21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Freezer Cooking for the Holidays

Freezer Cooking for the Holidays

Delicious food is one of the best things about Christmas, in my opinion! But who wants to slave away in the kitchen all day on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?

Here are a some ideas of things you can make ahead of time and freeze to make your Christmas meal preparations smoother and leave you more time to just savor the season:

1. Cookie Dough

Make up a double or triple batch of cookie dough and keep it in the freezer to give as gifts or to use when company drops by unexpectedly or you need a treat to take to a gathering at the last minute. Here’s one of my favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipes.

2. Baking Mix

Make Homemade Baking Mix in order to quickly whip up a pan of Cinnamon Roll Biscuits for Christmas morning. You can use it in place of Bisquick in any recipe.

3. Biscuit Dough

This year, I made biscuit dough ahead of time and stuck it in the freezer to be able to quickly make Brown Sugar Biscuit Twists for a Christmas Brunch at my family’s house the day after Christmas.

4. Scone Mixes

I put together the dry ingredients from the Glazed Cinnamon Scone recipe and froze them earlier this month. For Christmas Eve breakfast, we’re having scones, scrambled eggs, and juice. It will be a snap to put these together since I already have the dry ingredients measured out.

5. Scone Dough

If you want to really speed up prep time for scones, you can also make the dough up ahead of time and cut the scones and flash freeze them. Just pull them out, thaw, and bake to have fresh scones without almost zero effort! Our very favorite scone recipe is this Pumpkin Scone recipe (you can also find a gluten-free version here.)

6. Cinnamon Rolls

Fresh Cinnamon Rolls just can’t be beat, but they can be time-consuming to make! Reduce your workload by making the dough in the bread machine and then roll out, cut, and freeze them. Find detailed directions on how to freeze, thaw, and bake Cinnamon Rolls here.

7. Butterhorns

Looking for a delicious roll recipe that can be made ahead and frozen? Check out our family’s Butterhorn recipe. It’s a little time-intensive, but oh so worth it!

8. Christmas Candy

What’s Christmas without candy? My World’s Easiest Christmas Candy recipe is a winner–and it can be made ahead and frozen (if any of it lasts that long!)

9. Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

This Chocolate Chip Banana Bread freezes really well and is perfect to make ahead in little loaf pans and give as gifts or to serve for a Christmas brunch. Not a banana bread fan? Try my Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffin recipe.

10. Drink Mixes

Homemade drink mixes are great to give as gifts or to have on hand to serve at Christmas get-togethers. Plus, you can keep them for months in the freezer!

What are some of your favorite Christmas foods to make ahead and freeze? Share the recipe links in the comments!

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21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Get Your Gifts Wrapped

Hopefully by now, your Christmas presents are purchased. Some of you ultra-organized folks likely had them purchased and wrapped months ago. But some of the rest of us are just now getting around to thinking about wrapping gifts. :)

If you’re one of those people, don’t despair! Here are six simple and frugal ideas to dress up your packages without spending a lot of money:

Make a Bow Out of Wrapping Paper

Use Old Maps as Gift Wrap

Make Your Own Gift Bows

Use Newspaper as Gift Wrap

Dress Up Brown Paper Packages With Yarn

Use Buttons to Create Designs

You can find more frugal gift-wrapping ideas from The Happy Housewife and My Blessed Life.

Do you have your gifts wrapped yet? Or am I the only person who still has some gifts left to wrap? :)

photo by yvestown

Practical Application:

1. If you haven’t done so already, get the rest of your gifts wrapped in the next 24 hours.

2. Once you’ve wrapped your gifts, be sure to label them clearly with the recipient’s name.

3. If you’re attending multiple Christmas gatherings, divide your wrapped gifts up into boxes or tubs by event (label these boxes/tubs with the event name) and then stick them by the door so that you can just grab the appropriate tub or box on your way out the door and you’re good to go! (Since we have young children who like to unwrap gifts, we’re keeping our wrapped gifts at the top of our coat closet. That way, it’s almost impossible to forget them since we have to put our coats on before we head out the door!)

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21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Mail Your Christmas Cards–or not!

As a child, one of the highlights of Christmas was receiving all the Christmas cards and letters from friends near and far. We’d keep the letters in a basket, string the cards around our living room, and put the family pictures on the refrigerator.

Sometimes, the Christmas letter was our only real communication with friends from our past. But it kept us up on their lives and gave us a small sense of connection, even though our paths had drifted apart.

It was always exciting to hear of marriages, babies, grandchildren, trips, new jobs, and exciting adventures. It was fun to see how the family pictures changed over the years. And it was always somewhat of a thrill to see how many strings of cards we’d be able to hang up.

Many people opt not to send Christmas cards or letters any more. There are many valid reasons given: “We’re too busy living life to take the time to write about it.” “We can’t afford to mail cards since postage has gone up so much.” Or maybe, “We didn’t get a decent family picture.”

