Holiday Meal Hack: How to Lighten the Load for Family Gatherings

Imagine this holiday scene with me: stacks of dirty dishes, random items strewn about, and you’re hunched over the stove stirring some kind of soup while the rest of the family lounges on the couch watching tv and not lifting a finger. Moms, this isn’t the life for us. And if it has been, I want you to know: you certainly can shake things up! I can’t remember when exactly we started this, but a few years ago my parents put structure and organization into place when it came to family holiday gatherings. It’s looked different year by year, but essentially, what we do now involves planning out our activities and meals as well as who is responsible for cooking. Our family lives in three different states so when we gather at my parent’s house, they shoulder the bulk of hosting and preparing. But, we all play a part in entertaining the kiddos, cooking, doing the dishes, and shouldering the responsibility of family life when we’re together which brings a lot of peace and joy!

sharing the responsibility of holiday gatherings

Here’s how this works: a few weeks before our holiday gathering, my mom creates a shared note that includes our schedule and meal needs. This originates from various side conversations that we have about what we want to do when we’re together — this usually includes a couple outings, a dinner and lunch out, and activities or games we want to do at my parent’s house. Then in the shared note, we sign up for who is cooking what as well as help make the grocery list for my mom, who generously does the bulk of the grocery shopping. We siblings usually take care of alcohol or fun mocktails that we want to have on hand and will also cover grocery runs or grocery delivery orders throughout the week as needed.

GarMacStrong is our combined family name 😉

Once everything is organized in the note, it is really nice to not have to make day to day decisions about what we are eating or doing because it’s all planned out! My husband, for instance, loves making breakfast so he does a big scrambled egg station one morning. He’s in charge of all the prep and cooking but can get help as needed. For a dinner maybe I’ll sign up for a salad and my mom will cook the chili. My dad, brother-in-law, and brother who don’t cook as much are usually on dish duty or kid duty (this entails pushing kids on the swing, waking up at the crack of dawn with the baby, and general entertainment). For the larger meals, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, we each sign up for a dish. One of my favorite traditions is that one night we do an adults only tapas style meal, where each couple cooks an appetizer to share and we eat after the kids are asleep. It’s always absolutely delicious and really fun. One year we also had a sign up sheet for doing the dishes after each meal, but we’ve since nixed that because everyone seems to pull their weight.

Over the years we’ve honed our meal plan and we always add in a few new items. Some of our favorite meals include: Eggs Benedict, scrambled eggs with all the toppings (sautéed onions, bacon, cheese, roasted potatoes, etc…); chili with hot dogs, and a winter salad; pesto salmon with roasted veggies; and Zuppa Toscana.

As for activities, we try to keep a mixture of low key free time plus outings to get us out of the house. We enjoy: bowling, going on walks to the park, visiting the local botanical garden (Dallas Arboretum), golf related activities (Top Golf, putt putt), eating at a favorite taco shop, and sometimes visiting the mall. At home we like to watch football, play a domino game called chicken foot, sit around the fire pit, do puzzles, read by the fire, and, obviously, eat!

This will of course look different for every family for how it all comes together, but I hope our structure provides some inspiration on coming up with a good holiday game plan that ensures the load doesn’t land on any one person. In the last couple of years, we’ve started doing this with my in-laws and everyone seems to like it as well! For me, the main goal here is that the hospitality, cooking, cleaning and everything else does not rest on the shoulders of any one person — that one person usually being mom or grandma. Gone are the days of the matriarchs being stuck in the kitchen while everyone else does nothing! When everyone plays a part, it’s just so much better.

I love this picture of my mom in the kitchen.


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