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The Importance of Meal Planning for Holidays & How to Do It

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline,

Reading Time: 4 minutes 40 seconds

Meal planning is a great way to maximize your time and budget. It also gives you greater control over your diet and helps you make healthy choices more consistently. 

It’s a smart strategy any time of year, but for the holidays a meal plan can be a lifesaver. It will prevent you from going too far off your healthy eating plan. Meal planning also reduces the inevitable stress of this busy time of year by giving you one less thing to think about at mealtime. 

Why Bother Meal Planning for Holidays? 

While it may seem like another chore to add to your list, meal planning can actually save you time, stress, and worry. Here’s how. 

It Reduces Stress During the Holiday Season

This is a busy time of year. Your calendar is packed with events, like Christmas concerts, Thanksgiving dinner, office parties, and more. Staying busy with festive events can be fun, but it’s a lot, and it can be stressful. 

By planning for how, when, and what you’ll eat, you take the guesswork out of mealtime. Instead of trying to come up with a healthy meal or snack at the last minute, you’ll know exactly what to do. 

You’ll Save Precious Time for Fun

Creating a holiday meal plan takes an investment of time initially, but it saves you time when it really matters. When you’re in the thick of the holiday season, you won’t have to spend extra time deciding what to eat and making additional trips to the store. This gives you more time to spend with family and go to fun holiday events. 

Meal Planning for Holidays Keeps Your Diet on Track

Perhaps most importantly, meal planning helps you maintain healthy habits. It’s so easy to go off the rails when faced with holiday parties, dinners, and cookie swaps. 

With a plan in place, it will be easier to resist the urge to eat too much and to eat unhealthy foods. Meal planning keeps you on track at the simplest of times, but during the busy, stressful holiday season, it’s more important than ever. 

Start With Your Holiday Calendar

The first step in meal planning is to take a look at the big picture. From approximately Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, where will you be when? Which meals will be at home? When will you be eating out or at someone else’s house?

Outline your calendar for the season, so you know which meals to plan for at home and how to strategize for eating out. Include all holiday and food-related events, like parties, Christmas dinner, cookie swaps, school activities, and more. 

Keep the Meal Plan Simple

This is not the time to try a new, complicated recipe. Load your meal plan with tried-and-true recipes and those that are simplest to make. 

For instance, a salad is an easy meal that you can change up daily without too much effort. Have lettuce on hand and you can build a salad with various toppings: fresh veggies, leftover roasted veggies and meat, nuts and seeds, and a few cheese cubes left on a charcuterie board. 

A slow cooker is another great tool to enlist for holiday meal plans. You can make big batches of stew, soup, or other dishes and eat them for a few meals in a row. The slow cooker minimizes dirty pots and pans, so you have less washing to do. 

Stock the Kitchen with Healthy, Easy Items

You’ll have enough opportunities outside of your own kitchen to be tempted by indulgent, rich foods. Make sure home is stocked only with healthy snacks and ingredients for meals

Snacks are especially important to have on hand for when you get hungry between meals or want to fill up on something healthy before a party. Here are some ideas for your shopping list: 

  • Pre-cut carrot and celery sticks
  • Hummus
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Natural nut butters
  • Apples
  • Individual bagged servings of nuts
  • Low-fat string cheese

For meals, stock up on things like pre-cooked whole grains, canned beans, frozen vegetables, and broth. You can use these healthy ingredients to throw together easy, healthy meals. 

Make use of holiday dinner leftovers too. Here’s how to turn your leftovers into healthy meals

Prep and Freeze

Prepping meals before things get really busy will save time later. Of course, prepping early means you may let ingredients of food go to waste. To avoid this, make good use of the freezer. 

Prepare batches of freezer-friendly recipes, like a healthy casserole or soup. Freeze in serving-sized amounts. When you’re ready to eat, you can simply reheat. And, if your schedule changes and you find you don’t need to eat at home, the frozen meal will keep for later. 

To save time during a busy week, spend an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon or evening prepping ingredients. For example, make a batch of cooked lentils or rice for upcoming meals. Make your breakfasts before bed each night, so you’re not tempted to skip or grab something easy and unhealthy when you feel rushed in the morning. 

Never meal prepped before? Here’s a guide to get you started with meal prepping

Don’t Be Too Rigid

You want to stick with your diet and health goals, but if there is any time of year to let go a little bit, this is it. Allow yourself certain days or meals to go off-plan. For instance, Christmas Day or Thanksgiving dinner should be enjoyable, so don’t think too hard about what you’re eating. 

When enjoying holiday meals with family, bring a healthy dish to pass but don’t guilt others about what they’re eating. Eat smaller portions of rich dishes and save room for one slice of pumpkin pie. 

When You’re Traveling for the Holidays 

If you’re off on vacation for the holidays, meal planning gets more complicated. Vacation meals tend to be restaurant meals and quick junk food. But, if you’re staying at someone’s house or getting a rental with a kitchen, you have more control. 

Make a meal plan that includes healthy breakfasts, lunches you can take on the go, and dinners for the nights you choose to stay in. Simple meals are best, of course: spaghetti and other pasta dishes, tacos, salads, and sandwiches. Whether you have a kitchen or not, a supply of healthy snacks will help you stay full on the right foods and indulge less in restaurants. 

Holiday meal planning is a smart strategy for taking control of holiday eating. It’s easy to simply let go and eat and drink whatever you feel like, but after two months of this, you’ll see weight and health setbacks. Start planning early and enjoy a less stressful, healthier holiday season. 

As a Certified ISSA Nutritionist, you can offer clients another valuable service. The online certification program provides all the foundational knowledge you need to coach clients, help them make better food choices, and get them to their health goals. 


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