It’s no surprise that this time of year can get stressful as you make your lists and check them twice. But handling your big holiday spread doesn’t have to suck the energy out of you. We’ve got some tips to help you minimize the stress, from the smallest details to the largest platters.
Plan the Meal
The most important thing is to plan ahead. Decide on your menu first then write out a grocery list before you go to the store so you aren’t wandering aimlessly through the aisles. Also, you don’t want to forget something and have to go back.
When you have everything you need, start cooking right away. Desserts can be baked well in advance of a party and stored in the refrigerator or freezer if necessary. Similarly, many appetizers and side dishes can be prepped the night before and popped into the oven to finish cooking right before the party starts.
Having trouble deciding on a menu? When it comes to appetizers for your buffet, stick to finger foods, such as small breadsticks and pigs in a blanket. Spice things up by using food dyes to accentuate the holidays in your treats. If you’re doing store-bought appetizers, keep it festive by choosing your favorite brand’s holiday edition or a specialty item you can only find seasonally.
For the main course, plan out a traditional meal (whatever that means to you), but don’t overwhelm yourself with making everything. Ask guests to bring a dish to share so you can minimize your workload without cutting out any of the food.
Set up the Night Before
Before the big day, place all of your serving platters where you would like them, lining them along the table and countertops as needed. Consider placing them in levels, where some dishes are higher than others. With this display, your guests can see all of the options without worrying about nearby dishes spilling onto each other. It’s aesthetically pleasing but also practical. Keep related items, like chips and dip, together on a serving tray or place them adjacent to each other.
After the food is gone, along with your guests, the most exhausting part of the day has arrived: cleaning up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help at any stage of the gathering but especially this one. As you begin moving serving trays, enlist family members in your household to help clear out the kitchen for incoming dirty plates. Even get the kids involved by making a game out of the clean up, seeing who can get the plates in the dishwasher the fastest.
When the table has been cleared, throw away disposable tablecloths and put fabric ones into the washing machine right away, first brushing out crumbs over the trash bin, the sink or even in a grassy area of your backyard.
By now there should really only be pots and pans around your sink. Soak larger pots in hot water and dish soap to prepare them for a thorough hand-washing later. Then sit back and relax; you deserve it.