As a child, the holiday season holds a sense of magic and wonder. It feels like anything could happen. As an adult, it’s more obvious than ever that holiday magic is created by exhausted parents who are just trying to hold it together through a marathon of get-togethers, family traditions, extravagant meals, and countless gifts to be bought. The most daunting task of the holiday season- over-the-top, Norman Rockwell-inspired decadent meals that the kids are going to refuse anyway.
For military families, creating these special moments and meals usually involves expensive and exhausting travel back home or figuring it out alone, far away from home. This year, why not try a more unconventional approach to holiday recipes? Here are a few options to ease the burden on budgets and schedules to help create holiday meals that feel traditional, without the traditional exhaustion and cost.
Meat: Holiday meals often involve large servings of expensive meat (prime rib, ham, whole turkeys). A more realistic option, especially when feeding a smaller crowd, is to purchase your favorite cuts of meat. Perhaps steaks instead of a full prime rib, a boneless ham instead of a large spiral, or even a turkey breast or Cornish hen in place of a full turkey. All options will create that indulgent feel without an indulgent price tag or prep time.
Sides: Choose your very favorite family recipes, including sides the kids will actually eat. No rule says cranberry sauce must be served at Thanksgiving, or that pumpkin pie has to be homemade. Choose the sentimental recipes that you enjoy preparing as well as eating, and either outsource or eliminate the others.
Holiday parties: Every potluck-style get-together does not require an extravagant dish. There is a joy to be found in simple foods like charcuterie boards, cheese balls, or even fresh fruit. Even better, order from a local grocer or restaurant and save yourself the trouble altogether, though this might not be a good fit for families who are watching their budgets closely.
Prioritize the people: Remember that the entire reason the holiday season is special has nothing to do with plate presentation, perfect gifts, or even perfect greeting cards. The magic and wonder of the holiday season that was present in childhood can still be found in the intentional slowdown of the hustle, time with loved ones, and intentional gratitude while reflecting on the year past.
Choose your traditions: As an adult, one of the greatest freedoms is getting to make your own decisions, and that includes which traditions to carry on. It is completely acceptable to pick up new traditions, leave old ones behind, or completely create your own! There are no rules about what foods are served when, how gifts are opened, or when to celebrate. Choose what works best for your family, and move forward with guilt-free confidence.
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About the author: Heather Campbell is an Air Force spouse, mom of 3, family meal expert, and serial connector. In addition to serving on the MilHousing Network team, she serves in a variety of advisory and subject matter expert roles to multiple organizations in the fight against military food insecurity.