As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to advise against large gatherings to stem the spread of COVID-19, Easter and Passover will likely be celebrated a little differently again this year.
But just because parties are smaller doesn't mean they still can't be special. There are plenty of ways to feel festive and connect with loved ones, even from afar.
Chefs, food bloggers and nutritionists share their top tips for keeping meals manageable and memorable while enjoying the spring holidays.
1. Prep a dish together via video chat
Even if you're not physically with that creative cousin who has all the best cooking secrets, you can still have their dish on your table. Set aside some time to make the recipe together virtually and ask for tips, recommended Natasha Bull, who runs the popular food blog Salt & Lavender. Bonus points if it's something you grew up eating — you could become your family's next expert on a beloved tradition!
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2. Scale down the number of dishes you're making
Sick of cooking after a year in quarantine? Take it easy. Bull told TODAY that an appetizer or snack, one main course, two side dishes and a nice dessert is enough to celebrate without too much added stress.
3. Make a list of backup recipes
There's nothing worse than getting excited for a certain dish and not being able to make it. That's why Bull suggested putting together a list with some backups to avoid any last-minute panic. Make a backup grocery list, too, to cut down on spending too much time in the store.
4. Prepare some ingredients ahead of time
Don't forget about the mise en place! Barry Tonkinson, director of culinary research and development at the Institute of Culinary Education, told TODAY that he often chops onions, garlic and other ingredients that don't deteriorate in the fridge beforehand. Spices can also be measured out ahead of time.
"That way, on the day of, you're not switching between the cutting board and the stove," he said.
5. Have fun with desserts
Baking essentials, like flour, baking powder and vanilla extract, are pantry staples for many people. So if you've got enough on hand, you can get creative. Bull suggested experimenting with recipes like cookies are a great way to involve kids in the action.
6. Keep it simple
When cooking, you should "think about sweet, salty, spicy, acidic and texture," chef Michael Schulson told TODAY. "If you combine those elements, you’re generally going to have a good thing." For beginner chefs, he advised against choosing complicated recipes even if you think you have plenty of time.
7. When in doubt, order in
If no one in your family really feels like cooking a big meal or you want to add something special to the table, it's totally OK to order in. Support local businesses and get delivery or takeout in a way that complies with social distancing.
8. Prioritize leftovers
Consider throwing your remaining ham into a split pea soup, or save any chicken bones for a hearty stock, Food Network star Anne Burrell suggested. If you're already cooking, consider making a double portion of a favorite family dish so people in the house can enjoy the leftovers for a few days.
9. Be flexible with your expectations
"To me," Burrell said, "taking care of yourself in a physical and mental capacity is even more important than the food." So if planning a big meal isn't your thing, then don't feel obligated.
"At this point, I’d just say ... do what you can and what you feel good about," she added.