Is it your turn to host Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner this year? Lucky you! I wish I could give you an "Easy" button for your holiday meals, but the best I can do is to share some terrific tips that will help you get through the Holidays smoothly.
Develop the menu: The best way to get started with planning a big meal is to develop a menu. For inspiration, flip through magazines, cookbooks and ask friends for recipe ideas. Unless you’re a pro in the kitchen, don’t pick a bunch of new dishes with long lists of ingredients. It’s best to keep it simple.
Holiday meals should be feasts, but you don’t need to make an entire cookbook worth of side dishes. Side dishes are often the most time consuming part of making the meal. Select a menu that includes 3-4 side dishes that compliment your main entrée. As a general rule, the menu will include a main entree (i.e. Turkey), 3-4 side dishes and a dessert. If guests plan to arrive a couple hours before dinner, plan on having a simple light appetizer.
Select make-ahead foods: The less you need to do the day of the event, the more you will enjoy it. Most foods can be made 2-4 days ahead and warmed up prior to serving. Many foods often taste better when they have a chance to set. Review your menu and identify the dishes you will make ahead of time, and set aside the time to make them a few days before the event.
Accept help: When you call your relatives and friends to extend the invitation, be ready to graciously accept any offer to help. When they ask, “What can I bring?” have a suggestion ready and when possible, match up the person with what you know they do best. Keep track of who is committed to bringing specific dishes on your menu. If your relative does not cook, ask him to bring a no cook item - wine, juice, dinner rolls, pie etc.
Create a shopping list: Once the menu is set, review each recipe and write down the ingredients you’ll need for a shopping list. Depending on the size of your guest list you may need to double or triple your recipes. When figuring the number of servings, count kids under 12 as a ½ serving.
For faster shopping in the market, organize your shopping list by the departments in your market. For example, write down all produce items in one part of the list and Dairy items in another. Grocery shopping is easier with a list. Check the cupboards to make sure you’re not running low of the basics – flour, sugar, butter, etc…
Buy prepared foods and ingredients: It’s a holiday meal not a test to make dinner for 20 from scratch. Don't hesitate to buy prepared ingredients that will cut down on meal prep time. Items such as canned soup stock, chopped nuts and dates, stuffing mix and pre-washed vegetables will all save time in the kitchen.
There is also no need to go out on a “culinary limb”. If you don’t know how to make gravy, buy it. If you are not a baker, ask people to bring desserts or buy them at the bakery.
The Table & Serving Plan: If you can do it, set the table the night before your party. A fun children’s activity is to have them make place cards for the dinner table. A quick Google Search for “Thanksgiving place cards” will provide plenty of kid-friendly place card ideas.
Decide if you will serve family or buffet style. Family style means that food is passed around the table. Buffet style means that a food area is set up where guests fill their plates and then seat themselves at your dining table.
Get serving dishes ready by writing down menu items on small pieces of paper and place each piece of paper in the serving dish you plan to use for that food. If you are serving buffet style, set out the serving dishes as you want them for the meal. This type of planning and organization allows guests who have volunteered to help be the most helpful. Have a great get together.
Happy Cooking and Happy Holidays!
About the author: Cheryl Tallman is the co-founder of Fresh Baby, creators of the award-winning So Easy Baby Food Kit, and author of the So Easy Baby Food and the new book So Easy Toddler Food: Survival Tips and Simple Recipes for the Toddler Years. Visit Cheryl online at www.FreshBaby.com for more delicious tips.