The holiday feast season is fast-approaching, and between working from home and taking care of yourself and your family during the pandemic, you barely have time to prepare for your Christmas day feast. Now that you’re on the tail-end of these unprecedented times, you want to give your family the best meal to end the year right. Preparing for a holiday feast can take hours, or even days, to do.

If you have a busy schedule or just want a quick way to create delicious meals for the family, use these last-minute food hacks to get food on the table just in time for Christmas eve.

Proper Thawing Techniques

Whether you’re cooking chicken, turkey, beef, or any kind of meat this holiday feast season, you need to learn how to thaw them properly, especially if they’ve been frozen for a while. This is because improper thawing can cause bacteria to spread rapidly on the meat.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), germs spread the fastest in temps between 4 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Disease-causing bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli, and more thrive in this danger zone temperature range. As such, you shouldn’t defrost your frozen meats just by leaving them on the counter at room temperature.

If you want to protect your family from these germs while also getting the meat ready for cooking as fast as possible, use these safe thawing methods:

  • Fridge thaw – The safest way to thaw meat is by transferring it from the freezer to the fridge. A frozen turkey, according to the USDA, requires at least a full day in the fridge for every five pounds to thaw properly. Small meats like chicken and ground beef also need a full 24 hours.
  • Microwave method – Most modern microwave ovens have a “defrost” option, which is perfectly safe to use. However, the USDA recommends cooking the meat immediately after you defrost it in the microwave. This is because some ovens may end up partially cooking the food, and barely-cooked meat is likely in the danger zone temperature.
  • Ziploc thaw – This method is the fastest one next to the microwave method. Place the meat in a leak-proof Ziploc bag and seal it tightly to ensure the water doesn’t get into the bag. Get a tub or bowl to place the pack of meat in and fill it with cold water. Submerge the bag in the water and let it thaw. Change the water every half an hour. Small items often thaw within an hour, while whole chickens and turkeys thaw after two to three hours.

Choose Recipes You’re Familiar With (And Add a Holiday Twist to It)

It’s okay to take it down a notch for the holiday season. You’re not Martha Stewart or Jamie Oliver. You don’t have to make elaborate dishes to impress your family. If you’re in a rush, skip the Googled recipes and stick with what you’re familiar with. Create usual dishes with a holiday twist.

If you’re great at making macaroni salad with chicken, add a Christmas twist to it with spices you’d usually associate with the holidays like nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and more. Did you perfect your roasted turkey this Thanksgiving? Your family will surely love it, even if it’s only been a few months since then.

Don’t Be Afraid to Use Instant Food        

Just because something is readily-made, doesn’t mean it’s less delicious. It’s often less healthy than freshly-cooked meals, but it’s the holidays. Live a little. If you’re in a hurry, get a bunch of crackers from the pantry and dip them in peanut butter or melted chocolate. Add some sprinkles for a little flair. You’ll end up with cookies that are just as sweet as freshly-baked chocolate chip.

If guests want something savory, top the biscuits with cured meat. It’s up to you to find out how much ham you’ll need per person. You could also wing your spaghetti’s red sauce by using the canned, ready-made sauce. Just add some herbs and even bouillon cubes to it to make your sauce taste authentic and hearty.

The holidays are for eating great food with great company. If you don’t have the time to prepare a Christmas feast, don’t fret! Use the right thawing methods for your ingredients, add some holiday flair to recipes you’ve already mastered, and don’t be ashamed to use instant food. As long as your food tastes great and cooked correctly, your family members, roommates, or guests will surely love them.