A three-day Yom Tov brings with it its own special challenges in regards to time, space and energy and whose coping skills are better than an experienced Jewish housewife. The experts I spoke with all agree that advance planning is key to a stress-free chag and lists are a housewife’s best friend.
Helen of Teaneck begins with a menu that then translates into shopping and cooking lists. “I plan my menus from Rosh Hashanah through Simchas Torah, making some things in very large quantities and dividing them up for freezing.”
When compiling your shopping list, include a supply of bottled soups and sauces to add to food when reheating.
Nechama from Jerusalem points out that going from the first day of Yom Tov to the second day presents problems with washing dishes, making this an ideal time to buy pretty disposable tableware so you can set the table and begin heating food as soon as it is halachically possible.
When planning your menu look for items that can freeze well e.g., kugels, meat (slice before freezing) and cakes without fillings.
When planning quantities remember that most people, especially children, are not going to eat as much during an evening meal if they had a heavy fleishig meal for lunch.
As you get closer to Yom Tov organize your cooking schedule daily. Prepare items with similar ingredients at the same time – peel and chop large quantities of vegetables for soups and kugels all on one day and use both the stove and oven for maximum time saving.
Almost all of our experts recommend starting by frying a large quantity of onions, as they are the base of so many recipes. If you have limited fridge/freezer space, Chaya of Brooklyn suggests beginning with the multi-step or time-consuming items, like desserts, cakes, soups, strudel etc. “These I make and freeze. After I reach my freezer’s capacity, I know I need to keep the rest of the menu simple and leave the preparation for right before Yom Tov/Shabbos so that the food stays fresh in the fridge. Sometimes I choose items that don’t necessitate my being in the kitchen all day and that can be made make quickly on Yom Tov.”
Esther R. of Jerusalem prepares her soup base by frying onions and other vegetables. Then she adds any thickener and spices and freezes it all in a bag. “On Yom Tov, I just drop the contents into a pot, add water and poof! Soup!” This allows you to save storage space in the fridge and have fresh soup on Yom Tov.
Rivkah F. of Jerusalem pre-cooks everything, making it as concentrated as possible: i.e., the soup with a minimum amount of water, just enough to keep the vegetables covered. The same can be done with the cholent, meat and side dishes. She says that sauces should be prepared far enough in advance to allow them to congeal in the fridge. This is another space saver and adding hot water turns the concentrated items into delicious meals.
Deena of Beitar advises that one start with the “musts” and then move on to the “wants.” Within that larger category, do messier things first so that as your energy wanes and you are less excited and more anxious to finish, what you have left are simpler projects. (Another reason to do “real” food first, desserts last.)
When very busy, Rifky of Lakewood puts a disposable tablecloth on the counter to collect all the mess. Afterwards she just rolls it up and dumps it in the garbage.
On erev Yom Tov, Rivkah K. from Jerusalem chops up tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, washes and dries lettuce and stores each in its own container in the fridge. This allows her to quickly make up the desired amount of salad and isn’t left with wilted leftover salads. Pre-made dressing is also essential.
There will always be items that don’t freeze well – salads and some rice- or potato-based dishes – so you need to leave time to prepare or cook them closer to Yom Tov and ensure there is enough room in the refrigerator to store them.