Many of us plan and prepare meals routinely for our immediate families, but when it comes to large gatherings, the stress factor shoots way up: large quantities, extra shopping, table setting, picky eaters, and careful timing so that everything is ready when you want it to be. How can you assure that your large-ish group enjoys this year’s holiday meal and that you get to join the fun, too?
If it’s your turn to host a large group, or if it’s a tradition you want to continue, start by setting aside some time (make an appointment with yourself if necessary) to do some planning. Just thinking about your meal in advance and making lists to keep track of your shopping and preparation needs relieves a layer of stress – you don’t have to remember everything:
Create one list of the tasks you want to complete before guests arrive:
- Plan the meal menu. Visit allrecipes, epicurious, or a similar site for help with holiday menu ideas.
- Shop for items not already in your fridge or pantry. Before you shop, search for promotions or coupons at your local grocery store, and visit coupon sites to save even more on your holiday menu purchases.
- Decide in advance what you’d like to wear so you aren’t making last-minute decisions before your family and friends arrive.
- Spot-clean around the house, especially guest bathrooms, dining room, and kitchen.
- Set out and clean extra serveware, flatware, and dishes. Note items you may want to borrow or buy.
- Prepare the table.
If all this planning and listmaking doesn’t get you any closer to enjoying the holiday fun, consider doing things differently this year:
- Remind yourself and your family of the reasons you’re getting together. Chances are, the reasons have little to do with a spotless house or perfectly cooked gourmet meal. It’s OK to keep it simple.
- Involve the children. They can make meal planning and preparation more fun – really! It’s all about attitude.
- Enlist family and guests to help you prepare, serve, and clean up. Most are already very willing to help, and these tasks go much faster when more people pitch in.
- It’s OK not to prepare everything from scratch. Especially for those special meals with lots of side dishes, buy prepared foods to cut down on your prep time and your stress level.
- It’s not essential that you use the fine china and crystal glassware if setting them out and cleaning them up creates stress for you. Your family and guests will enjoy the holiday meal just as much if you use disposable dishes.
- Plan your menu, and your time, to cook and freeze foods days ahead so that all you need to do is heat or uncover and serve.
- Make the meal a pot-luck, asking each guest to bring a favorite dish.
- Offer to host a breakfast or brunch instead of dinner – these alternative meals are often easier to plan and prepare.
- If your budget allows, consider catering your holiday meal. Someone else will be doing the preparation, serving, and clean-up for you.
- Or, for a change in surroundings, make a reservation and have your holiday meal at a local restaurant.
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