Holiday Meal Shortcuts

Holiday meal preparations and enjoyment of festivities can be challenging. Try quick and easy shortcuts.

Making your holidays enjoyable has a lot to do with how you prepare your meals. Michigan State University Extension recommends using the following substitutions and shortcuts to get the most out of festivities without feeling stressed out or exhausted.

You can begin pre-prepping many of your side dishes while your meat is thawing.

Main dishes:
Thawing times for meat should be judged so that thawing can be done on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator. Follow directions for the correct thawing times and cooking times.

  • Prepare poultry, beef or pork meat rubs ahead. Store in sealed zip locks in the cabinet.
  • If serving spaghetti, prepare the meat sauce ahead of time and refrigerate.
  • Garlic oil or chopped garlic can be used if required for a recipe.
  • Make glazes ahead of time and refrigerate in sealed containers.
  • Many main dishes can be prepared in a crockpot. If you’re not sure about this, try it out before the holiday.  Crockpot meats are juicy, tender and time-saving.

Pre-prep and freeze the following in tightly sealed freezer bags or containers.


  • Boil enough eggs for deviled eggs and potato salad at the same time. After cooking, rinse immediately in cold water. Peel and store in tightly sealed container until the morning of your feast.
  • Wash and freeze seedless green and red grapes. At mealtime, serve in a large decorative bowl. Garnish with sprigs of mint and dollops of yogurt or tofu dessert topping (see below).
  • Instead of a cheese ball or cheese bowl, purchase assorted cheeses and serve with assorted crackers.

Side dishes:

  • Chop onions in advance. (Use baking soda to get rid of strong onion odors).
  • To save money, buy celery stalks; chop or dice.
  • Slice fresh yams and parboil.
  • Shred carrots in advance. Use to garnish potato salad or for other dishes you will serve.
  • Suggestion: Try canned instead of fresh collard, turnip or mustard greens. Add extra seasonings to your liking or to keep up traditional tastes.

Desserts and toppings:

  • Substitute applesauce for oils when baking to reduce fat. Your recipe will be just as appetizing.
  • Substitute whipped cream dessert toppings with tofu or low fat yogurt.
  • Use less sugar by blending granulated sugar in a blender to make powdered sugar.
  • Crush boxed graham crackers to make graham cracker crust.
  • Use your crockpot. You would be surprised at how many low fat desserts can be made in your crockpot.
  • Substitute and use your blender or food processor.

Holidays are meant for enjoying time for yourself and with your families. Utilizing the noted suggestions will help you do just that. Give yourself time to enjoy a hot cup of cocoa. You don’t have to live in the kitchen preparing dinner during the holidays anymore!

MSU Extension is available with expert educators.  We offer classes and presentations in a variety of health and nutrition areas.

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