5 sane steps to plan relaxed holiday meals

With Thanksgiving behind you, I hope you're feeling like a holiday meal-planning champ. Maybe you even learned a thing or two in November that completely changed the way you're approaching Christmas. To beat stress and focus on enjoying the holiday, we're focusing on simplicity, budget, and family. Read on for how to support the heart of the holiday in the kitchen.

Make a Budget
How much can you spend on your holiday meals without wanting to take out a second mortgage? Remember: it's not Christmas because you serve champagne and foie gras. It's Christmas because you're with your family celebrating traditions. Make a budget and stick to it. You might feel like you're making compromises when you're in the grocery store aisles, but when you're all sitting down together around the table, no one will be the wiser.

Read more: 10 ways to keep your holiday party costs super low

Plan Ahead

To outsmart stress and frenzy, make like a Boy Scout and be prepared. Draft a menu for the big meal, check the pantry to see which staples you need, and make a complete list. Repeat for a special Christmas morning breakfast, too. Get everything you need ahead of time and no one will be running to the store for cream in their jammies.

Keep it Simple
No one--not you, not your family--wants you to be fastidiously stuffing and whipping things in the kitchen instead of joining in the fun. Plan a simple menu that includes things that can be made ahead of time and recipes you can make with your eyes closed.

Read more: 15 one-pot meals to warm up your winter

Do Not Fear Repeats
For the past twenty years, we've had the same Christmas dinner at my house: garlic-covered beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes, something green, and a signature Christmas dessert called cranberry crunch. It makes it easier on my mom to know exactly what we're having and kids--even grown-up ones--look forward to the familiar favorites.

There are four kids in my family, and we're all old enough now to take on a job. As a nod to our Texas upbringing, Christmas Eve is Tex-Mex Night. While my mom melts Velveeta for queso, my little brother makes mean chicken enchiladas, my sister mans the margarita-filled blender, I'm in charge of the guacamole, and my older brother has the easiest job of all: Official Taster. Half the fun is all being in the kitchen together cooking and listening to the Elvis Christmas album. It lightens the load for you to delegate, and fosters a warm sense of community.

Read more: 6 meaningful holiday traditions to start with your family

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