Many of us have memories of delicious and perfect holiday meals—gathering at grandma’s, a certain dish we loved, using special plates or holiday glasses, eating the same meal every year.
But we can get a little stuck trying to recreate that memory. Or we want everything to be so perfect or exactly the same that we lose sight of the fact that those memories and traditions may not fit the lives we live anymore.
Maybe you have a spouse who has different traditions. Maybe your kids don’t like Noche Buena salad. Maybe you work long hours and can’t recreate the feast your parents or relatives did.
Don’t worry—it’s possible to still capture holiday magic with a wonderful meal. An open mind, some creativity, and a little bit of flexibility can help you build on and create traditions that are special, meaningful, and fit you and your family just right.
Think about the essence of your memories, not the details.
If you loved gathering around for a pork dinner, was it the dish itself, or using the special plates and seeing your extended family gathered together? What were the feelings, not the actual recipes and details, that you want to capture? What foods or traditions can fit those feelings for you now?
Celebrate your favorite things.
Maybe you didn’t love a traditional dish, but feel like you have to include it because that’s what you’ve always known. Instead, focus on the dishes you do love. What foods actually make you feel happy? What dishes feel like a celebration? Make room in your menu for introducing things “just because” that you will love and look forward to, not the “have tos.”
Introduce something completely new.
One family had a disastrous turkey dinner on Christmas and vowed never to do it again—so much work, not enough time relaxing and enjoying the day. Instead, they made a delicious lasagna ahead of time, froze it, and took it out for Christmas day. Everyone was more relaxed, there was time to watch movies and play games, and enjoy the meal because of a new tradition.
Let an expert do the hard stuff.
Some specialty foods take hours or days to prepare, and we can’t always do everything and do it well. So why not order the tamales this year, have a bakery make the dessert, or pick up pre-made mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy from the store? You still get to enjoy the traditional dishes but without the stress. And this year more than ever, small shops and restaurants need the support and additional business.
Invite the family to have a voice.
Ask your cousins, kids, roommate, or whoever you are celebrating with to suggest a favorite or special dish. Have them prepare or help prepare it so there’s less to juggle during mealtime on a busy holiday. You might be surprised what delightful new additions to the menu show up, and how they help create delicious new traditions for everyone.
A holiday meal should evoke good memories and create a space for us to come together and enjoy, not stress. Lifting your expectations and introducing a little creativity can help you pull off an easy, satisfying meal to remember.