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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How to Simplify Meal Planning

How to simplify meal planning to make your day run more smoothly.

Confession: meal planning is not my strong suit. I know it would help my week go more smoothly, but I struggle with implementing this strategy. One of my goals this year is to improve in this area so I’m taking steps to simplify meal planning.

prep some Back-up freezer meals

To start, I want to have a few crockpot meals in the freezer for busy days. Even this takes some planning because most meals have to thaw beforehand.

If I look ahead at the week and see that Thursday is going to be busy, I’ll have to thaw a freezer meal on Wednesday to make dinner easier the next night.

I did some research on Pinterest for freezer meals and found Six Sisters’ Stuff. They have a great post for making 8 slow cooker freezer meals in one hour. I chose three of the eight meals to start: Black Bean Taco Soup, Hearty Beef Stew, and Cilantro Lime Chicken.

Meal planning takes the guesswork out of dinner, making your busy nights go more smoothly.

I labeled gallon Ziploc bags with each meal, today’s date, and the time each takes in the slow cooker. Then I just followed the instructions and dumped everything in. It took me about an hour to get everything ready for these three meals.

use a Menu Tracking Sheet

Each week, I can usually predict which nights I need to have a meal that’s either in the crockpot all day or very quick to prepare. Particularly when the kids have activities that end on the later side, I don’t want a dinner that takes a long time to prep or cook.

With a menu tracking sheet, you avoid the 5 o’clock panic that sets in when you don’t have a plan for dinner. You also know what needs to be done ahead of time, such as thawing a frozen meal to go in the crockpot.

There are a zillion menu planning sheets on Pinterest. I personally like a weekly option that also has space for a grocery list, such as this one from Finding Time to Fly. The grocery section is even broken down by category.

Simplify meal planning to make your week run more smoothly.

Keep a Favorite Meals List

If your family is anything like ours, I’m sure you make a lot of the same dinners over and over again. My kids are on the younger side (and one of them is picky) so it makes mealtime a lot more pleasant when everyone enjoys what we eat.

Sitting down to plan the weekly menu is a lot harder when you’re relying on your own memory to come up with options that everyone likes. To simplify the meal planning process, keep a list of family favorites handy so you aren’t trying to remember if you’ve ever eaten anything besides tacos.

Just these three simple strategies make meal planning less of a chore. By planning ahead, you’ll be less rushed, spend less money at the grocery store, and waste less food.

How do you make meal planning easier?

Need more organization tip and strategies?? Find all 14 Days of Organization here!

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