When it requires more than a takeout menu: A guide to stress-free holiday menu planning

Need some help with your holiday menu planning? These few guidelines can help you out of the kitchen and into the party. You'll get great tips on organization and cooking that will make you the "host with the most" this holiday season.

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  • The holidays can be a particularly stressful time of year, especially for those of us in charge of hosting a holiday feast. With these few simple guidelines to keep your stress level in check, you’ll have plenty of worry-free time to spend with family and friends.

  • How many?

  • With all of the different holiday events and the many reasons your family and friends will have for celebrating it may be hard to get an exact number of guests. A good rule of thumb is to take your best estimate of the number of people you will have and add additional servings for two people. This will account for big eaters or surprise guests. If you don’t have guests staying with you for a few days after your big holiday meal be conservative in your portion planning so you don’t have days and days worth of leftovers.

  • Allergies

  •  Food allergies are becoming more and more prevalent, and if you have any guests that are new to your family or haven’t previously eaten at your home, a quick call to double check on any diet restrictions can go a long way in avoiding having to tell them that the only option they have to eat is a green salad.

  • Avoid trying new things or recipes

  • : You just found the most amazing recipe for Julia Child’s roast duck, and you are considering trying it out for your family’s big dinner party. Bad idea. Complicated recipes, or recipes that you have never tried before could end up a disaster and should wait for another day. Save what you hope to one day be your pièce de résistance for a time when it won’t matter if it turns out to be a pièce de disaster.

  • One week in advance

  • Make a list of all the dishes you’re cooking. At the very latest, you’ll want to have your menu finalized a week before the holiday. Create a list of dishes on the menu starting with appetizers and ending in desserts. Be certain not to forget the beverages.

  • Three days in advance

  • List out the ingredients and do your shopping. First, find your recipes. Go through each dish that is written out on your menu list and break it down into ingredients. You’ll want to check your pantry and refrigerator to see what ingredients you may already have, so you don’t overbuy. If you’re planning for a large crowd, block out a couple of hours to do your grocery shopping. As a bonus, if you’re a night owl or an early bird that may work to your advantage. Grocery stores and warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club are typically much less crowded during the very early morning and late night hours.

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  • Pies first

  • : One my favorite family traditions is Pie Night. The night before any major holiday all the cooks in my family can be seen in the kitchen late into the evening making pies, talking and laughing. While my family uses this time for making pies, this idea can apply to any prep work like chopping and measuring out components of the dishes that you’ll be cooking the next day, or making any dishes that can be made in advance and stored until the next day.

  • Organize your hot dishes in order of cooking time

  • : There is nothing worse than having your entire holiday feast ready to eat and everyone sitting around the table waiting for the turkey to be done. Get a rough estimate of the time that each dish will take to cook so you’ll be able to have everything ready at the same time. If you find that you don’t have enough oven space to get everything done at roughly the same time you may want to consider purchasing an electric roaster oven for cooking any large items like a turkey or ham. These are great for the basic cooking process and any additional crisping or browning can be finished off in a conventional oven.

  • Once you’re done, you’re done

  • : When the table is set, and your guests begin to enjoy your meal, make sure you turn off your "busy day" mode. Take a deep breath, take a moment to look around at your family, friends, and enjoy!

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Kathy's lifelong love of food sent her looking for a way to make her passion into a profession. She spent two years at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts school in Las Vegas. Following graduation she spent several years working in the culinary industry learning from some of the best in both cuisine and pastry. Kathy loves to travel and find new tastes and combinations to inspire her. She is currently the head chef of a restaurant.

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