Tips and Tricks

How to Host Holiday Meals Stress Free

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You need this guide to find out how to host Holiday Meals stress free. No more worrying because you forgot to do something only to discover it at the last minute.

Organization is the key. Not organized? No worries, we’ve got your back. As an added bonus, you’ll also get a sample holiday menu, complete with lots of recipes.

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Wild turkey with oranges and fresh herbs.Pin

I had a smaller group than usual for Thanksgiving this year. In the afternoon, I posted on Facebook that I was pretty much done with all my prep and all I had to do was nothing until the turkey came out of the oven. I had a few comments asking me to do a blog post on how I managed that and thought that was a great idea.

I used to be so stressed out cooking holiday meals that by the time everything was ready to eat, I was worn out and didn’t even feel like eating. Not so anymore. Through the years, I have come up with several tricks that work for me and I’m sure they will help you out too.

So now that we have all made it through Thanksgiving, it’s time to turn our attentions to Christmas. It’s such a busy time of year… shopping, cleaning, baking, decorating, wrapping, etc. etc. etc.

I have a pretty big group coming for Christmas but I’m confident that I will still have time to watch “Chef’s Table” for a while in the afternoon because I will have everything done. (Yes I am a geek, I watch cooking shows in the middle of cooking the largest meal of the year! 🙂 )

So I want to take you through the process. First and foremost, make lists!!

Table with holiday meal just before serving.Pin

Determine you guest list

Decide how many people you want (or are obligated to) invite to your dinner. Try to keep it as small as possible if you are new to entertaining. Send out invitations or contact your guests with the date and time.

The space you have available in your house or apartment may have a big impact on how many you can fit comfortably. If you can’t fit everyone you want then maybe think about doing a celebration when the weather is nice outside and you have more room.

Gift giving for the holidays

If you are sharing gifts with your company, prepare those ahead of time. If you are giving non perishable items as gifts, they can be prepared weeks in advance. Homemade gift baskets make great holiday gifts.

Some nice homemade gifts for your guests

Chocolate Covered Peanuts
Another super easy edible gift to give for the holidays is Chocolate Covered Peanuts. It's perfect for last minute gifting, they only take a couple minutes!
Make This
chocolate covered peanuts on white platePin
Spicy Nuts – Great for snacking or giving as gifts
Spicy nuts can be made in less than 15 minutes! They are great gifts for all of the spice lovers on your list!
Make This
Gift jars willed with spicy nuts and topped with a bow.Pin
Cranberry Pepper Jelly
Cranberry Pepper Jelly is an easy, sweet spicy jelly that is perfect as a glaze, as an addition to appetizers and is perfect for a unique gift for the holidays!
Make This
Cranberry pepper jelly in canning jar.Pin
Canning Jalapeño Jelly- aka Pepper Jelly
Jalapeno Jelly is a perfect way to use up lots of peppers from your garden. It is perfect for glazes, appetizers, dips and gifting.
Make This
Jar of jalapeno jelly.Pin
Lemon Marmalade
This easy Lemon Marmalade is a delicious addition to your pantry. Step by step canning and freezing instructions included.
Make This
Close up of jar of lemon marmalade.Pin
Hot Chocolate Mix Recipe
This Hot Chocolate Mix Recipe is great for holiday gifting. Also, this Hot Chocolate Mix Recipe is great anytime you want a cup!
Make This
Red mug filled with hot chocolate and topped with marshmallows.Pin
Carrot Cake Jam | Canning Instructions
This Carrot Cake Jam is such a treat! It’s super easy and deliciously different from other jams. The warming flavors and spices of carrot cake!
Make This
Woman's hand spooning out carrot cake jam from jar.Pin
How to Can Candied Jalapenos
These Candied Jalapenos, otherwise known as Cowboy Candy, are such a great treat any time of the year! Candied jalepeños are a great way to use up all of those jalapeños from your garden next summer!
Make This
Pin
Maple Candy | How to Make Maple Candy
Maple candy is incredibly delicious. It only has two ingredients and can be made in less than 30 minutes, start to finish.
Make This
Maple leaf candy on wooden plate.Pin

Make lists for everything

Make a menu list

Christmas dinner list of dishes, master listPin

I can’t stress that enough. Start with a master list for your menu. Get that set in your mind early.

You can always tweak a few things here or there if you find a great recipe you want to try or you can’t find that special ingredient you are looking for.

If you do are doing cocktails, wine, beer, a punch or any other beverages be sure to add that to your menu. Also, add an appetizers that you plan to serve at your holiday party to this list.

Make a shopping list

List of all ingredients needed to make holiday dinnerPin

Once your menu list is made, go through all of the recipes. Add the ingredients you don’t normally have in your pantry to the list. I keep my shopping list on Alexa, on my phone. The reason for this is that before smartphones, I would leave the list on the refrigerator, in the car, or lost somewhere in the bottom of the black hole that is my purse!

