I get the jitters before hosting almost any gathering, but with all the build-up to the holidays, it feels like the stakes are even higher than usual.
To keep it in perspective, I try to remember what’s most important: being with family and friends and appreciating our blessings. But when hosting a crowd, there’s a lot of work to be done!
Here are the 10 strategies I’ve devised for making holiday entertaining easier on us, while still indulging our guests. I call it my Holiday Dinner Survival Guide.
1. Don’t try to do it alone.
Just because you love to cook doesn’t mean you have to do it all! If anyone volunteers to bring something, take them up on it. Try to involve the kids with the preparation, either by asking them to make place cards or table decorations, or clean the house.
2. Make a menu ahead of time.
Several days before your guests come, make a list of everything you are serving, from appetizers to coffee. Note who is making each of them and when you need to start prep for each one. (Big holiday dinners may not be a great time to try more than one new recipe.)
3. Grocery shop early.
Make a detailed grocery list of all food and non-food items you’ll need, and buy the groceries at least two days ahead of time so you can start some prep at least one day ahead.
4. Cook in advance.
Most of the trimmings can be cooked well in advance of dinner, and then warmed before the meal. Employ your slow cooker and toaster oven to be able to cook more dishes at once.
5. Get the house and table ready the night before.
To avoid exhaustion on the big day, make sure the house looks nice and the table is set before you go to bed the night prior to your guests’ arrival. You can also set out all the serving dishes and label what will go in each.
6. Keep appetizers easy.
Before dinner, serve simple foods such as gourmet cheeses, nuts, store-bought spreads for crackers, vegetables and dip, and/or fresh popcorn.
7. Send the kids out for a picnic and sports before the meal (If the weather cooperates!).
This strategy frees the kitchen for dinner prep and calms the kids so there’s a higher probability of civilized behavior when guests arrive. You might even want to pack them a cooler of snacks and drinks so they don’t mess up your busy kitchen.
8. Consider serving buffet-style.
This makes dinner logistics easier.
9. Take the last 30 minutes off.
An experienced hostess once told me that I should try to hold sacred the last half hour before guests arrive. Use this time to get yourself cleaned up and put your feet up for a few minutes. That way you won’t be utterly exhausted before the gathering begins.
10. Soak in your surroundings and eat slowly.
After sitting down, have each guest share one thing they love about the holidays or something they are grateful for — this simple tradition really sets the right mood. Then enjoy the feast you have all helped to prepare, and try to remember to savor each bite and the time together after all your hard work.