I definitely think that Christmas cards and letters are an optional aspect of Christmas and I totally respect people who have chosen not to send cards in order to keep Christmas simple. That said, I think that we’ve become so used to texting and Facebooking and emailing, that sometimes we forget the joy of sending and receiving real physical mail via the postal service.

Creative Christmas Letter Ideas

If the thought of writing a detailed letter is overwhelming to you, here are some creative Christmas letter ideas:

Put together a Top 10 list from the past year.

Make a graph of some interesting facts from the past year.

Create a newspaper-style letter with short stories and tidbits from the past year.

Other Simple and Inexpensive Ideas

If you’ve decided that sending a Christmas letter isn’t your thing or mailing out a lot of cards or letters is outside your budget, here are some other ideas:

::Send photo cards.

We’ve skipped sending a letter for the past few years, but we have sent out photo cards. It’s a very simple way to send a Christmas greeting and share pictures of our family with dear friends and those we don’t get to see often. Plus, with deals like the one available from SeeHere (20 photo cards for $1.49 shipped!), creating photo cards can be very inexpensive!

::Send out your letter as a PDF via email.

Can’t afford to mail your letter? It’s perfectly okay to send it out as a PDF attachment via email. Be sure to include some sort of teaser in the email you send out so that people will be sure to open the attachment and read the letter! :)

::Post your Christmas card on Facebook.

Jenae’s family decided to post their Christmas picture/card on Facebook this year in lieu of sending out a Christmas card. This might not work for everyone–especially if most of your recipients are not on Facebook–but it’s definitely an inexpensive option!

Do you send out a Christmas card or letter or do some sort of creative alternative? I’d love to hear what works for your family!

photo by yvestown

Practical Application

1. Decide whether or not you are sending out a Christmas card or letter this year.

2. If you decide to send out something, get it created or written sometime in the next 48 hours.

3. Create your address list (if you’re mailing cards) or the email list (if you’re emailing out your card/letter) and save it in a file to have next year. (I did not set up an address list on the computer until this past year and it’s been a lifesaver to have all the addresses in one place and a place to file new addresses as I collect them. Believe me, the whole scraps of paper thing wasn’t working too well!)

4. Mail or email your cards out by the end of this week so that they will arrive before Christmas.

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21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Gather the Christmas Books

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without good Christmas stories. We checked out a huge stack of Christmas books from the library this year and, so far, here are our favorites:

The Christmas Story

The Gingerbread Boy

Gingerbread Baby

Gingerbread Friends

The Mitten

B is for Bethlehem

The Baby Born in a Stable

White Snow, Bright Snow

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

Great Joy

What are some of your family’s favorite Christmas books read-alouds? I’d love to find new ones to add to our list of favorites!

photo by yvestown

Practical Application

::If you have younger children, gather a basket-full of Christmas read-alouds and plan a daily time to read for 10-15 minutes. Let your children choose from the basket to make it more engaging for them. For additional fun, wrap up the books and let them unwrap a few each day.

::If you don’t have young children, choose at least a few Christmas-related books to enjoy over the Christmas season–either reading through with friends or just yourself.

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21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Gift Ideas That Won’t Break the Bank

In this series so far, we’ve talked about the importance of creating and sticking with a Christmas budget. We’ve also discussed how to create a gift list based upon your budget.

While you can take your budget and gift list and just go pick up a gift at the store or wait and find a deal online, there are other options to traditional gifts that can be less expensive. And for some on your gift list, these would be more meaningful than just buying something at the store.

Homemade Oreos from I Heart Naptime

1. Food Gifts

Unless your recipient has food allergies, it’s hard to go wrong with food gifts. Gifts in a Jar are always popular, though I’d recommend that you make and try the recipe-in-a-jar first, before making extras as gifts. We’ve had a few that looked like a great idea but actually turned out not to work well when you dumped the contents of the jar into a bowl and put the recipe together.

I also love the idea of giving homemade cookie dough. It can be frozen and saved to use after all the Christmas goodies are eaten up. And nothing quite beats freshly made chocolate chip cookies!

Other food gift ideas: Year-Round Yum, Vinegar Infusion Set, a coffee & tea gift basket, Homemade Marshmallows, and Homemade Hot Drink Mixes,

12 Days of Christmas Gifts for Teachers from How Does She

2. Consumable Gifts

As a minimalist, I love consumable gifts! They can be meaningful and memorable, but they don’t result in clutter. I shared five of my favorite consumable gift ideas here. JesseLeigh also shared a great post last year with many clutter-free gift ideas.

Other consumable gift ideas: Homemade Body Scrubs, Gluing Craft Box, 12 Days of Christmas Gifts for Teachers, a calendar, stationery or note cards, and gift cards.

Fingerprint Ornaments from The Gardner’s Dirt

3. Handmade Gifts

Most food gifts and consumable gifts are handmade, but there are plenty of other handmade gifts that don’t fall into those two categories. Handmade gifts are usually very economical and they can be customized especially for the recipient. Not everyone appreciates handmade gifts, but even if the gift you give isn’t something the recipient loves, I can guarantee that most people will feel very honored and blessed that you took the time and effort to make something for them.

