The Essential 3-Step Plan for Prepping Holiday Meals

The Essential 3-Step Plan for Prepping Holiday Meals

These tips make it easier to feed a crowd, no matter what the occasion.

By Lorraine Allen

If you’re planning to host a large meal for friends or family this holiday season, here’s a foolproof, simple, three-step plan that will save you time, frustration, and stress so that you can have plenty of fun, too. I have to say, I love cooking, and I love having people over to share a holiday meal – it might just be my favorite thing to do with my family. But there’s always that feeling of being overwhelmed, in over my head, and seriously stressing that I won’t get it all done. So I came up with this plan that helps me feel calmer and totally on top of the day:

Step 1: Plan ahead: Choose all the dishes you want to serve at your party, and make a master list of every ingredient needed. Check each recipe and your ingredient list twice, to make sure nothing’s forgotten. Next, cross out items that are repeated, like “flour” or “stock.” Check your pantry, and if you have some items already, cross them off your list, too. You’ll be left with just the things you need to buy. (I use my cell phone notes for regular shopping lists, but for this bigger, multi-sectioned list, I prefer a sheet of paper that I fold and keep in my wallet until the party is over.)

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Step 2: Shop and prep ahead: Circle and buy all the shelf-stable items on your list as far ahead as you can (like sugar, spices, and canned or frozen foods). Include any decor and important household items you’ll need like trash bags, extra toilet paper, candles, toothpicks, and beverages on this shopping list too. If there are any dishes for the party that you can make ahead and freeze, or make halfway ahead, such as blanching veggies or washing salads and making dressing, do this up to four days before the party. Then there is very little you need to worry about as the party approaches!

Step 3: Set up early: The day before the party, buy and prep any last-minute fresh items you’ll cook, such as a roast or fish, and fresh fruit, and make your desserts. Put the kids to bed a half hour early so you can tidy a bit, vacuum, and set out the decor you want to use, like garlands, balloons, or candles – and still the get the rest you need! Set aside your tableware for the party as well, including plates, utensils, placemats, and napkins. Last, defrost anything that needs to be thawed.


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On the day of the party, you’ll just need to cook your main dish and maybe a sauce and a side, while the rest should be pulled together quickly and easily from all your prep work and planning – even your table settings! When guests arrive, you can celebrate, relax, and enjoy the great food and company so much more this way. Happy holidays, all!

How do you make holiday meals and parties easier to host?

Lorraine Allen is a writer and mom to one spunky first grader and one squirrel-obsessed dog. You can follow their allergy-friendly cooking adventures at Feeding Lina.

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