We’re heading into what, for many, is the most intensely social time of the year. Parties, dinners, decorating, baking—it can all be a little overwhelming. But when it comes to hosting holiday dinners and parties, staying organized and doing some pre-planning can make your entertaining easier and more enjoyable for everyone, especially you. Then you can relax and appreciate all the rest of the festivities, too.
- Keep it simple. Now isn’t the time to experiment with a bunch of new , complicated recipes. Cook things you’ve made before using as many on-hand ingredients as possible. Keep the beverage list short—beer, wine, and a do-ahead batch cocktail, along with a non-alcoholic choice for those who don’t want to drink.
- Make a plan, and don’t wait until the last minute. Whether you’re doing dinner for two or cocktails for 50, advance planning makes the event easier. Develop your menu, gather and read through your recipes, make a shopping list and a timetable. But, stay flexible. In these days of uncertainty, guests get sick at the last minute, an ingredient you need may be in short supply (or really expensive), your oven decides to quit working—any number of situations could put a crimp in your plans. Take a deep breath and shift accordingly. There’s always a solution or alternative.
- Inventory your equipment and supplies well in advance. Make sure you have everything you need, like roasting pans, pie plates, and serving pieces. If you have holes to fill, make a stop at your local thrift store. Sometimes you can find what you need without spending a fortune. Make sure all of your table linens, if you’re using them, are clean and ready to go.
- Don’t think you have to make everything from scratch. It’s perfectly fine to take some shortcuts when you’re cooking a huge meal. Frozen pie crusts, frozen vegetables, even canned cranberries can all work with a little dressing up. Even Ina Garten doesn’t hesitate to use store-bought ingredients.
- Do as many things in advance as you can. Bake the pies, chop the vegetables for the stuffing, set the table, cook the sweet potatoes. Everything you can do ahead of time will make it easier on the day of.
- Embrace the principle of mise en place. That means chopping, measuring, and organizing all the ingredients and tools you’ll need for each recipe. It may seem a bit time-consuming at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never go back to your old habits again. It makes the actual cooking way more efficient. Real Simple explains how to do it.
- Clean as you go. This is when a helper can make a big difference. While you’re focused on the cooking tasks, someone else can be washing up the pots and pans and measuring cups so they’re ready to go for the next recipe. If you don’t have someone else to pitch in, then take a few minutes to do it yourself. It makes the next cooking task easier when you’re not trying to move around dirty dishes from the last one. And when the avalanche of after-dinner dishes hits the kitchen, you’ll have an empty dishwasher and sink ready for them.
- Let go of your expectations and perfectionism. Your guests won’t remember a dry turkey, but they will remember how you made them feel welcome and loved, and that’s the most important part of all.