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Food / Holiday Guide

12 Easy Solutions To Take The Headache Out of Holiday Meal Planning

November 2, 2016

With my second child due a few weeks before Thanksgiving, I have no illusions about how this holiday season will go down. Out: Hand-wrapped gifts and homemade cookies. In: Amazon Prime and whatever sugar concoctions my husband grabs from Trader Joe’s. Whether you’re pregnant, working double shifts, juggling soccer games, or all of the above, the November to January stretch can be brutal, especially when it comes to planning and executing those high-stakes holiday meals. Unfortunately Rosie from The Jetsons is not yet a reality, but we’ve pulled together the next best thing. Read on for our favorite apps and services to help you not only survive—but do we dare say—slay your next holiday hosting gig. Choose your own adventure based on what kind of lemons life is currently throwing your way.

Problem: You live for holiday cooking—you’re already wearing your snowman apron—but the thought of organizing, planning and grocery shopping has visions of migraines dancing in your head.
Solution: Try a recipe or meal planning app like…

GatheredTable gives you a custom weekly menu based on your current needs and preferences. For big holiday meals (and the days leading up to and following) you can select the recipes you plan to make and the app will generate a virtual grocery list, organized by grocery dept and aisle. If you happen to live in a Peapod market, you can send your whole list to Peapod to have it delivered. [Cost: Free 24-hour preview/$10 monthly/$24 quarterly]

eMeals gives subscribers access to a variety of meal plans, including a special Occasions Plan, which includes holiday-focused menus. eMeals also works seamlessly with Instacart so you can send your shopping list straight from the app for grocery delivery in select markets. [Cost: Free 14-day trial/$29.99 for 3 months/$59.99 for 12 months]

Yummly features customized recipes and super filters allowing you to search for recipes and pull together a winning meal plan in minutes. Simply save the recipes you want and the app makes it easy to plan your ingredients beforehand and find out what is on sale or what you can buy in bulk. Use the app’s fine-tuned search to pull recipes for everything from turkey gravy to Hanukkah doughnuts. Add recipes to your shopping list for a stress-free grocery run or get them delivered via Instacart. [Cost: Free]

Problem: You had such good intentions, but it’s the week before your hosting gig and your schedule is a disaster. You’ve been looking forward to pulling off this meal…if only someone could handle all the grocery shopping.

Solution: Try a grocery delivery service like…
Instacart’s personal shoppers boasts delivery times of as little as an hour—a perfect solution whether you need a whole shopping cart of groceries or just a few emergency ingredients. If you live in one of their markets, the app will match you with a shopper who will do the legwork at your favorite local store. [Cost: First order free/Delivery fee based on size and time of order]

Amazon Fresh offers same-day or next-day grocery delivery, within the convenience of your existing Amazon Prime account. Members in select locations can place an order in the morning and have it delivered as early as that same evening. [Cost: Free 30-day trial for non-Prime members/$14.99 per month for Prime members]

Peapod will not only deliver your groceries on demand, but this holiday season it has a notification system that will alert you when fresh turkeys are in stock. Log onto Peapod for various meal kits to help take care of dinners earlier in the week while you’re preparing for that showstopping holiday meal. Peapod’s microsite, Fromthepod.com also features recipes for inspiration—including a seasonal section where you can search for all of your holiday needs. [Cost: Minimum $60 order]

Problem: Your mother-in-law will kill you if she finds out you outsourced dinner, but you haven’t had time to think about what to cook, much less how you’re going to make time to get to the store.

Solution: Sign up for a meal-in-a-box subscription like…

Blue Apron’s holiday offerings include special holiday menus for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Thanksgiving box features traditional items like roast turkey, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce. If you’re looking to feed a larger crowd, Blue Apron partnered with BN Ranch—a leading supplier of sustainably raised grass-fed meat—to sell heritage turkeys on the Blue Apron Market beginning on November 1. Turkeys will ship to customers the week of Thanksgiving. [Cost: 2-person plan $59.94 per week/4-person plan starting at $69.92 per week /Pre-ordered turkey range between $75-$200, depending on size]

Hello Fresh subscribers can enjoy healthful, holiday-themed meals catered to their dietary preferences. The veggie box features a slew of recipes that can be repurposed as side dishes to feed a larger crowd or brought a la carte to a potluck. (You can’t go wrong with dishes like roasted sweet potato salad and gnocchi with butternut squash.) Plus, Hello Fresh offers an archive of hundreds of recipes on its app—no subscription required. [Cost: Classic Box starting at $69 per week/Veggie box starting at $59 per week/ Family Box starting at $79.95 per week.  Use code Fall50HF to get $50 off your first meal plan]

Plated delivers personalized meal plans and customized menus, including special Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah meals. Choose from yummy options like cheddar quinoa casserole, pumpkin ravioli, roasted cornish hen, brussels sprouts and cauliflower potato latkes, and raspberry thumbprint cookies. [Cost: Free dinner for two with your first delivery/2-serving plan starting at $30 for the first week/3-serving plan starting at $48 for the first week]

Problem: You’re swamped and way behind on everything. You’re silently praying for a miracle: Can someone please wave a magic wand and deliver a delicious meal to my front door or at the very least to my car?

Solution: Try a no-fuss catering service like…

Whole Foods’ holiday online meal ordering is already open for business via shop.wfm.com. You can reserve a fresh or fully prepared turkey and holiday sides (including several vegan options) and fixings, available for pick-up at your neighborhood Whole Foods Market. For those who need the doorstep option, Whole Foods works with Instacart for same-day delivery. This holiday season, Whole Foods is also rolling out digital coupons via its app as well as a Facebook chatbot that will handily search its archive of recipes with simple text prompts. Get your turkey emoji ready!

PostMates courier service delivers 24/7, even on holidays, so scroll through its list of restaurant menus and order away. The best part? Postmates can pickup from grocery stores and drug stores, as well as restaurants, so whether you need a backup dessert, or Extra-Strength Tylenol, they have you covered.

Caviar partners directly with a range of restaurants in your area to deliver menu items that serve one or 100 – from fine dining to subs for the kids. If you’re planning ahead, you can place an advanced order on its site, or request a last-minute delivery via the free Caviar app.


Marie Oliver

With over a decade experience at The Washington Post and Meredith Corporation—and most recently at a global startup, PowerToFly. Marie brings years of journalistic integrity and panache.