How to Host a Stress-Free Holiday Meal

Updated 11/5/18

The holiday season is my favorite time of year, but it can be really stressful if you’re hosting dinner. Getting all the food ready to serve while it’s still hot and making sure all your guests are comfortable while doing it… that’s a daunting task! Over the past several years of hosting holiday meals, I’ve learned a few tricks to make the process go more smoothly. I can serve a delicious meal AND enjoy myself!

6 steps to help you plan a stress-free holiday meal so you can actually enjoy your day.

1 | Plan your menu in advance

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a step I’ve glossed over in the past. Sure, I knew we were eating turkey for Thanksgiving, but I didn’t think through all the sides ahead of time. Instead of shopping sales or prepping food ahead of time, I was left doing everything at the last minute. Planning the menu for your holiday meal allows you to save money, time, and stress.

2 | Delegate responsibilities

Just because you’re the hostess, that doesn’t mean you have to do everything. Once you plan your menu, ask guests to bring side dishes that can be reheated before dinner. Desserts and appetizers are a great option if you really like to have control over the menu. I’m not super confident about making gravy so I always put my dad in charge of that task.

If you have a large group, be specific about what they should bring so you don’t end up with repeat dishes. It’s not hard (or unreasonable) to send an email asking guests to tell everyone what they plan to bring.

Give your kids cleaning duties. Even younger ones can help unload the dishwasher or run a vacuum before guests arrive. I’m not super confident about making gravy so I put my dad in charge of that task.

3 | Prepare food ahead of time

Many side dishes can be prepared ahead of time and reheated prior to dinner without affecting the quality. Potatoes, stuffing, rolls and desserts can all be made a couple days ahead.

Be sure to account for reheating time to ensure you have room in your oven. Vegetable sides should usually be made the day of, but you can still wash and cut your veggies earlier in the day.

4 | Make a timetable for day-of cooking

Write out your full menu, noting the oven temperature and cooking time needed for every dish. Figure out which items will fit in the oven and can be cooked at the same temperature.

Then, counting backwards from the time you plan to sit down to dinner, determine when each item needs to go in the oven. With this masterplan in hand, you won’t need to worry about dishes not being ready in time or sitting out until they’re cold.

5 | Set your table the day before

Iron your tablecloth and napkins. Lay out place settings and your table decor or centerpiece. Set up extra tables and chairs if necessary. By doing these tasks the day before, you’re freeing up your time on the big day for cooking and spending time with guests.

If you need to use your table the day before a gathering, delegate as many of  these tasks as possible to family members. You can find some beautiful inspiration for your Thanksgiving table decor HERE.

6 | Plan outfits & lay them out the night before

If your holiday gathering is completely casual, you can skip this step. If you have a more formal celebration to attend or certain outfits in mind for your family, save your time and sanity by laying out these items in advance.

Prepping ahead not only ensures that clothing is definitely clean and presentable, it also eliminates the time spent picking out clothes or debating choices with a child (not that this would ever happen in my house lol.)

What are your tips for a stress-free holiday meal?

Five tips for a stress-free holiday meal.
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7 Budget-Friendly Thanksgiving Tablescapes

The holiday season is coming up quickly! There are so many wonderful Christmas decor ideas cropping up everywhere that it’s tempting to skip over Thanksgiving, but I like to hang onto the fall decor just a little longer. A beautiful Thanksgiving table makes the meal feel so much more festive. Costs can add up quickly when you consider the food, drinks and decor so today I’m sharing some simple, budget-friendly Thanksgiving tablescape ideas.

Budget-friendly ideas for Thanksgiving tablescapes.

*Please pin from original sources.

First up is a table from Jenn at Clean & Scentsible. The pumpkins in various sizes and shades of white accentuate the brighter pops of orange and red. The striped runner anchors the centerpiece and brings in all those lovely fall colors as well. Tip: hit your local grocery store or Trader Joes the day before Halloween for super cheap pumpkins!

Jen from The Chronicles of Home uses a mix of natural elements to create a beautiful jewel-toned Thanksgiving tablescape. Don’t you just love the artichokes?? Simple painted mason jars are filled with stones and branches that can be collected around your yard. The oranges and the moss add a burst of color that compliment the more subdued colors of the jars and artichokes.

Sophia uses Baby Boo pumpkins and short white pillar candles for her centerpiece. You could place the pumpkins and candles directly on a table runner if you’re without a baguette board like Sophia used here. Some greenery snipped from trees or bushes would bring in the green accents on a plain burlap runner.

Who else is loving copper this fall? Lauren from Bless’er House has a gift for styling and always creates the most beautiful tablescapes. I love this Thanksgiving tablescape that she designed using spraypainted candle-holders and chargers found at the dollar store. It looks amazing, but isn’t a budget-buster by any stretch.

