The holidays are officially upon us which means it is time to start preparing for hosting family and friends for all the festivities. While I love having people over, I also want to enjoy myself and not end up stressed out trying to get everything all squared away, cleaned, cooked, prepped, etc. I assume I am not alone on that which is why today I wanted to share how I prepare for and execute a gathering. This year we are having people over for Christmas Eve brunch and then have a couple of hours before we are having another group of people over for Christmas Eve dinner, so along with how I go about picking out the menu for an event like this and creating my prep plan, I am also sharing my menu, grocery list, and prep plan for this year so if you are in a real pinch you can just steal mine.
Step one is to pick the foods that you will be preparing, which seems like an obvious place to start, but this is also what gets most people in trouble. I have been there too, picking out all the coolest looking recipes and not paying attention to anything else just to end up with a near impossible task of getting it all cooked in time. Now when I am at this first stage of the hosting game I look for a handful of things to keep me on track and ending up with the perfect menu. Overall I start by thinking about the more fun things like color, taste, and variety and keep the possibilities open then narrow down as I make it farther down the list to more practical things.
Numbers – I find that the best place to start is with the numbers. How many people will I be having over and how many dishes will I need to accommodate that group? I like to give myself a range so I can play around as I continue on. This year for brunch there will be 4 of us so I wanted to do a main dish and two side dishes, for dinner there will be 7 of us so along with a main dish and dessert I wanted about 3 side dishes (I ended up with 4). You can play around with the size of dishes later, but generally speaking for more people I like to play around with a few more dishes if I can, and personally I’d always prefer to have leftovers for the days afterwards then end up with not enough food.
Variety – Now that I know how many dishes I am looking for I take to Pinterest and start a new board (usually private) and go crazy. To keep my options open I pin a ton of different things in each category (main dish, side dish, dessert, drinks, etc). I start with broad searches like “Holiday Dinner”, “Main courses”, “Winter Side Dishes”, and slowly narrow down to find more and more options.
Color – Once I have a sufficient amount of stuff I do a once over for color. It is really easy to look back over and realize you have tons of beige’s and greens after pinning a bunch of chicken, pork, potatoes, salads, and vegetable dishes. It is perfectly normal to end up in certain color silos, which is why I make a point at this stage to go back and look for different colors, grab that carrot side dish, or that salad that had berries in it, anything to add in some different colors to my board.
Cohesion – This is where we start to reign it back a little bit and start thinking strategically. As much as some recipes may be calling your name it is important to determine if they fit in with everything else. As I was preparing my menu this year I realized that I had some sort of fruit in every dish (pomegranate, cranberry, pear, apple, etc) and that I didn’t want or need every recipe to look the same. You want to go with flavors that will compliment each other without competing. I ended up toning down my side dishes for plainer options to allow just my main course and salad to shine with more flavor.
Prep-ability – The above couple of steps are easy to remember, but usually I would just stop here and not continue on. This step (and the ones to follow) should not be skipped though! At this point you probably have your board narrowed down to just the recipes or maybe a couple of versions of each dish that you want to be making, now it’s time to look into them a little deeper and see if there are any pieces that you can prep ahead of time. To keep yourself from running around burnt out on the day of it is imperative that you can do some prep ahead of time. It is alright if you have a recipe or two that can’t be done ahead of time at all, but if all of your items fall into that boat you may want to consider replacing some of them. You can get creative with this too, for example I will be doing all the prep for my salad ahead of time so all I need to do at the last minute is toss it.
Cook time – If everything on your list takes hours to cook you don’t leave yourself much room to schedule around. I am fine with my main course taking awhile, and a side dish that may need a lot of love, but then my other dishes should be much simpler with shorter cook times so I can give that attention and focus to the first few items.
Cook type – And finally don’t forget about how you will be cooking all of this. I dream of a kitchen with multiple ovens, but right now I have a small kitchen with a single oven, so if my main course needs to be in the oven for 4 hours, I can’t really make two side dishes that also need to bake. You can get creative here a bit and try a main course that goes in the crock pot or is cooked on the stove top, or pair things up. My main course needs to be in the oven and I have one side dish that starts on the stove top and then finishes in the oven at a higher temperature then the main course, so I will be putting it on the top rack of the oven and giving both it and my main dish a little extra time to accommodate.
Once you have the menu all ready to go it is time to figure out what parts you don’t need to do. This can mean delegating parts of the meal or other tasks to other people. As the host you will end up doing a large majority, so don’t feel bad to ask for help in some areas. Some great places to delegate that are really easy to peel apart are:
- Side Dish
As a reminder, whatever you delegate allow the person you are delegating to, to take full ownership of that item and completely let go of it.
Making a Plan
Now that you know what you are going to be in charge of it is time to make a plan. You can do this as small or as detailed as you feel comfortable, but I think it is important to make at least some sort of plan so that you don’t have to worry about what time to get things in the oven or what order to do things on the day of. In the plan at a very minimum it is important to put together a grocery list and look at and read through all of the recipes so you know how long everything needs to take and come up with a timeline for what you can your prep the day before and what you need to get into the oven and things at what time.
My Menu and Prep Plan
Alright, if you just read all of that and don’t have the time or energy to put together your own plan I have listed out below my plan for Christmas Eve brunch at 10am followed by Christmas Eve dinner at 5pm.
Coffee, Water, OJ
Orange, Cranberry Mimosa Float
Monkey Bread Muffins
Potato, egg and sausage casserole
Fruit Salad (Mom)
Wine and Water
Balsamic Brussel Sprouts and Shallots
Apple Stuffed Pork Loin
Friday December 23rd
- Before 4pm – Clean the house
- Before 4pm – Grocery Shop
- 4pm – 5pm – Prepare the walnuts for the salad. Prepare the potatoes, sausage, peppers, and onion for the breakfast casserole and put the casserole together and in fridge to bake in the morning.
- 5pm – 6pm – Monkey bread time! Make the muffins and while they are baking set the table for brunch.
- 6pm – until bed – Shower and then relax and enjoy the night!
Saturday December 24th
- 7:30am – 8:45am – Do hair and makeup
- 8:45am – 9:45am – Preheat the oven and get the casserole ready to bake and baked. While casserole bakes get dressed.
- 9:45am – 10am – Start the coffee pot, get the coffee out of the oven and get everything plated on serving dishes and onto the table, and pour yourself a mimosa!
- 10am – 1pm – Enjoy time with family!
- 1pm – 2pm – Relax a bit
- 2pm – 2:30pm – Mise en place, also known as chop the apples, onion, bread, brussel sprouts, shallots, carrots, and parsley
- 2:30pm – 3:20pm – Make the stuffing for the pork, butterfly the pork, preheat the oven, and jelly roll the pork and get it into the oven.
- 3:20pm – 4pm – Clean up again and reset the table.
- 4pm – 4:30pm – Start the brussel sprouts on the stovetop and decant the wine.
- 4:30pm – 4:45pm – Move brussel sprouts to oven, mix up the the salad and start the carrots.
- 4:45pm – 5pm – Get the pork out of the oven and let it rest. Heat up the rolls, cut and plate the pork, plate everything and get it on the table.
- 5pm – end of night – Pour a glass of wine and enjoy the evening!
Now I would love to hear, what are you making for the holidays this year? What other thigns do you do to make sure that you aren’t completely overwhelmed on the big day?