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.
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!!
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
Make lists for everything
Make a menu list
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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 🙂 )
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
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!
Originally Published 11/25/2016. Updated 10/26/2022.
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.
Thank you Vicky! I’m glad you enjoyed it! Happy Holidays! Enjoy yours!
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!!
I’m so glad it is of use to your! Thank you Annissa! Merry Christmas!
This is such a helpful post! Thanks for sharing all your tips on how to be the perfect host!
Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks Emily! Happy holidays!
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. 🙂
You totally can! It’s not difficult! Without the list, I always forget something! Thanks Anita!
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!
Thank you so much Denisse! That means a lot! Have a great weekend!
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!
Thank you, Corina! Happy Thanksgiving to you as well!
Awesome and useful tips, Beth! Holidays can be really stressful sometimes.
Thank you Ellie! It won’t be bad if you take my advice!
Gabby | The Tolerant Table
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 ????
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! 🙂
You are so well organized, great planning and tips especially the clean up !!!!
Right? The cook should never have to do the dishes!! Thanks, Laura!!
Great post Beth, the food looks to die for!
Thanks so much Emily! I’m glad you enjoyed it!
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:)
Absolutely, you can! It’s all about the planning! I hope it helps! Let me know! Thanks, Soniya!
Nadja | Nashi Food
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!
I used to, that’s why I try to remember to write everything down! Now I don’t have to worry! Thanks, Nadja!
wonderful info and right in-time! lovely share.
Thank you Prasanna! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
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.
Thanksgiving is fun! You really should! Just get prepared early!
Thanking you for sharing a great blog….
Thank you for your comment!
D. Christopher Spears
Very nice instruction Beth. Thank you for sharing! Food looks awesome as always!
Thank you so much, D. Christopher Spears! I am so glad you enjoyed it!!! Have a wonderful holiday
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Thank you so much!