How to Not Lose Your Mind While Hosting a Huge Holiday Dinner

posted: 11/16/15
by: Katie Morton

Nothing brings family and friends together like a festive meal. Yet, the stress of cooking for a herd can be immense. No problem--we've got tried-and-true tips to keep you cool as a winter's frost, despite the heat of the kitchen.

1. Decide on a menu

Real Simple has some terrific variations on Thanksgiving with all the trimmings along with timelines to keep the cook moving in the kitchen. Martha Stewart never disappoints with 12 Nights of Christmas Dinners. If Martha's recipes are too intimidating, have no fear: Rachel Ray keeps her menus simple to follow for the tentative home cook. And we've compiled easy recipes for you to prep before the meal even begins.

Not the next Iron Chef? There's no shame in ordering out or just ordering sides to complete the main event. Both Whole Foods and Wegmans have holiday menus which allow you to reheat so you can focus on the fun, not the stove.

Some families enjoy the tradition of a potluck style meal, which can take the stress off the host and allow for plenty of favorite family recipes. If Aunt Edna wants to bring her famous pecan pie and Grandma Thompson wants to bring her country-style corn pudding, let them. Find out ahead of time who will be bringing which dish so as to avoid having a dozen pumpkin pies and no veggie sides (although that wouldn't be the worst problem)! If there is a college student on a budget or a single parent, make it easy on them and ask them to bring the paper goods, like napkins and paper plates for easy clean up.

2. Take inventory

Now that you've decided on the food, the next step is preparing for a big group. Make sure you have enough plates, serving platters, chairs, cutlery, and glassware. Do you have the pots and pans necessary to cook the big meal? If not, you might need to beg, borrow, or buy some new cookware.

A couple weeks before the big day, pull out all the items you'll need to serve a big group and conduct an inventory so that you know you exactly what you need to buy or borrow to serve your big meal. Do a test run and set up your table the way it will be the day of the party so you know the layout of where people will sit.

3. Check in with your guests

Confirm the number of guests and get a head count. Check with guests on allergies and dietary restrictions. Has Uncle Lester gone gluten-free? Has someone decided to turn vegan? If someone has serious food allergies, it's always a good idea to invite them to bring a "safe" dish to share. That way, they're 100% sure that they can have what is being served. Nothing ruins a good party like a trip to the ER!

4. Time to shop

Assess what you already have in your pantry and what you still need. A few weeks before the big meal, make a list of all the ingredients you'll need to prep your menu. You can buy the nonperishables, dried spices, cooking oils, and pantry items ahead of time to save a massive shopping trip the week of the feast. A few days before the meal, head to the store for your meats, cheeses, dairy, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, flowers, and any other perishable items.

5. It's 5 o'clock somewhere

Stock up on wine and liquor. How much wine will you need? Bon Appetit says to "figure on three drinks per person, give or take, over the course of an evening. Keep in mind that there are four good-size glasses of wine in a 750-milliliter bottle. Do the math from there." Which wines to serve? Red and white wine, for sure, but here's some specific holiday wine ideas to get you started.

Prefer a cocktail before dinner to a glass of vino? Check out these options for easy, tasty libations sure to be a hit with your crowd. Make sure you have enough ice, too, for chilling white wine and serving cocktails.

6. 'Twas the night before dinner

Pick your perfect Spotify station and set up the music. Iron your linens and napkins. Arrange your flowers. Set the table. Check the bathrooms for toilet paper, hand towels, and soap. Arrange the seating. Prep any sides or dishes you can that can stay in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, all that should be left to do is get up and start cooking.

7. Let it go

Once the guests arrive, it's time to enjoy. To quote "Frozen," which our children have seen once (or fifty times), sometimes you need to let it go. You've done the legwork, so enjoy the fun. Eat, drink, be merry!

Turkey Talk with Sophie and Katherine

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Sophie, Katherine and Mommy recount the Thanksgiving disaster of 1996 and offer some tips on making a great turkey sandwich.