When I use the last of a pantry item, I tell Alexa to update the list. So I don’t usually have to worry about those items.

Just in case, when coming up with your shopping list, check all of the pantry items that you might be low on and add them to the list. If you do this list early, you can pick up a few things that may be on sale when doing your regular grocery shopping. Thereby saving money, as an added bonus.

Shopping list with purchased items crossed out.Pin

As you purchase items, cross them off of the list. You can purchase the non-perishable items well in advance and not have to worry about them. In this case, I just bought the turkey, almonds and cranberries because they were on sale. Dry sherry is a pantry item for me.

Make a timeline of tasks needed to host holiday meal

timeline of when to start task on the day of the holidayPin

Go back to your menu and determine how long each task will take to prepare and how long each item needs to cook. Add each task to a timeline that you can refer to all day.

Make a list of dishes required for serving

list of serving dishes and utensils you will needPin

Go back to your original list and determine how many serving platters, serving bowls and serving utensils you will need. This will save a ton of stress as you are getting your finished food ready to plate and you have nothing to put them in.

If you’re like me, the only time I break out the good china, is a few holidays. Inevitably they need rewashing. A few days before your event, get the dishes and serving bowls out and wash them. Then just set them aside for a few days.

I usually cover with a clean kitchen towel because we have 3 dogs and they would be full of dog hair, if I didn’t. One to two days ahead, purchase the produce and perishables.

Plan your decor

Table set with holiday centerpiece.Pin

Again, well in advance, plan your table decorations including, centerpiece, dinnerware, plates, serving platters and bowls, napkins, etc. If you know the color scheme you want to go with, you can pick up lots of things at the dollar store. Saving you more money. Here is a fun article from Southern Living on Table Settings.

Decorate any other areas of your home that will be in high traffic areas such as the entryway, bathroom, kitchen and living room.

These are fun. Just a few different sized glasses and a vase with some spruce that I cut from the back yard. A package of tealight candles and a few colorful leaves. Cost me $8 at the dollar store. When they are lit they are really cute! The tea lights float on water for about 40 minutes.

dollar store shelves showing great glass ware for centerpiecesPin

In my local dollar store there is an entire isle dedicated to glassware of all shapes and sizes. You can come up with really cute centerpieces for next to nothing.

Set tables in advance

 Table set with all serving dishesPin

If you read posts with tips such as this, many advocate for setting the table up to a week early. There is no way I can do this. We live in an old farmhouse and the dining table is where everything is set when anyone walks in the front door. Backpacks, groceries, tools, mail, you name it, it ends up resting, for a time, on the table. I have, in my old age, decided that I am setting it the day before any event.

So iron the tablecloth, if you must, (I freaking hate ironing and might not if my Mom wasn’t coming 🙂 ). Place the centerpiece and set place settings. If you are doing a buffet, set up for that. (Threaten your family with a horrible fate if anything gets messed up!)

Make dishes ahead of time

Anything that can be made a day or two in advance, do it. Think cranberry or other sauces. Parboil vegetables and cold shock them. If you are making stuffing, for instance, cook any sausage and the onions and celery the day before and store in a container. Then you can just add it to the bread cubes and stock the day of the feast.

I usually make Cauliflower Au Gratin, otherwise my husband and my dad whine so I always make that the day before and just pop it in the oven on the day of the party.

Most casseroles can be made at least a day in advance.

If you are making a veggie tray, most everything can be cut up the day before and stored in plastic bags. Then you can just arrange on your serving tray the day of. You get the point. Get any prep you can done early.

 Holiday Pie in pie dishPin

Ok, so you finally come to the day of and you have made yourself a timeline. Pie comes out of the oven first. Try not to get behind. If you can get ahead, that’s all good.

If you are making mashed potatoes don’t wait until 4 o’clock to peel them and cut them up. Get them done at 1 pm and cover with cold water. They will stay for hours without browning and soaking actually removes a bit of the starch.

So now, it’s only 2 o’clock and you have 2 hours to relax before company shows up. Kick your feet up and watch a good cooking show because you just owned this dinner!

Last minute stress

Roasted Turkey on platter with herbsPin

The hardest part is the last 30- 40 minutes. You have to mash the potatoes, make gravy, finish the last minute veggies, bake rolls and whatever else you have on your list. Remember, if you are roasting a whole turkey, it needs to rest for at least 45 minutes to 1 hour. Plan your last minute things so they can be finished in this time frame.

When a few of your guests ask you if you need help, take them up on it. Ask them to place food in the dishes you have prepared to serve them in. Cut up the turkey, get the sauces out of the refrigerator and above all don’t forget the rolls. (I always forget to put the dinner rolls in 🙂 )

Table set with all of the dishes just before servingPin

My last two tips. Sit down, enjoy the feast you have produced. You planned the holiday for everyone to enjoy each other’s company. Enjoy your company.

