Updated: May 15, 2021
HAPPIEST OF HOLIDAYS TO YOU!
Although there are great ideas for all levels of cooks in this blog, if you are a new cook who may be taking on most of the holiday meal yourself, this blog is especially for you! I wanted to provide a printable check list of some of my large dinner planning methods so you have a less stressful holiday in your kitchen. This is not an extensive list of everything I do, but more like the top twelve ways I tackle large gatherings, and I think it will help.
STARTING TWO WEEKS TO ONE MONTH AHEAD
o #1 Get a rough head count and ask what or if others are going to contribute, then make decisions on the recipes you want to make. Some people have traditional dishes they make every year, others are unconventional like me and strike out in new directions. It’s not too soon to get most of those decisions nailed down. This will take longer than you think especially when you are depending on other people to make their decisions and get back to you.
o #2 Now that you’ve got your recipes, purchase all the non-perishable goods you’re going to need: flour, sugar, pasta, spices, canned goods, etc. Purchase your beverages, alcohol, mixers, and everything that won’t go bad beforehand. Also, pick up your freezable vegetables (see #3 below.) Why do you do this so far in advance? Because it divides up the shopping and cuts down the shopping time later when everyone else is in a frenzy rushing around and supplies begin to dwindle.
o #3 Chop your freezable vegetables, label and store them in the freezer. (Labeling system #6 below.) Onions, celery, garlic, and bell peppers all freeze well. Having them prepped and portioned will save you time and clean up down the road. I even sauté my onions, caramelize some, and put them in the freezer. It’s shaves off prep time later. And, when you are cooking for a lot of people, every little thing you can do ahead saves you time on the other end.
o #4 Here’s a fun thing I do while I’m doing all the rest of this. I start a music playlist. When I hear a song I think will fit the vibe for this dinner, I add it. I consider my guests and what their music taste might be so that everyone hears something they recognize. By the time the big meal gets here, you’ll have great music to listen to all day.
UP TO TWO WEEKS AHEAD
o #5 If you read your recipes closely, there will be steps you can do ahead. Prep them, label them, store them.
o #6 Labeling! How much time do you spend picking up containers in the fridge and looking to see what's in it, opening it, maybe smelling it, scratching your head, and putting it back because you couldn’t figure out what it was? A lot! Especially when you’re cooking a large meal. I use blue or plain masking tape and a sharpie, and my refrigerator looks like a construction zone. It’s not glamorous, but it’s functional. Label EVERYTHING you prep as it goes into the refrigerator. If you have other household members who might munch on your supplies, add a code of some kind to ward them off so you will still have what you need when you need it, like maybe a circle with an X drawn through or the words “I’ll kill you if you eat this” might work better!
o #7 Ask for help! Almost everyone wants to contribute, but Americans think we have to do everything ourselves. Sometimes I want to do it all as I need to orchestrate a coursed meal (that and I’m a bit of a control freak in the kitchen). Ask guests to bring a salad, or a six-pack/wine, or give them a recipe to cook. People want to help.
At a holiday meal twenty years ago, I asked for help