Baking is the #1 time consuming activity during the holidays. It takes more time than planning, shopping and cleaning! But by baking ahead for the holidays, you can free up your time to relax and enjoy the memories that are being made!
By having a few tips to get organized in August, you can have most of your baking prepared well in advance. From there, all you will need to do is pre-heat the oven and get ready for the final cooking process. No mess, no fuss!
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Tips for Baking Ahead for the Holidays
#1 – Make a Plan
The first step to baking ahead for the holidays doesn’t involve ingredients or a hot oven. Instead, you simply need to grab your holiday planning notebook and a pen.
The first thing you need to know is what your holiday plans will be. Your lists will be different if you are hosting everyone at your house, as opposed to celebrating somewhere else.
Hosting the Holidays at Home
If you will be the one having the holidays, you will need to have a list of everyone who will be attending. This early in the game, that list may be tentative, but at least you will have an idea for the numbers. And don’t forget to add your name to either the bottom. Doing so will leave you enough space to add in the dishes you will need to prepare.
Once you have a list of attendees, then study your list to see who will be bringing what dish. In some cases, this may be general. If you know Aunt Jen doesn’t bake, you can put a general item next to her name, such as ‘Condiments’, ‘Drinks’, etc.
However, if Cousin Rose is famous for her salads, add her specialty next to her name. (In my case, I already have my sister Amie down for her fig dip and Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows!)
If you already know you will be required to make your specialty, add those things underneath your name on the list. I learned a long time ago that whether or not I am hosting the holidays or taking my food contribution to someone else’s home, I am required to bring Aunt Dot’s hot rolls. You may be in the same position, so write it down.
There is another list (or several of them) you will need to keep in mind, but know they are extremely tentative. This list consists of extra activities you may be involved in. Some of the things to think about:
- School Bake Sales / parties
- Gatherings with Friends
- Office Parties
- Gifts for the Neighbors
Most of these items will require a contribution of some type of baked item. Even if you aren’t certain what additional functions you will be attending, it’s better to have an idea in place. When the invitations start rolling in, you will be prepared.
And if you have extras, that is all the better. Those items can be incorporated into other holiday meals, or served as evening meals for your family during the hectic days of the season.
When your lists are completed to the best of your ability, it is time to transfer all of the information you have to a Meal Plan.
#2 Create a Meal Plan
When considering a holiday meal plan, not only do you need a plan for the actual holiday, but also for the family meals leading up to them. For help on creating a meal plan, check out these helpful posts:
- Plan Ahead Menus – Free Up Your Time To Celebrate & Enjoy!
- How To Create an Easy Meal Plan
- Make Planning Meals Easy with 5 Simple Tips
- 8 Facets of Homemaking – Facet #2: Planning Meals
#3 – Create a Calendar
Now that your lists are done, meals are planned, it is time to create a baking calendar. If you already work from a planner, you can easily mark out time on the days you want to bake. If you do not work from a planner, you can use a calendar you already have, or download the free Holiday Planning Calendar that works with all of the Christmas in August posts.
Now that you have your calendar in front of you, it is time to start penciling in your baking days. Here are some tips:
- If you already have to bake for an event, double up on those cupcakes (or other baked goods). Freeze the extras!
- When making a casserole for a family meal, make 3 instead. 1 for tonight, `1 for later, and 1 earmarked for a holiday meal
- Use baking day as a way to spend time with a child or friend
- Make it a point to schedule a baking day at least once a week. Choose a focus category (casseroles, desserts, snacks, vegetables, etc.) and work on creating at least one, if not two or three items from that category.
# 4 –Make a Grocery List
Before you make your ‘Baking Ahead for the Holidays’ grocery list, you first want to do an inventory of your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Staples, such as flour, sugar, baking powder and others need to be plentiful and up-to-date. (Yes, baking powder, yeast and other basic supplies can lose their baking ‘power’ if too old!).
If you need freezer space and have an abundance of frozen vegetables, now may be the time to make a big pot of Vegetable Beef Stew and can it. Not only will you have more room in the freezer, but you will also have several ready-made meals waiting to be served for the holidays.
Most baked goods and vegetables require the basic staples. But some need that little bit of extra, such as a fruit. This is the time to use them up and create Blueberry or Strawberry Muffins to freeze for the holidays.
