Is it your turn to host the holiday dinner this year? Lucky You! The holiday season can be stressful enough without the extra added pressure of making one of the "big" holiday meals for 15 of your closest relatives or friends. We wish we could give you an "Easy" button for your holiday meals, but the best we can do is offer you a few terrific tips that will help you get through it smoothly!
Write down the menu: The best way to get started with the task of planning a big meal is to develop the menu. This can be lots of fun. Start this task with the guest head count divided into adults and kids and before setting the dinner menu, check with your guests about any food allergies. Buy a few magazines or look through cookbooks for ideas. Unless you have a lot of cooking experience, we don't recommend picking all new dishes. It's best to pick a few new items and few stand-bys that you know how to make.
Don't overdo it: Holiday meals should be feasts, but you don't need to make an entire cookbook worth of side dishes. Side dishes are often the most time consuming part of making the meal. Select a menu that includes 4-5 side dishes that compliment your main entrée.
Accept help: When you call your relatives and friends to extend the invitation, be ready when they offer "What can we bring?" Most people grew up with holiday meals where everyone pitched in. Try to match up people with things they do best. Have a suggestion ready, but don't be too specific. Ask your friend to bring a vegetable dish, not broccoli with hazelnuts in a sherry cream sauce. Or you can ask if they have a special dish and let them tell you what it will be. Adjust your menu accordingly. If your relative does not cook, ask him to bring a no cook item - wine, juice, dinner rolls, etc.
Select make-ahead foods: The less you need to do the day of the event, the more you will enjoy it. Most foods can be made 2-4 days ahead and warmed up prior to serving. Many foods often taste better when they have a chance to set. Review your menu and identify the dishes you will make ahead of time and set aside the time to make them a few days before the event.
Buy prepared foods and ingredients: It's a holiday meal not a test to see if you can perform the culinary act of making dinner for 20 completely from scratch. Don't be afraid to buy prepared ingredients that will make meal prep easier - canned soup stock, chopped nuts and dates, stuffing mix, etc... If you don't know how to make gravy, buy it. If you are not a baker, ask someone to bring desserts or buy them at the bakery.
Get the table ready: Set the table the night the before. Get your serving dishes ready too. Write down your menu items on small pieces of paper and place each piece of paper in the serving dish you plan to use for that food. If you are serving buffet style, set out the serving dishes as you want them for the meal. This organization allows guests who volunteer to help get dinner on the table to be most helpful.
About the author: Cheryl Tallman is the co-founder of Fresh Baby, creators of the award-winning So Easy Baby Food Kit, and author of the So Easy Baby Food and the new book So Easy Toddler Food: Survival Tips and Simple Recipes for the Toddler Years. Visit Cheryl online at www.FreshBaby.com for more delicious tips.