Start Thinking About Holiday Meals

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Preparing for the Upcoming Holidays

Turkey with sides

Oh my, it’s the first of October already. Believe-it-or-not it’s only seven weeks until Thanksgiving and eleven weeks until Christmas. What will these holiday gatherings look like for you and your family this year? You may be planning a large in-person event, more intimate meals for a small group, or going virtual again this year. Regardless of the venue, or the size of the event, it’s never too early to start the holiday meal preparation. Starting now allows you to shop more efficiently and be more organized.

Getting Ahead of the Holidays Meal Costs Series

The folks at the More in My Basket (MIMB) program with the N.C. Cooperative Extension service have developed a six-part series called Getting Ahead of the Holidays Meal Costs. This series includes strategies and suggestions on how to save more at the grocery store and make your holiday meal planning a little less stressful. Two of the six lessons have already been released on their blog and the rest will be posted every two weeks up to Thanksgiving. Topics include: Finding Your Recipes and Preparing Your Kitchen, Canned Goods, Dry Goods, Spices, Frozen Items, and Perishables.

The MIMB staff stress that planning is one of the key points. If left to the last minute, meal planning can be a challenge no matter if you’re having a dinner for one or ten. Planning the menu in advance allows you the opportunity to be sure all the favorite dishes are included and spend smarter. 

Ways to Start Preparing

Over the next few weeks, begin pulling out your favorite recipes and organizing them by breakfast, entrees, sides, and dessert. Decide which of these you’d like to include with your holiday meals or events.

Then check your cupboards to see what you have on hand. We all have certain spices that are family favorites. Take an inventory of these items and make a note of those which are running low. Don’t forget oils and non-stick sprays. Even if you don’t know what meal you’ll be preparing, compiling a list of these staples will avoid purchasing the same item twice. Your list will save money and remind you to use items on hand first, utilizing them before they expire. 

It can also be time to check on utensils and equipment. Have you ever reached for a cookie sheet only to find it is warped? Or you broke the baking dish that was “just perfect” for that special dish. Now is the perfect time to purchase any needed replacement pots, pans, baking sheets, or muffin cups. Don’t forget other baking, cooking, and serving supplies, such as parchment paper, aluminum foil, cutlery, and table linens (cloth or disposable). These are things you can buy far ahead of time.

Cooking for a large group or preparing special foods can have a large price tag. Consider which stores offer the best value for the items in your recipes. The best buy on spices and for canned goods might be two different stores. By planning this far ahead you can plan to purchase a few of the items each week or every couple of weeks and spread the cost over time. Start with staple items that will keep.

Watch for specials through grocery store loyalty card programs such as Food Lion’s MVP or Harris Teeter’s VIC; loyalty cards can lower the food bill at check-out. Paid membership warehouses such as Sam’s Club and Costco are also great options if you are looking to purchase bulk items. Members of these warehouses are allowed to bring one guest when shopping. If you aren’t a member, ask a friend or family member if you’re able to join them when shopping. Let’s kick off holiday meal planning right by finding the best deals.

More in My Basket

Drawing of basket with vegetables and plant

More In My Basket (MIMB) is a program developed at North Carolina State University/Cooperative Extension that helps reduce hunger by connecting North Carolina residents to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) –formerly known as food stamps. They can provide individual assistance to help people apply for SNAP. Their goal is to increase SNAP participation through education and minimizing barriers to participation. This service is available by toll-free phone in both English (855-240-1451) and Spanish (888-382-7105).

Special thank you to Melissa Roseboro, Program Coordinator, and Cierra Cook, Bilingual Outreach Facilitator, both with More in My Basket for writing this Getting Ahead of the Holidays Meal Costs series and allowing me to share part of it. To see the whole series, go to their website. The series is available online in both English and Spanish.

The More in My Basket website also features a blog, nutrition information, healthy recipes, and money and SNAP saving tips.

Our Family and Consumer Science program here in Brunswick County can offer classes (both virtual and in-person) to assist in meal planning, nutrition, shopping, and food preparation. Give us a call for information about programming available for neighborhood, church, or community groups. 

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910-253-2610 or by email at