These Ten Rules for Hosting a Successful Holiday Dinner are tried and true by… yours truly. I have hosted or cooked at least one big holiday for the last five or so years, and each time we get closer and closer to perfection. Or ambivalence. I don’t know. But what I am sure of, is that you should read these rules at least twice if you’re planning to host a holiday meal. Paying special attention to numbers 8, 9, and 10. Really. (No, REALLY.)
1. Plan (Far) in Advance.
Having a basic plan a few weeks ahead of time (even if it’s just a general outline of your day) allows you to work through the details in your mind over a long period, so the end game isn’t overwhelming. I like to figure out my basic timeline at least a month in advance. I start planning the food about three weeks ahead, and I start shopping and cooking about two weeks ahead. You could even do this even more in advance, but even I’m not *that* organized.
2. Cook Ahead.
Choose meals that can be prepared ahead of time and then frozen. If you have a deep freeze, some items can be started as far as six months in advance! With an upright freezer, you could start as much as a month or two earlier than the event. I generally start cooking about two weeks before the holiday, so I’m not feeling crazy and overwhelmed on the big day. Don’t have freezer room? You can still get things chopped and prepped in the days leading up, so you’re not drowning on the big day. Do what you can in advance and it’s one less thing to worry about!
3. Use Technology.
Can it be done in a slow cooker, so you don’t have to slave over the stove? Good, then do it. Can you set your coffee maker to come on at dessert time so you don’t have to remember? Good, then do it. Can you use a table oven for the casserole so you’re not trying to play turkey jenga? Good, then do it. Can you program your phone alarm to chime and remind you when to check dishes and take out the turkey? Good, then do it.
4. Simplify Things.
Does the recipe call for fourteen types of spices when a tablespoon of seasoned salt would work just fine? Use the seasoned salt, no one will know. Do you hate chopping onions? Buy them pre-chopped. Does your dishwasher suck? Use disposables. Can you dump a bag of frozen hash browns into the pan instead of peeling and cutting twenty potatoes? DO IT.
5. Stick with What You Know.
Now is not the time to experiment with a new recipe. Or buy a fancy new gadget. I would love a sous vide as much as the next foodie, but I’m not going to whip one out for the first time on Thanksgiving morning! Arm yourself with your star recipes that you know how to make and you know people love. Why mess with a good thing? Who has time for that?
6. Ask For Help.
Do not be a martyr. I repeat DO NOT BE A MARTYR. If your friend wants to bring a dish, say THANK YOU. If you want something in particular, just let them know. If you’d rather have help with non-food items, ask for cocktails or paper goods. When your father-in-law creeps into the kitchen, hand him a dish towel and point to the sink. When the kids start whining about being bored, let them set the table. This is an orchestra, not a drum solo. Be the conductor and make beautiful holiday magic happen.
7. Borrow Stuff.
Keep in mind that most people aren’t doing the hosting, so there are gads of super helpful tools being entirely unused and neglected on holidays. You should borrow those sad appliances and make them part of your festivities. Would a second (or fourth) slow cooker make your day easier? Borrow one. Need a cheese board? Snag one. Don’t have enough knives. Steal thy neighbors! (Okay, maybe just ask nicely).
8. Prepare for Disaster.
Possibly the curtains will catch fire. Or a small child will eat all your butter. Maybe Uncle Bert will knock over a punch bowl. Just know that something WILL go wrong. And it’s okay. If you accept this fact at the outset, you can respond with level-headedness and impress the guests with your ability to swiftly adapt. No one will remember the disaster, because, what disaster? You dealt with that minor inconvenience like a pro and moved on with your merry self.
This day is for you too. Breath deeply and enjoy the cacophony masterpiece you’ve created. Make sure to take a moment (several moments!) and sit with your friends and family. If you’ve followed this list, you should have plenty of time to put your feet up and let that little sister bring you a fizzy drink. You don’t want to look back and think “that was SO MUCH WORK!” – instead you want to look back and think “that was SO MUCH FUN!”
10. No, Seriously. RELAX.
Get a cocktail already. No one cares if the napkins are shaped like swans. I promise.
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