Christmas day, too.
- Almond Joy Cookies are a great dessert option if you want something without flour, butter and egg. Only 4 ingredients!
DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS MEALS
- Potato Pancakes – just add an egg and some flour to your leftover mashed potatoes. Fry them up on a skillet and serve with sour cream, mushroom or cheese sauce.
- Smoked Salmon & cream cheese bagel with capers and red onion.
- Stuffing and Egg Cups – You could stir in some eggs with the leftover stuffing and bake in a muffin tin or in a tomato topped with cheese. Or here’s an alternate version as a breakfast bread boat.
- Fried Mac n Cheese Balls
- Ham Sandwich with bacon on toasted ciabatta roll or those leftover rolls from the day before (as if you didn’t eat them all!).
- Turkey Sandwich with bacon, brie and homemade cranberry sauce (you know you always have left over, because everyone makes it but no one knows why).
- Ham, Potato and Kale Soup – in chicken broth with slivered carrots. Try this!
- Leftover Turkey Soup – Just like homemade chicken soup, only substitute turkey for the chicken. Easy!
- Shepherd’s Pie – Make with minced beef, chicken or leftover turkey. Gorden Ramsey offers up his take on this classic English dish. Or you can try this individual serving size recipe here.
- Cereal! You will probably be tired of eating re-heated, re-envisioned leftovers by this point. There’s no shame in simplifying your life at this point with all the clean-up and commotion going on. Have a bowl of cereal, make some spaghetti or indulge in your favorite drive-through/delivery.
For more leftover recipe ideas, check this out!
Finally, if you have REALLY outdone yourself on Christmas day, and you are still in the giving spirit, think about donating your food to someone in need. Stop a homeless person on the street or visit an elderly person at a nursing home. Think about others who may want a smile from a stranger or food for their hungry belly.
‘Tis the season!