Time-saving Holiday Cooking Tips

By: Jessika Toothman

Carrots are one of the many vegetables you can cut up the day before and refrigerate. Others include peppers, onions, radishes and celery. Tomatoes and cucumbers are among those you have to hold off on. See more pictures of vegetables.
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It's often challenging to raise the extra effort needed to survive a whirlwind holiday season. Added to your already rigorous daily chores is a list as long as Santa's; there's shopping for presents, decorating the tree, stringing the lights, writing out cards, hanging the stockings, wrapping the presents and so on.

If you're one of the poor souls who gets nominated to host Thanksgiving or the big holiday dinner for your extended family, it can feel like a dark cloud descending on what should be a merry time of year. You're in for a massive trip to the grocery store, another couple of trips to pick up forgotten items, hours of slaving in the kitchen, the pressure of pleasing everyone's palates and then a huge cleanup effort to put everything back in order. Sounds like so much fun for you!

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But don't panic. It doesn't have to be such a struggle if you follow a few simple steps that will help save tons of time and effort -- leaving your schedule open for, say, a couple of seconds to sit down and relax.

First thing first: You need to make a game plan. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off is a surefire way to increase the amount of valuable time you waste. To prepare for the big day (or days, as the case may be) compile a master grocery list grouped according to grocery store aisles, as well as a list of all the tasks that need to be accomplished.

Once you have those set, determine a timetable of what needs to be done when. Remember, not everything has to be crowded close together -- many tasks can be done a day or two ahead of time. Save yourself a little stress by cooking some dishes early and freezing or refrigerating them. Also, many items can overlap. Your bird of choice doesn't have to hog the oven; pop in a casserole or some sweet potatoes. While the rolls are reheating, turn your attention to the gravy. You'll finish up faster and have more time to enjoy your get-together, as opposed to wasting extra hours cooking and spending the whole time watching everyone else having fun from the confines of the kitchen.

One the next page we'll dive into some more time-saving tips that are truly worth the couple of minutes you'll devote to reading them.

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Tips and Tricks to Speedy Holiday Cooking

Large batches of Christmas cookies can be baked and decorated early on, then frozen and doled out a few at a time throughout the season.
Large batches of Christmas cookies can be baked and decorated early on, then frozen and doled out a few at a time throughout the season.
France Ruffenach./Photodisc/Getty Images

Before it's time to jump into action, it's a good idea to prepare your kitchen. An unorganized, cluttered HQ can seriously hamper cooking efforts and burn a lot of time. Plus, if you have a fridge full of food that's unnecessary for the occasion, you'll have a lot of trouble squeezing everything in and keeping it safely refrigerated before serving. Assess the fridge, pantry and counter space to determine what's pertinent and what can get out of the way.

Buying some items pre-prepared also helps save time. It may feel like cheating, but it can really take a lot of the tension out of days that should be spent enjoying the company of family and friends. Lots of Web sites offer a range of holiday fare such as smoked turkey, peppered ham, green bean casserole, butternut squash, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, caramelized yams, apple pecan stuffing, pumpkin pie and desserts galore.

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You can always purchase some items and still prepare others yourself. Maybe your turkey and casserole recipes are to-die-for, but you don't want to deal with all those side dishes. Just order whatever you don't feel like spending time on in the kitchen. If you don't want to shell out all the cash, ask guests to pitch in and bring a dish.

Washing the dishes as you go along is another major timesaver. Not only does this free utensils for later use, it saves a ton of effort at the end of the meal so you don't find yourself alone in front of the sink with Mount Everest staring you down. There are always pockets of downtime sprinkled throughout a mammoth cooking session, so wash a pot here and a bowl there, and you'll be amazed how much quicker after-meal cleanup takes.

Last, but certainly not least, get some help from your holiday guests. No reason for you to slave away all by yourself. Assign an early arriver to door duty and set others to work putting out the place settings. It can help to appoint someone as bartender so people aren't constantly coming in and out of the kitchen for drinks. And speaking of a crowded kitchen, it's not a smart idea to recruit more helpers than the space can handle. One or two is usually a good bet -- you can orchestrate preparations better if they handle some of the many easy, yet time-consuming small tasks available, such as stirring vegetables or mashing potatoes.

Of course, when it really comes down to it, the biggest time saver of all is to simply eat at other people's houses over the holidays. Not always the most tactful perhaps, but there's no question it would save you loads of time. For more tips and tricks on saving time and surviving the holidays, hurry over to the links on the next page.

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Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • "Cooking tips for busy people." The Better Health Channel. August 2008. (10/14/2009) http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Cooking_tips_for_busy_people
  • "Cooking Tricks." SimpleAndDelicious.com. (10/14/2009) http://www.simpleanddelicious.com/tips-tricks/quick-tips/cooking-tricks.jsp
  • Harpold, Leslie. "How to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner." The Morning News. Nov. 26, 2003. (10/15/2009) http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/how_to/how_to_cook_thanksgiving_dinner.php
  • Henneman, Alice. "Use Grocery List to Save Time, Eat Healthier." University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County. (10/14/2009) http://lancaster.unl.edu/food/ciqb.htm
  • "Let kids share holiday cooking fun." Louisiana State UniversityAgricultural Center. Dec. 4, 2008. (10/14/2009) http://www.agctr.lsu.edu/en/communications/news/holidays/Let+kids+share+holiday+cooking+fun.htm
  • Paxton, Rachel. "Eight Time-Saving Cooking Tips." Pioneer Thinking. 2002. (10/14/2009) http://www.pioneerthinking.com/chcookingtips.html
  • Paxton, Rachel. "Freezing Cookies and Cookie Dough." The Sideroad. (10/14/2009) http://www.sideroad.com/Cooking/freezing-cookies-dough.html
  • "Saving Time in the Kitchen: Cooking Tips." Diabetic Lifestyle. March 2002. (10/14/2009) http://www.diabetic-lifestyle.com/articles/mar02_cooki_1.htm
  • "Time-Saving Tips." SimpleAndDelicious.com. (10/14/2009) http://www.simpleanddelicious.com/tips-tricks/quick-tips/time-saving-tips.jsp

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