Nina Hendrick is a blogger that I came across more recently and I absolutely love her style. I like the simplicity of her fall tablescape from last year. The berries on the branches add a pop of fall color and the chargers ground the white plates to the lighter color of the table. I adore the sprig of rosemary on each place setting.

The next idea isn’t a full tablescape, but I love what Katie from The Casual Craftlete did to transform these little pumpkins. Add in some candlesticks or pillar candles in a hurricane vases and you’d have a great centerpiece for a Thanksgiving table.

Laura Kate from Lady & Laura Kate designed her first Thanksgiving tablescape for her square kitchen table and I love the small pops of color against the neutral background. I have a serious thing for boxwood and the little sprigs on each plate with the tags are so cute!

So much inspiration for a beautiful and welcoming Thanksgiving tablescape! It’s going to be hard to decide which ideas to adopt for my own table 🙂

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A Very Harry Potter Birthday

harry potter party

My daughter just turned 8 years old, and as we just finished reading Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone together as a family, she requested a Harry Potter birthday party. Since both her dad and I love Harry Potter, we had a blast cooking up all sorts of fun for our daughter and her friends.

Invitations

The first step was creating the perfect invitation. I imitated Harry’s Hogwarts acceptance letter and printed it out on parchment paper. We edited the wording a bit because not all the girls have read the book and we didn’t want it to be confusing. Hello Paper Moon has a link to some awesome HP fonts that you can download. (She also makes and sells really authentic-looking acceptance letters.) I found the Hogwarts coat of arms on google. We folded the letter inside the printable envelope from Just Sweet and Simple and put it into a 6×9 manilla envelope for mailing.

Harry Potter invitation

Party Decor

When the girls arrived, we gave them a supply list and shopping bag and sent them to the best place to shop for magical supplies…

harry potter party

Each girl received their own cloak, which I made using this tutorial from Pieces by Polly. FYI, it really was as easy as she makes it seem, and mine were even quicker because I sewed on a velcro closure instead of a button/buttonhole. For our party guests, all 8 year old girls, I used a size 3XL black t-shirt to make the cloak. They were $4 or $5 at Walmart.

Next, they made a stop at Flourish & Blotts to pick up spell books, a potions manual and their very own owl.

harry potter party

harry potter party

The Standard Book of Spells Grade 1 comes from Dirt and Sunshine. I printed the pages on parchment and used card stock for the cover. I made some modifications to the spell book so that we could add a few spells from the Sorcerer’s Stone. Dirt and Sunshine also has printable signs for Ollivander’s wand shop, Madame Malkin’s robe shop, and a potions label for mandrake root.

Harry Potter spell book

Our potions book came from Mrs. Nespy’s World and her wonderful HP party. Most of the printable potion labels came from Over the Big Moon. To make our potion bottles look creepy and aged, I mixed craft paint with water and brushed it on, using a few different colors for variety. I lightly blotted the bottles with a paper towel while the paint was still wet. Mod Podge worked great to adhere the labels. I filled them with different liquids and powders from my pantry and they were ready.

harry potter potions

You can’t go to Hogwarts without a wand, so they visited Ollivander’s Wand Shop last. I looked for reasonably-priced wands, but they all got terrible reviews and were still more than I wanted to spend. I made ours out of chopsticks covered in hot glue. After the hot glue cooled, I painted them in different shades of brown and added some detailing with the paint. Super simple and the girls loved them!

Harry Potter wand

Activities & Games

After the girls picked up their supplies, they got to attend some Hogwarts classes: Potions, Herbology, Charms, and Defense Against the Dark Arts. First up was Potions class.

Harry Potter potions class

We did three experiments: Dancing Unicorn Milk and Exploding Elixir are found in the potions book, and our Bubbling Boil Remover was based on an easy lava lamp experiment I found here. The Bubbling Boil Remover was by far the favorite, but Exploding Elixir (basic baking soda & vinegar eruption) was a hit too. Note: Dancing Unicorn Milk works much better with traditional liquid food coloring.

Harry Potter Herbology

Herbology class was a simple garden craft. My awesome mom dressed up as Professor Sprout and the girls painted clay pots and planted Gilly Weed flowers (aka marigolds.)

We recited a few spells from the Sorcerer’s Stone together. Then the girls practiced “levitating” balloons with just their wands. It was a windy day and the girls were running all over chasing their balloons. It was lots of fun!

Harry Potter Charms class

After Charms, the girls did a scavenger hunt in the park to find the magical creatures that had escaped. The last class was Defense Against the Dark Arts, which was a pinata. Finally we had a feast of cake and ice cream in the Great Hall. The girls each left with a copy of Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone.

It was such a fun time and our sweet little 8 year old girl said that was even more fun than she had hoped!

 

{Linking to The 36th Avenue, The Inspiration Gallery, Weekend Retreat, Thoughts of Home}

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