Are you hosting the holiday festivities this year? These ideas can help you beat the stress and save your energy for the party.


Things to consider while planning…

Don’t try to do everything yourself!
You may want to impress your friends and relative and really wow them, but trust me, keeping it simple will turn out best in the long run. Plan on providing the main course for the meal and then ask your guests what they would like to bring or assign dishes and supplies for your friends and family to be in charge of. Often times, people have signature dishes that they would love to make and share. For those who are not talented in the kitchen, give them simple things to bring, such as beverages or rolls. This way you can focus on making a few things really spectacular rather than a million things that turn out just pretty good.

The menu
Carefully select the dishes you are making. You want to be able to do as much of the preparation and cooking as you can before the day of the party, so choose dishes that allow you to do that with minimal cooking necessary the day of. Make sure you have enough equipment and serving dishes for the foods you are making and that you won’t have to juggle preparing too many things at once. Choose dishes you are comfortable making or have made before and really enjoyed so that you aren’t stressed out and working with unfamiliar ingredients and techniques. Make it easy for yourself!

Allergies and dietary restrictions
Make sure you ask your guests if they have any allergies or dietary restrictions. This can greatly affect your menu planning. You might have to leave certain ingredients out or keep some dishes separate. If you aren’t familiar with a restriction or aren’t comfortable cooking food for a restriction, just ask that person for suggestions! If you aren’t able to find out about allergies or dietary restrictions, it’s best to have a variety of food options so that if it does so happen there are restrictions, that person still has plenty of food options.

This is closely related to menu planning. Grocery stores are not fun places to be during holiday season, they can be crowded and stressful, so it’s best to have a plan of attack. Choose dishes that don’t require obscure ingredients; you definitely don’t want to be going to multiple stores searching for one specific thing. Make a list organized by where you will find the food in the store; all produce listed together, canned goods etc. Go to a store that you are familiar with so you don’t have to spend time wandering around searching for what you need.

Keep a list
Keep a running list of what people are contributing so that you don’t have doubles of certain items, too many similar dishes or something that is forgotten altogether.

Have to go containers available to send off with your guests. Then you aren’t stuck with too much food to store. And eat.

Check your inventory
Make sure you have enough serving dishes, plates, utensils, glasses etc. You don’t want to be scrambling the day of to find where you stashed your paper plates and plastic silverware.

Feng shui the space
Look at your space and make sure it isn’t cluttered. Rearrange the furniture so there is ample seating space but also enough free space for people to move around in. Clear off table tops so there is room for people to set drinks and plates. When decorating, stick to a few simple pieces; this both make your life easier because you won’t have to spend so much time and money in decorations and it will most likely create more space for your guests.

Suggestions and tricks to use on the big day…

Clean out the fridge
Make sure you have ample space in the fridge for all the food you plan on serving. For food safety reasons, you’ll want to refrigerate all dishes until you are ready to serve them. Keep the cold dishes cold and heat up what you want warm just before serving. You’ll also want to make sure you have space for the dishes that your guests are bringing.

Tag team
Have a friend available who knows the plan and is wiling to help. Setting up and making sure everything goes smoothly is a lot easier when you have someone else there you can rely on. Not to mention it will be much more fun to have someone to cook and decorate with.

Serving buffet style seems to be a popular and easy way to present the food, but there are a couple things that you’ll want to keep in mind. When setting up the buffet, you should put the plates at the beginning and the utensils and napkins at the end. This way your guests aren’t trying to carry more than they have to while serving themselves. Make sure you have space on the buffet table for guests to set down their plates too if they need to use both hands to serve themselves. You should also have an area apart from the buffet for the drinks and ice so that it doesn’t get too crowded or backed up while people are getting food. For food safety reasons, you’ll want to put out smaller portions of each dish and replenish it as needed. This way you can keep hot dishes hot and cold dishes cold. Any food should not be sitting out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

Put out a little at a time
Another thing you’ll have to think about with buffet serving is the amounts of food you’re putting out at once. You don’t want to put everything you have all out at one time; do it in stages and serve food during the entire party. Research shows that people are sluggish after too much food (we all know that feeling), so don’t overwhelm your guests with food all at once, put a few dishes out at a time, and let them know there will be more different choices as the party progresses. This will also help take pressure off of you as the host because you don’t have to try to get everything ready all at once; you can take your time and serve things when they’re ready.

Don’t be invisible
You’re guests actually want to see you and you should enjoy the party, so don’t spend it in the kitchen doing dishes — the dishes will be there later. Unless of course it’s tradition in your family, like it is in mine, for all the women to gather in the kitchen while they do dishes and gossip after dinner. Another way to make it easier for yourself is to put out garbage and recycling bins near the buffet where guests can clean up a bit after themselves.

Not hosting? We have a few tips for you too if you’re bringing a dish to pass.

If you need to do some final prep at the host’s house, make sure you bring everything you need. Don’t rely on the host to have it available for you.
Make sure you transport your cold and hot dishes separately in insulated containers to keep them tasting their best and to keep them safe to eat.
Slow cookers or crock pots are a great way to transport hot dishes and it makes the job of your host much easier because your dish can simply be plugged in once you arrive.
If you’re bringing a cold dish, take it straight to the fridge.

Here’s a little add-on to the holiday survival guide – a few simple ways to keep your holidays green.

Use real china and silver
Forgo the paper plates and plastic utensils for the real stuff. How often do you actually get to use those nice plates and glasses? It’s a cost free way to add festivity and decoration to the occasion as well.

Use cloth napkins and tablecloths
Also a great way to keep your garbage cans from overflowing. They also add decoration and clean up is easy; just throw them all in the wash machine. And you aren’t wasting money on holiday theme paper napkins – you have nice cloth napkins that can be used every year.

Don’t buy water bottles
Have a pitcher of filtered water available at the beverage station. It will save you money and people will be drinking water out of your nice glasses that you put out. Plus your filtered water is probably better than most bottled water anyway.

Use recycled aluminum foil
Reynold’s makes a 100% recycled aluminum foil that is great for heating up dishes the day of, keeping your food warm before serving and can also work as to go containers for your guests.

Go easy on the paper towels
Try to use real kitchen towels instead. Make them available around the buffet and beverage areas in case of spills.

Buy foods that are in season and organic
Local winter markets can be a great place to buy the ingredients for your holiday dishes. That way you know it’s fresh and you can tell your guests their meal was locally grown and made.

Don’t spend extra time and money on decorations. Instead, decorate with things that you will use later or even during the party. Put out bowls of fruit or nuts, colorful squash or a homemade gingerbread house.