(By Julie Beyer, RD) I don’t know about you, but this last week before the holidays is usually a mixture of excitement, busy-ness, nostalgia, and fun…with a bit of anxiety thrown in for flavor. I usually want everything to be perfect: the perfect presents, the perfect gatherings, and the perfect food, all to help create the perfect memories. But think about it. What do you remember about the holidays of your past? Is it the meticulously decorated tree? Is it a turkey roasted to the perfect golden brown? Or is it the people and the songs and the laughter and the joy of just being with those you love?
One of MY favorite Christmas memories was the year we all had the flu in my house. How could that be, you wonder? Well, it was the first year my husband and I stayed home with our three young children (9, 6, and 4 years old) without running around visiting. We stayed in our pajamas all day, and each person found a place to lounge curled up in a blanket. We didn’t experience the chaos and squeals of other Christmas mornings, instead we opened packages slowly…very slowly. I truly believe that one of the “benefits” of not feeling 100% was that we savored the joy of each gift. In fact, half-way through the day we all stopped and worked on a 3-D puzzle. To this day I can visualize that puzzle on our coffee table; each person taking a turn putting in a piece until it was complete.
Since we had planned to eat at someone else’s house that year and couldn’t, I threw together a frozen roast beef, potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery and let the slow cooker gradually fill the house with the deliciousness of a wholesome, every day, family meal. And yes, we stayed in our pajamas to eat. We liked this so much that in the years to come we deliberately stayed in our pajamas all day and had roast beef as our meal.
What fascinates me most, however, is when I look back at 35 years of holidays as a wife and mother, it is that perfectly imperfect Christmas that has the most vivid memories. Imagine that. Things didn’t have to be perfect to create the best memories. So as you are scurrying around trying to pull together your last minute preparations, remember to prioritize your efforts. Don’t be afraid to take a few shortcuts to save your energy for what matters most—your most cherished traditions and your family and friends.
Holiday Food Shortcuts
As much as we look forward to our holiday meals, the preparation can be time consuming and stressful. Here are a few shortcuts that can help you still enjoy holiday favorites while conserving your precious energy for your family, friends, and yourself!
1. Plan meals where people can personalize their dishes. With enough variety, everyone can choose the foods they like and avoid their personal food sensitivities. For example, set out platters of meat, cheese, vegetables, and spreads with wraps and buns and let people make their own sandwiches. Bake large restaurant size potatoes and set up a topping bar with cheeses, vegetables, salsa, beans, and chopped meats (chicken and bacon are common choices). Ice cream sundae parties are also fun! Don’t forget to include holiday flavors like gingerbread cookies, crushed candy canes, and cookie sprinkles.
2. Purchase plain, cut sugar cookies: Order from a local bakery and decorate them at home. Take extras to nursing homes, the fire station, shelters, or neighbors.
3. Use frozen prepared pastry shells for your pies: Bladder and stomach friendly pies like custard, banana cream, coconut cream, apple, butterscotch, pumpkin, and sweet potato pies are easy to make! You can also use these frozen crusts for quiche or make meat pot pies out of left-overs.
4. Add a little holiday flash to everyday foods: Add some cookie sprinkles to pancake dough. Garnish plates with a slice of orange and a sprig of parsley. Crumble a simple streusel topping (brown sugar, partially softened butter, cinnamon, and flour) on blueberry muffins before you bake them. For a fun party mix, drizzle melted white chocolate over bagged caramel corn and roasted almonds that you have spread on cookie sheets—add some candy sprinkles before the chocolate hardens. Break apart and serve in pretty holiday pans or dishes.
5. Collect leftovers in one bowl/bag and put in your freezer. Small portions of leftover peas, carrots, corn, rice, and meat can be thrown in a slow cooker to make a great stew or soup.
6. Clean up as you cook. Keep a garbage can near-by and load and unload the dishwasher as you go. Use antibacterial kitchen wipes to give your cooking surfaces a once over when you are done.