I shared a number of do-it-yourself gift ideas for children here. Amy has a great list of 36 handmade gift ideas. And Brandy blogged on some great ideas for handmade gifts that won’t cost you anything.

Other Handmade Gift Ideas: The Question Jar, Homemade Playdough, DIY Car Mat Backpack, Fingerprint Ornament, and Build-Your-Own Snowman Kits.

Those are just a few of my ideas. I’d love to hear your favorite homemade gift ideas–especially those that have been especially well received! If you’ve blogged about it, be sure to leave your link in the comments.

Practical Application

1. Sometime in the next 24 hours, sit down with your Christmas gift list and finalize exactly what you are giving each person. If you find it helpful, use the Master List here or the Organized Christmas list here

2. Plan a shopping day or days in the next week and make a plan for where and when you’ll buy each item. If you’re planning to make any homemade gifts, write down all the supplies you need to buy and block off time on your calendar in the next week to ten days to make and finish these.

3. If you begin to feel overwhelmed at any time, step back and re-evaluate whether there are some things that you can cross off your list. It’s not worth making something if you’re going to be all stressed out about it for three weeks!

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21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Plan Your Gift List

Once you’ve determined your Christmas Budget, it’s time to break that down further and create a gift list.

1. Use Your Budget As a Guide

If it’s not in the budget, you can’t buy it. Period. And even if it feels like you’re being a scrooge, I promise you that it’s always better to give small and simple gifts that you can afford than to give elaborate, extravagant gifts you buy on credit.

For the first few years of our marriage, we did nothing in the way of gifts for Christmas. We couldn’t afford to buy or make gifts, so we just didn’t. And we survived just fine. It wasn’t our first choice, but it was a sacrifice we made in order to survive law school without debt.

2. Pare Down Your Gift List, If Need Be

Sticking with your Christmas budget may mean that you need to pare down who you buy gifts for. I talked about paring down your gift list in my post on simplifying Christmas yesterday:

Evaluate your gift list: Do you really need to give a gift to your uncle’s neighbor’s dog? I’m pretty sure Fido will survive just fine without another fancy chew toy, so save your money and use it to buy gifts for those you really care about or want to bless.

Creating limits for how many gifts you buy helps to simplify things. MoneySavingMom.com reader Ashley says, “We give each of our children three, and only three, Christmas gifts. One gift is always something useful like pajamas; one gift is money for their savings; and one gift is something they want or a fun gift. By limiting the number of fun gifts to just one per child, we are able to say no when we see something they would love, but not love enough to be their fun gift.”

3. Be Free From Guilt or Obligation

Buying a gift for someone out of guilt or obligation gives you no fulfillment. I loved what Rachel from Small Notebook said in her post on simplifying Christmas without the guilt:

Sometimes Christmas seems like putting on a show. It’s wearisome, and it leaves us wanting more.

I’ve been thinking about what a simple Christmas would be like for us, and together with my husband we have chosen some things to cut back on. This means I won’t get to act like Martha and show off my amazing skills. (Which is a good thing, considering my past kitchen disasters.)

More and more, I have to remember that Christmas is not about me. It’s not about what I can do, what I can make, or how organized I can be.

If our Christmas is to resemble the way that Christ came to this earth, then we need to take a step back. The way Jesus was born was humble. It wasn’t a spectacular show. It wasn’t a production. I want my Christmas to reflect that, so I can dwell on him this season. (Read the full post here; it’s really good!)

4. Give Gifts That Are Meaningful

When you plan ahead and make a list of who you are buying gifts for, it allows you to put forth more time and effort into the actual gifts. Instead of hastily throwing together a gift or hurriedly running to the store and getting some generic gifts, planning ahead allows you to consider what would really bless the recipient.

Take time to consider each person on your list individually. Think what would really be meaningful to them. Ask another friend or family member for suggestions if you’re having trouble coming up with them.

Some people find it helpful to keep a running list of gift ideas and to update this list as someone mentions a particular like or interest. My husband does this for me and he always ends up surprising me with a completely unexpected gift that is something I love–all because he wrote down the idea on his list months in advance.

5. Experience Joy in Giving

When we give gifts we can afford and that we’ve put effort and thought into, there’s so much joy in giving! We don’t have to worry about a credit card bill coming in January, we don’t have to feel guilty because we just threw something together at the last minute. We can just thoroughly enjoy giving–no strings or guilt attached!

How do you plan your gift-giving? Do you use a spreadsheet online? Do you use a printed gift planner? Or do you use another method? I’d love to hear what works for you!

photo by yvestown

Practical Application

1. Sometime in the next 24 hours, sit down with your Christmas budget and plan out your Christmas gift list. Start by jotting down all the names of those people whom you’d like to give gifts to and then compare it to your budget.

2. If need be, pare down the list and then set a specific budget amount for each person.

3. Brainstorm possible gift ideas (we’ll talk about this more tomorrow).

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