The first year I planned Christmas dinner was nerve-racking, I didn't really know where to start! Then I thought about how my mom planned her holiday meals. When I followed her 5 unofficial rules, I found that my holiday meal planning was relatively stress-free. Happy holiday meal planning!
Rule 1: Ask your guests about any special diet considerations.
Before you have your menu figured out, make sure that everyone attending will have enough to eat. If my friend with celiac disease is coming, for instance, I make sure to choose a dessert that doesn't use any ingredients, like flour, that contain gluten, such as fresh fruit with chocolate fondue. And if a vegetarian will be dining with us, I make them a special main dish, like squash stuffed with white beans and chard or a tart full of roasted vegetables.
Recipes to try: Our best vegetarian holiday main dishes
Rule 2: Start with the main event.
I like to figure out the focus of the meal first, then plan the rest of the menu around it. I often do a roasted hunk of meat, like a roast pork loin, because it's not time-intensive-I can pop it in the oven and pretty much forget about it until the timer goes off. But you can change things up a bit by giving your meal an Italian twist and make lasagna or stuffed shells, or even do a fantastic stew or braise. Last year I made Tuscan Pork Loin and at least 5 of my relatives asked for the recipe!
Rule 3: Plan for at least three side dishes for a well-rounded meal.
I find that a well-rounded meal contains these three elements: a salad, one green vegetable, like Brussels sprouts or green beans, and a starchy dish, like mashed potatoes, squash or sweet potatoes. I might plan on more side dishes than that, but I know I'll at least want to fill in those three "holes." I try to pick as many recipes as possible that can be made entirely or at least partially in advance so I can relax as much as possible the day of the party.
Recipes to try: Our favorite holiday side dishes
Rule 4: Keep the apps quick.
Appetizers are where I spend the least amount of planning time. It's not that they're an afterthought, it's just that I usually keep appetizers on the simple side-cheese and crackers, nuts and veggies and dip. Sometimes I do get inspired to make something a little more special, but if I do, I keep it equally simple.
Recipes to try: Super-easy no-cook appetizers
Rule 5: Don't forget dessert!
What's a holiday meal without dessert? I always choose a recipe that can be done in advance so I have one less thing to cook on the actual day.
What's your key to planning a stress-free Christmas dinner?
By Carolyn MalcounCarolyn Malcoun combines her love of food and writing in her position as contributing food editor at EatingWell. Carolyn has a culinary arts degree from New England Culinary Institute and a degree in journalism from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Carolyn lives in Portland, Maine, and enjoys cooking, gardening, hiking and running in her free time.
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