Spinach and Feta Quiche (From Confident Choices® A Cookbook for IC and OAB)
Looking for a quick but special holiday breakfast? Prepare this simple, savory quiche ahead. Pop in the oven when you are opening packages and soon the smells of breakfast will fill the house! Serve with fresh berries making Christmas morning savory, simple, and special!
- 2 (10 oz.) pkg. frozen chopped spinach (thawed)
- 5 eggs
- 1 c. half and half (may substitute 1 c. evaporated skim milk)
- 1 c. crumbled feta cheese (4 oz.)
- 2 T. chopped green onions
- 1/2 t. lemon zest, if tolerated
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1/4 t. pepper
- 1 unbaked, frozen deep-dish 9-inch pie shell (I like Marie Callender’s brand)
Pierce bottom of pie shell and bake for 5 minutes at 350°F. Cool slightly. Raise temperature of oven to 400°F. Drain spinach and press out all liquid. (This can be done easily between layers of paper towels.) Set aside.
Whisk eggs and half-and-half or milk in bowl. Add cheese, green onions, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Pour into partially baked pie shell. Bake on middle rack, 400°F for 10 minutes, reducing oven temperature to 350°F for the last 25 minutes.
Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche: Substitute 1 cup frozen broccoli florets for the spinach and 1/2 cup shredded white cheddar cheese for the feta cheese.
Slow Cooker Beef Stew
Sometimes having an elaborate Turkey Dinner just isn’t possible. A simpler meal, such as Beef Stew, is easier to make, adds less stress to the day for the cook in the family and can provide a lovely family feast. Pair it with your favorite hot biscuits, cornbread or rolls. Serve with a salad of your choice and enjoy!
- 2 lbs. beef chuck
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil or shortening
- 1 medium white onion (if tolerated), sliced thinly
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1/2 pound small mushrooms whole or cut in halves
- 1 pound small white potatoes, cut into quarters
- 1/2 package baby cut organic carrots
- 2-3 cups organic beef broth, low salt (no msg please)
- fresh thyme springs
Cut beef into bite size pieces. Toss with paprika, salt and pepper and flour, the shake off excess flour. Heat oil to medium high in your slow cooker and brown meat. Cook until browned on all sides. Add in sliced onions, chopped garlic, carrots, mushrooms and potatoes and continue to saute for five minutes. Add two to three cups of beef broth and fresh thyme. Simmer on low for 6-8 hours or until meat and veggies are tender. If you would prefer a gravy like sauce, remove 1/2 cup of sauce from the slow cooker. Stir (or whisk) in 1/4 cup flour into the 1/2 cup sauce until no clumps remain. Stir back into the slow cooker and cook for an additional five or ten minutes until the sauce thickens.
Butterscotch Pie (From Confident Choices® A Cookbook for IC and OAB)
If you love the caramel goodness of butterscotch, here’s a special holiday pie recipe with a rich Southern flavor.
- 2 T. butter
- 1 c. brown sugar
- 2/3 c. hot water
- 2 T. flour
- 3 T. cornstarch
- 1/2 t. salt
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 c. milk
- 1 t. vanilla
- 9-inch baked pie shell (can use baked from frozen prepared shell) or small pie shells
Brown the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat; add the brown sugar and stir it until melted. Add the hot water and cook, stirring syrup until there are no lumps.
Mix together flour, cornstarch, salt, egg yolks and milk; slowly stir this mixture into the hot syrup. Boil everything until it thickens; then add the vanilla. Pour mixture into a baked pie shell. Make meringue!
2 egg whites
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Whip the whites in a clean dry bowl on low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue whipping on medium speed until soft peaks are formed. Gradually pour in the sugar and continue whipping on higher speed until stiff and glossy. Pile the meringue onto the pie(s) and swirl to cover, making sure to touches the crust on the edges.edge.
Bake pie at 325 until the meringue is slightly browned (approx. 15 minutes). Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn! Cool before serving!