Next, when dinner is done, and everyone wants to know how they can help, let them help with clean up. Have plenty of tupperware containers ready to pack with leftovers. Delegate where to put all the leftovers. Let one person be in charge of washing dishes another with leftovers. Get the kids in there helping too!

Delicious recipes to serve for the holidays

Main dishes

How to cook a wild turkey
Let me show you how to cook a wild turkey, step by step. Wild turkey is more flavorful than domestic turkey but you need to know how to cook them!
Make This
Wild turkey on platter with citrus and fresh herbs.Pin
Almond Crusted Turkey Cutlets – Turkey Schnitzel
This schnitzel is made with turkey breasts!
Make This
Fork dipping piece of turkey schnitzel in orange sauce.Pin
Brined Turkey Breast
Once you learn how to make a brined turkey breast, you’ll never have it any other way. It turns out moist, perfectly seasoned and so delicious that Christopher wants me to make it this way for many years to come.
Make This
Turkey breast with gravy, peas and potatoesPin
Lamb Loin – Grilled or Roasted to Perfection
This Lamb Loin is a super easy, special dish for any occasion! You can grill it in the summer months, or roast it in the oven any time of the year!

Make This
Sliced lamb loin, medium rare on white platter with fresh rosemary.
Beef Strip Loin – Grilled or Roasted to Perfection
Impress your guests. This beef strip loin, also referred to as New York strip, comes out tender, juicy and insanely delicious.
Make This
Close up photo of sliced beef strip roast.Pin
Venison Wellington
Venison Wellington is an easy, gourmet meal that will impress your guests! It’s made with store bought phyllo sheets, so it comes together in 20 minutes!
Make This
Venison Wellington on gray plate with sides.Pin
Air Fryer Pork Loin
This Air Fryer Pork Loin turns out tender and juicy on the inside, and nice and browned on the outside! Air Fryer Pork Loin only takes about 20 minutes, total! If you are trying to eat healthier for the New Year, this recipe is for you!
Make This
Sliced pork with roasted vegetables.Pin
Garlic – Citrus Stuffed Whole Rainbow Trout
This trout is easy, flavorful, moist and melt in your mouth tender!
Make This
Two whole trout on pewter platter with sliced lemons.Pin

Vegetable dishes

Parsnip Recipe – Vegan
This Parsnip Recipe comes together in a matter of minutes! A vegan, healthy, parsnip recipe it’s perfect for a side dish for Thanksgiving and Christmas or Hanukkah!
Make This
Parsnips in vintage pewter bowl.Pin
Brown Sugar Glazed Carrots
These Brown Sugar Glazed Carrots are an easy and delicious side dish for any meal. Glazed with butter and brown sugar, they also are known as burnished carrots, or roasted carrots. With just 3 ingredients, cooking them on the stove top makes them fast and easy! Elegant enough for company, easy enough for a work night!

Make This
Glazed carrots in vintage dish.Pin
Green Beans Almondine -Amadine
Green Beans Almondine has to be one of the easiest vegetables dishes to make! It is great for the holidays, because the green beans can be blanched the day before and then can be finished in a few minutes!

Make This
Green beans with almonds in antique pewter bowl.Pin
Cauliflower au Gratin
This Cauliflower au Gratin is a favorite to have for the holidays, or any day! Cauliflower and cheese is a cheesy, creamy vegetarian dish!

Make This
Cauliflower au gratin on gray plate with salmon filet.Pin
Roasted Butternut Squash
This Roasted Butternut Squash Recipe is easy and delicious! With just 3 ingredients, you’ll find out how to roast butternut squash the easy way! No peeling or chopping required! Oven roasting takes all of the work out of the task.

Make This
Half of a roasted butternut squash on antique tray.Pin
Parmesan, Spinach, Bacon Spaghetti Squash Boat
Easy delicious side dish to enjoy with any meal!
Make This
Spaghetti Squash, Parmesan, Bacon Boats on metal baking tray with spinach and walnutsPin
Maple Roasted Sprouts and Sweet Potatoes
Just a hint of sweetness gives this side dish a wonderful flavor!
Make This
Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Sweet PotatoesPin

Side dishes

Cranberry Orange Sauce
Making your own Cranberry Orange Sauce is so easy! This Cranberry Orange Sauce has a little extra kick from Grand Marnier! Feel free to eliminate that if you have little ones sharing your Thanksgiving or Christmas table! It is every bit as good!
Make This
Cranberry orange sauce in a pink depression serving bowl.Pin
Classic Mac & Cheese
Classic Mac & Cheese is a creamy, homemade version of the popular stuff in the box! Just like your mom used to make, this Macaroni & Cheese has a crunchy topping!