In addition to baking and cooking supplies, you need to make sure you have plenty of tin foil, waxed paper (or parchment paper), baking pans, tape (for item identification) and storage containers. These will be needed in order to store your baked goods in the freezer.
To keep costs down, keep your Baking Ahead for the Holidays list separate from your main grocery list. Paperclip the two together. Each time you go to the grocery store, choose one or two items from the Baking Ahead list to add to the General Groceries list.
The best way to do this is to determine the items that will do well frozen for several months (casseroles and soups for example) and purchase supplies for those first. Baked goods that don’t do well frozen for any length of time, such as breads and muffins) can be added to a later General Groceries list.
#5 – Start Baking Ahead for the Holidays
Now it is time to take your meal plans and calendars and start your baking. When baking ahead for the holidays, I usually start with main dish and vegetable casseroles. These are items that not only freeze well for longer periods of time (most casseroles can be frozen for up to 4 months), but also take up the most room in the freezer.
If using the foil baking pans, try to get the sturdiest version possible. Due to the size, some foil baking pans are flimsy. If you have a problem keeping them from bending, cut a piece of heavy cardboard the size of the bottom of your pan. Before wrapping the casserole in foil, place the pan on the cardboard.
Place the cardboard and pan on a piece of foil, and bring both sides together. Fold the foil over several times at the top until it lies smoothly on the top of the pan. Fold in the sides, then label. This will help prevent any spills or disasters with your future meal. It also helps with stacking casseroles in the freezer.
When it comes to making cookies, stick with unbaked cookies. Fresh baked cookies straight from the oven taste better than pre-baked frozen ones.
But don’t just make and freeze the dough. Instead, using a sheet of waxed paper (cut to fit the size of your storage container), go ahead and make the dough balls or cut them out with cookie cutters. Place them 1/2″ apart on the waxed paper.
Once the first sheet is filled, top it with another sheet of waxed paper, and continue to make cookies until the container is full. Place the lid on the container and mark it with the type of cookie.
Some desserts, like Miniature Cheesecakes can be made well in advanced and frozen. If you are adding a touch of color through cherry or blueberry pie filling, add it right before serving.
If cakes or cupcakes are on your baking ahead for the holidays list, you need to make sure you have a container large enough to fit the item. You can now find cupcake containers that are suitable for both freezing and transporting your baked goods. If you make a lot of these, it may be a good investment for you.
Save the frosting of cakes and cupcakes for the day you plan to use them. If frosted before freezing, the containers have a way of smearing your frosting and damaging all your hard work.
Although breads and muffins are a great idea when it comes to baking ahead for the holidays, it is best to make their freezing time as short as possible. Be sure they are completely cool before wrapping. When preparing them for the freezer, first wrap them tightly in a layer of plastic wrap, and then a layer of tin foil. Place the entire loaf of bread in a zip-top bag (I use these 2 gallon bags for mine), remove as much air as possible without smushing the bread and seal.
Muffins you may want to treat the same as you do cupcakes. But if you prefer, both of them can be placed in a single layer in a deep foil baking pan, lined first with waxed paper. Add a second piece of waxed paper on top before wrapping first with plastic wrap and secondly with foil.
Easy Storage Access
When baking ahead for the holidays, sometimes our weekly meals end up getting mixed in for items reserved for the holidays. Instead of digging through the freezer, place holiday items on a lower shelf. Casseroles and other meals that will be used for family dinners need to be placed on a higher shelf for easier access.
Baking Ahead for the Holidays Can be a Real Time Saver!
By using these simple tips, you can save some of those precious minutes you will need during an otherwise hectic holiday schedule. Knowing you already have at least a portion of your baking done frees you up to get handmade gifts created, school activities planned, and actually get to bed at a reasonable hour.
And if you need even more help, my Have a Merry, Simple Christmas eBook has all the lists, meal plan ideas, recipes and so much more already done for you! Although designed primarily for Christmas, these lists, tips and ideas can easily be used for Thanksgiving as well. Visit The Marketplace and learn more about it!!!
Ready for More Help with Getting Ready for Christmas in August?
Find the recipes that can be easy to create when baking ahead for the holidays. And don’t miss the other posts for great tips, ideas, DIY gifts, and more!