As the holiday season begins to creep up on us, extravagant feasts feel like they're only a sniff away. While stuffing ourselves silly can be a satisfying experience, the time it takes to prepare everything is a little more stressful. Between purchasing the food, preparing it and hosting guests, it takes grit and determination to pull off a great holiday feast.
To learn more about the entire process, we've surveyed over 1,400 people about their experience with Christmas and Thanksgiving meals. What makes these holidays stressful, and how do people cope to keep their spirits high? Who's the best holiday cook they know? What are the most essential cooking items needed to pull off the perfect feast? Read on to find out!
Hungry for the holidays
Lovely smells will be wafting through the homes of many during this holiday season, but there's a catch to cooking delicious food.
Over 87% of respondents said they will be cooking homemade meals, and among them, millennials and Gen Xers were the most likely to indicate their plans to whip up a delicious roast or other holiday classics. That said, while sitting down for a nice meal can feel rewarding, some people were feeling the pressure during the preparation stages.
For those who didn't want to deal with preparing a massive holiday feast from scratch, buying ready-made food items was a logical choice. In fact, 78% of respondents had done it, more often for Christmas meals than for Thanksgiving. While buying prepared food can cancel out some of the holiday stress, other factors still contribute to it.
One stressor that can pop up while cooking for the holidays is making sure everyone can actually eat the food you make. Nearly one-third of respondents said they will be preparing their holiday meals following vegetarian dietary guidelines. Millennials ended up being the most inclusive generation in respect to their holiday meal preparations, as they were the most likely to include vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. However, dietary restrictions are just one of many complications that can arise during this season.
The planning phase
Before diving into the holiday cooking process, two things need addressing: a budget and the tools needed to whip up an impressive spread.
Nailing down a budget is an important step to take when preparing for the holidays. $189 was the average amount respondents were planning to spend for this year's Thanksgiving dinner. However, people gave their Christmas dinner budget a little more cushion at $243, on average.
To make the best possible meal, you'll need the right equipment. Items like baking sheets, casserole dishes and high-quality knives were top priorities for those that cooked. A large oven is often the last place a dish goes before getting served, and was one of the top five essential items for the cooking process, as reported by those surveyed. If you ever run into an issue with your oven and need to address it quickly, check out our guide to fixing common repairs here.
When comparing essential cooking equipment for Christmas and Thanksgiving, respondents more so needed a majority of the kitchen components listed for the latter holiday. This was especially true for the top five most essential items chosen by respondents.
As mentioned, cooking can be fun, but there are other factors that can dampen the holiday spirit. Let's take a look at what those can manifest as.
When asked specifically what makes the holidays so stressful, 61% of respondents said it was the cleanup that ensues after all the cooking, eating and celebrating has concluded. Also, making sure that the timing of the cooking and making sure the meal was perfect took a toll on roughly the same number of respondents. Thirdly, the cost of meal ingredients worried 43% of respondents, which is an understandable and relevant concern given that the price of food at home has risen up 5.4% over the past 12 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This statistic explains why over half of respondents worried about increasingly high food costs for this upcoming holiday season specifically. Baby boomers were the most concerned about this compared to other generations.
Another stressor indicated by our respondents for the upcoming holidays was large gatherings due to the lingering fear of contracting COVID-19. Still, according to a survey conducted last year about the holiday season, half of respondents planned on gathering for Thanksgiving, and over 60% were going to meet up for Christmas. This year, for those planning on hosting an event, over a third said they'd require everyone attending be vaccinated and/or set specific COVID-19 safety protocols for guests and members of the household.
To avoid other potential holiday disasters, our respondents gave us insight as to what methods they are planning to utilize for this upcoming season. Nearly 44% said they will be cooking in advance, and a slightly smaller percentage of respondents said they will be staying home. Despite the very prominent fear over increased food costs, only about 12% of people said they would reach out to guests for help with financing their holiday meals.
The best cooks
We're always thankful for a home-cooked meal, but the effort doesn't always match the end result. Who's the best in the kitchen, and who struggles with boiling a pot of water?
It can be really hard to look a cook in the face and tell them their meal was bad, which could be why 70% of respondents admitted to lying about liking a holiday meal. According to our survey responses, moms take the cake for being the best holiday cook, followed by just over a quarter of people thinking it was themselves, and slightly less than a fifth giving their spouse the highest praise—Gen Xers were most likely to crown their husband or wife as the best holiday cook they know.
On the flip side, other respondents had little shame in admitting that they were the worst holiday cook they knew, and mothers were the least likely to receive flak for their work in the kitchen.
The meat and potatoes
Massive feasts are common during the holidays, but exactly which food items are the most coveted?
For Thanksgiving, the most eaten main dish, by far, was—wait for it—turkey. As we approach this holiday season, research predicts Americans will spend just shy of $1 billion on these birds. Any Thanksgiving dinner would be incomplete without a plethora of classic side dishes, which is why biscuits, mashed potatoes, and stuffing were all in the majority as must-haves. Interestingly, 55% of respondents considered gravy a side dish, rather than just a sauce. For the dessert plates of many, pumpkin pie is the perfect way to end the Thanksgiving meal.
During Christmas, nothing was deemed more important for a main course than serving up some steaming hot chicken. Whether it's a roast, pot pie, or in any other form, poultry is a Christmas dinner staple. Fish and beef brisket were two other popular proteins that respondents liked to enjoy during the winter festivities. Regarding side dishes, biscuits and applesauce were a must for 4 out of 10 respondents, and for dessert, apple pie, chocolate chip cookies, and fruitcake were the go-to sweets.
'Tis the season
Everyone loves the holidays, and the feasts are definitely a focal point of them. While most of our respondents are gearing up to prepare a large spread, it might come at a cost, both financially and emotionally. People were mainly stressed about how much they'd have to spend on ingredients and were also nervous about making sure their cooking was done to a T. Strategies like meal prepping, staying home and instituting COVID-19 safety protocols if someone were hosting an event were all used to curb this year's holiday anxiety.
The tone then shifted, and respondents had more lighthearted topics, like what they deem the most essential cooking utensils/food items to be for the holidays, and who the best holiday cook they know is. Moms were the clear-cut favorite to be crowned ‘queens of the kitchen,' while many respondents also felt that they themselves were the best cook. Regardless of who cooks, the quality of food is only as good as the kitchen they have at their disposal. At Cinch Home Services, we can ensure that your household appliances remain in perfect condition, so even if you're not a mother, you can still cook like one. Give yourself a gift and head over to cinchhomeservices.com to learn more about our various home warranty plans and get the protection and peace of mind that you deserve.
Methodology and limitations
This study uses data from a survey of 1,419 people located in the U.S. Survey respondents were gathered through the Amazon Mechanical Turk survey platform where they were presented with a series of questions, including attention-check and disqualification questions. 50.7% of respondents identified as men, while 49.3% identified as women. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 80 with an average age of 38. Gen Zers accounted for 22.5% of respondents, millennials were for 27.1% of respondents, 25.6% were Gen Xers and 24.8% were baby boomers. Participants incorrectly answering any attention-check question had their answers disqualified. This study has a 3% margin of error on a 95% confidence interval.
Please note that survey responses are self-reported and are subject to issues such as exaggeration, recency bias and telescoping.
Fair use statement
As you approach your next big holiday feast, feel free to send this to someone who you know is planning on cooking up a storm. We just ask that you do so for noncommercial purposes only and to provide a link back to the original page so contributors can earn credit for their work.