Make This
Macaroni and cheese on white plate with black rim.Pin
Mrs. John F. Kennedy’s Casserole Marie Blanche
Vintage recipe from First Lady, Jackie Kennedy! This Casserole is creamy easy and incredibly delicious!
Make This
Cheesy noodle casserole Marie Blanche in glass casserole.Pin
Irish Colcannon
Colcannon is an Irish dish that has been around for centuries! It is super easy and normally served for St. Patrick’s Day in the US, but great any time of the year!
Make This
Bowl of colcannon with bacon and chives.Pin
Foil Packet Grilled Potatoes
These Foil Packet Grilled Potatoes are all spiced up with roasted garlic and herbs of your choice! Easy, delicious summer side dish with zero cleanup!
Make This
Red and white potatoes in white bowl.Pin
Hasselback Sweet Potatoes with Mexican Flavors
This Hasselback Sweet Potato is super easy and ultra flavorful!
Make This
cheesy hasselback sweet potato on blue platePin

Desserts

Dairy Free Pumpkin Pie
This easy Dairy Free Pumpkin Pie is a delicious way to enjoy pumpkin pie if you are lactose intolerant!
Make This
Slice of pumpkin pie on white plate with dollop of cream.Pin
Apple Crumb Pie
Apple Crumb Pie has lovely spiced apples with a buttery, crunchy crumb topping. This Dutch Apple Pie is much easier than a traditional double crust pie!
Make This
Sliced apple crumb pie side shot.Pin
Apple Cranberry Crisp
Apple Cranberry Crisp is an easy, delicious dessert for the holidays! Festive and gluten free, dairy free and vegan!
Make This
Colorful apple cranberry crisp on white plate.Pin
My Mom’s Rhubarb Pie
This Rhubarb Pie is slightly sweet and slightly tangy! It is the best rhubarb pie EVER!
Make This
Vintage Rhubarb PiePin
Blackberry Pie Recipe
This Blackberry Pie Recipe is easy and a perfect summer dessert for a picnic or BBQ. Flaky pie crust and a not to sweet filling make this recipe stand out!

Make This
blackberry pie on antiques blue plate with ice creamPin
Gluten Free Lemon Meringue Pie
Making your own Gluten Free Lemon Meringue Pie could really not be easier! This Lemon Meringue Pie has a special twist! It has a chocolate crust! Yum!

Make This
Lemon meringue pie with chocolate crust and browned meringue.Pin
Yellow Plum Sorbet
This Yellow Plum Sorbet was caught my eye immediately! I thought the use of Grand Marnier was interesting!
Make This
Yellow plum sorbet on pink dessert bowls.Pin
Raspberry Banana Sherbet
Easy lactose / dairy free and vegan dessert for any day!
Make This
Pink raspberry sorbet in dessert fluted dishes.Pin

When the guests leave, put your feet up and pat yourself on the back because you OWNED this!!!!

So that’s how easy it is to Host Holiday Meals! If this post is helpful to you, or you have any additional suggestions, please leave me a comment below! I would love to hear from you!

Binky’s SignaturePin

Xoxo,

Originally Published 11/25/2016. Updated 10/26/2022.

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34 Comments

  1. I think sometimes we stress so much over planning for holiday meals that we don’t spend much time enjoying it or the time around our family. I love the tips you have offered along with the timeline.

  2. I love how you’ve broken down the process of making a big meal. What a help this is for organizing for the holiday dinner. Thanks so much!!

  3. I need to do this too. Keep myself more organized and have a time line by the hour of what needs to be done! I can do it. 🙂

  4. I work as a private chef and I gotta say that having that list, that plan, that schedule is EVERYTHING and makes cooking for other people what it should mostly be – a pleasure! Great job on this one!

  5. You seem so organised! I always think it’s best for big meals like this to try to get as much done in advance as possible but even then I end up rushing around at the last minute. Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. Great tips Beth! I am a monster stress head whenever we are hosting events but if I could get myself this organised I’m sure it would be much less of an issue. I will give it a go at Christmas! Thank you ????

    1. Thanks, Gabby! Start your lists soon! Then it will give you plenty of time to remember everything!! I have 5 started all ready because I have to host multiple events over the holidays! 🙂

  7. I am so happy I stumbled on you post! I have a Thanksgiving get-together at my home and was so stressed.. but after reading you post.. I guess I can do it:)

  8. What a great guide for the holidays, I never write down anything and I always end up running to the supermarket at last minute because there was an ingredient missing to make a meal. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I have not done a Thanksgiving yet, but I think next year is my year. I am actually already excited and getting ideas ready THIS year.

  10. I was more than happy to uncover this website. I need to to thank you for your time for sharing this particularly fantastic read!! I definitely appreciated every part of it and I also have you saved to fav to look at new information in your website.

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