Make a Smart Holiday Start

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The holidays are quickly approaching, bringing a time of cheer where we can celebrate with family and friends. Typically this is centered around the table, expressing gratitude for the blessings of the past year, reminiscing through the traditions, and leaving with smiles and full bellies. To eliminate the added stress the holidays can bring from planning a menu, budgeting, and preparing the meal, it can be beneficial to make a smart holiday start to your food plans.

More in My Basket, NC State University’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) education program, recognizes that the holidays can impact your monthly food budget, bringing more challenges or burdens when the event comes. To help get ahead of the holiday costs, these simple strategies will help in planning your menu, shopping more efficiently, and decreasing costs by timing your purchases.

It starts with planning your menu with plenty of time to buy in advance over the course of several grocery store trips. Helping to spread out the expenses and lower the impact on your monthly food budget.

Planning Strategies

  1. Find & decide your recipes! After deciding, take an inventory of your current kitchen staples and consider which stores offer the best value for the additional items you need by watching for their monthly specials.

  2. Make a plan for canned! Canned food items are an economical and shelf-stable option that you can start to stock up on now. Look for the lower sodium options and fruit products canned in 100% fruit juice or water.

  3. Fill the freezer with frozen items! On-sale frozen vegetables, bread products, and meats can be staples in holiday recipes. How much freezer space will determine when you can start to fill your freezer in preparation for the holiday meal. If the food item can not be cooked frozen, make sure you plan enough time to safely thaw the product before starting meal preparations. Remember to allow for one day for each 4-5 pounds of turkey weight when thawing in the refrigerator.

  4. Save the perishables for last! These items will be purchased closer to the time of preparation due to quicker spoilage times. This will reduce food waste and thus money waste.

While on the topic of creating your food plan, another way to make a smart start to the holiday is to consider opting for healthier food options and servings. The MyPlate Holiday Makeover provides suggestions for preparation and portions that help in reducing added sugars, lowering sodium, and swapping fat.

  1. Include more fruit-dense desserts to tweak the sweets.

  2. Replace the sugar-sweetened beverages with water.

  3. Use baked recipes with pureed fruits instead of butter or oil.

  4. Rely on spices and herbs for the flavor instead of sugar and salt.

  5. Brighten the plate with color by filling it with fruits and vegetables.

  6. Skim the fat by using skim evaporated milk instead of heavy cream.

  7. Swap the grains by choosing whole wheat flour instead of white flour.

  8. Spoon out versus pouring the gravy onto the plate, noticing how a little goes a long way.

Utilizing a few of the planning strategies and healthier food tips will hopefully provide support in making a smart start to the holidays! May your budgets not be burdened, your plates filled to nourish, and your holidays overflow with cheer as you plan to gather with the ones whom you are most thankful for.

Visit for additional educational support in utilizing the NC Food and Nutrition Service.

N.C. Cooperative Extension’s goal is to provide the community’s residents with research-based knowledge. For more information on nutrition, health, food preservation, and food safety in Lee County please contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Ashley Szilvay at 919-775-5624.