Holiday Food Hacks

Picture of recipe book, baking supplies, and holiday dinner

Questions or Comments? Email: Alice Henneman, MS, RDN, UNL Extension in Lancaster County

Looking for ways to make holiday food preparation easier or find creative ways to use leftovers? Check out tips and tricks for alternative ingredients or substitutions for less common ones, food safety and storage tips for leftovers, uses for portions of perishable foods not needed in a recipe, and cooking tips for making your recipes more successful. Don't forget to check out our other helpful pages such as Thanksgiving Food Preparation and Food Safety Tips and Helpful Winter Holiday Food Preparation, Safety & Healthy Eating.

Quick Links to Recipes, Tips, and Helpful Hacks:

Kid Friendly Recipes: Food Fun for Young Children helps parents and caregivers prepare healthy meals and snacks by sharing recipes, tips and ideas that are geared for children ages 2 to 5. Check out this collection of holiday-themed recipes from Food Fun:

  • Holiday Fruit Parfait: Let children get involved by creating their own parfait and cutting up fruit with a plastic or dull knife. Children are more willing to try new foods if they help make them.
  • Holiday Bagel Bites: This fun, easy, and colorful recipe involves whole wheat bagels, red and green fruits, and a thin layer of cream cheese. Includes tips on important food safety reminders.
  • Holiday Cereal Treats: Healthy snacks fit into the MyPlate food groups and include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. Children may get a sizable portion of their daily nutrients from snacks, so the content of the snacks should contribute to their MyPlate recommendations. Here are some ideas to help you create healthy snacks in fun designs.
Have a Healthy Red and Green Holiday: Eating several servings of a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables a day helps maintain good health, protect against the effects of aging, and reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Have some fun with the red and green colors during the winter holiday season. Here's a list of red and green fruits and vegetables from the National Cancer Institute.
Holiday Food Mixes in a Jar: When the holiday season rolls around, many family budgets become strained. With a long list of familyand friends, finding enough money to go around may be challenging. To help reduce stress, try making gifts instead of purchasing them. Consider these fun and economical gift ideas!
No-Crust Pumpkin Pie: An easy, crustless pumpkin pie recipe for when you're in a pinch! 
Homemade Beverage Mixes in a Jar: Enjoy the following beverages at home or give as gifts to friends and family for birthdays, holidays or other special occasions. Consider these beverage mixes a fun and easy way to make delicious drinks without breaking your budget.
Chili Bean Dip: Looking for a quick, protein and fiber rich dip for holiday gatherings or parties? look no further than this simple and tasty recipe that can be paired with crunchy veggies!
Making a Casserole from What's on Hand: If you have small amounts of leftovers and would like to mix them together into some type of casserole, try this recipe. Turn leftovers into favorite family foods!
Seven Simple Soups and Stews: What could be simpler than supping on a big, steaming bowl of soup? A hearty, healthy soup — made with veggies and meat, poultry, fish or dried beans — can be the main dish for your meal. Add some crackers or breadsticks on the side and perhaps fruit for dessert and you're ready to eat! Make a large batch of soup and enjoy some for another meal. Many soups, with the possible exception of seafood soups, may taste better the next day!
Sandwiches Made with "Odds & Ends" of Cheese: Ever wonder what to do with odds and ends of cheese over the holiday season? Here's a quick and tasty way to use up those odds and ends of harder cheeses languishing in your refrigerator.
Leftover Makeovers and Refrigerator Reboots: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates about 90 billion pounds of edible food goes uneaten each year in homes and away-from home eating places. This is equal to 123 times the weight of the Empire State Building and costs consumers about $370 per person each year.
Ingredient Substitutions: Often for lack of an ingredient, a recipe is ruined or an extra trip to the store is required. Sometimes, you need to buy a large container of an ingredient for just a teaspoon or two needed in a recipe. To the rescue: Ingredient substitutions! Several Internet discussion groups of dietitians, home economists, chefs and other food professionals were asked their most helpful ingredient substitutions, favorite Internet links and other food substitution resources they find useful. The response was tremendous! Read, enjoy and benefit from their suggestions.

6 Kitchen Tools to Simplify Holiday Cooking (or anytime!): It seems like we often try to do more cooking in less time over the holidays. Our myriad of kitchen activities make the circus juggler seem like an amateur. Here are some kitchen items you might "gift" yourself with over the holidays to reduce the number of balls you're trying to keep in the air!

Fresh Herb & Food Combos: Whether you plant them or pick them up at the grocery store or farmers’ market, adding fresh herbs is a quick way to transform ordinary meals into extraordinary meals. Besides helping flavor foods when cutting back on salt, fat and sugar, herbs may offer additional benefits of their own. Researchers are finding many culinary herbs (both fresh and dried) have antioxidants that may help protect against such diseases as cancer and heart disease. A snip of a fresh herb into a dish instantly kicks up the appearance a notch!
Chicken Noodle Soup: Making soup is a great way to mix up your leftover routine. Substitute turkey in this recipe to help use up your leftoversfrom holiday meals. This is a great recipe to use if your turkey has dried out. This recipe webpage also includes a demonstration video with step by step instructions of how to make this soup!
MyPlate Salad: Go for more color with your vegetables this holiday season. Have a variety of dark green, orange, red, and yellow. Use turkey or ham in this salad that includes all five food groups.
Ham & Egg FrittataA great way to use leftover ham for breakfast or brunch! This webpage also includes a demonstration video with step by step instructions of how to make this fun and tasty breakfast recipe!

 *UNL Nonendoresement Policy: Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended of those not mentioned and no endorsement by University of Nebraska—Lincoln Extension is implied for those mentioned.