Timing is everything. And this time of year is a whirlwind of holidays, celebrations, shopping and, most of all, feasting. One minute you’re putting away the Halloween decorations and the next minute, Christmas tree tents are popping up on every corner. But there’s no need to panic.
We sat down with professional event planner Jamie O’Donnell, founder of Jamie O’ + Co, and professional organizer Jamie Novak, founder of Novak Organizing LLC, to get the best tips and tricks to ensure a stress-free holiday meal prep so you can relax and feel like a guest at your own party.
Phase I: Prepare a week in advance
- How to plan your menu: List what you’re going to make and what other people will bring. Novak says it’s important to accept help. During this phase, chat with your guests to find out what they can contribute. This also gives others an opportunity to show off their cooking skills, and reduces the load on you and your kitchen.
- Don’t forget appetizers: Think basic. A simple fruit or cheese-and-cracker plate can keep your guests satisfied if things run long in the kitchen.
- Have a cooking strategy: Novak suggests writing an “upside-down” list.
“At the bottom of the page, write the serving time then work backward (up the paper) filling in key times. So, if your turkey needs to come out to rest at 3:40 p.m to serve at 4 p.m. dinner – make a note. That is the time the biscuits need to go in for 18 minutes to be ready at 4 p.m. Keep working up the page until you see you need to preheat the oven at 10 a.m. to get the day rolling. Set a timer each stage of the checklist,” Novak says.
It also helps to make a complete list of ingredients and pull out what you already have. Keeping the items you need in one place will speed up the prep process on the big day. It also allows you to plan your grocery shopping. Doing this a week or more in advance means you have time to special order your favorite holiday items.
- Plan your table: O’Donnell says you can create a beautiful table setting by “shopping” what you already have. Start by choosing a central color or theme. If you have an eye-catching tablecloth that you’d like to use, go for it.
“Things don’t have to be perfect or match to be beautiful. The key to making it work is to find a thread of consistency in a color, shape or type of material. I use a basic white dinner plate set on a silver or gold charger and a place mat with a pop of color for a bit of trend,” she suggests.
Don’t have white place settings or enough matching settings? O’Donnell says it’s OK to embrace the mix-and-match look. “… it gives your table more interest and character,” she says.
Phase II: Holiday week
- Go shopping: Gather ingredients from your healthy holiday headquarters and make sure you have what you need.
Phase III: Three days before
- Clean the house with your go-to natural cleaners.
Phase IV: Two Days in Advance
- Set the table and serving stations. Use sticky notes to mark what dishes will go where. Be sure to lay out serving spoons.
- Take out baking and serving dishes. Use sticky notes to label what goes in which dish. This will help when you’re cooking, as you can ask others to simply get you the dish marked for the food that will go in it.
- Set up a drink station. Put out all the beverages, ice containers and glasses that you’ll need.
- Food prep: Brine the turkey, if you’re having one.
Phase V: The day before
- Cook what you can: This is when mashed potatoes, yams and other casseroles can be made and refrigerated. Salads, too. Prep the turkey, so it is ready to pop in the oven on the next day. Novak suggests doing all the chopping a day in advance. “For homemade items like stuffing, you can chop the celery and onions the night before. Chop the exact amount needed, label and store.”
Phase VI: The big day
- Start with a fresh kitchen: This includes clearing the counter tops and emptying the dishwasher. Novak suggests having a dishpan of soapy water ready to place dirty utensils as you prep to keep food from caking on.
- Stick to your “upside-down” list: Use a timer!
- Accept help: Both Novak and O’Donnell say one of the most important things is to accept help. Not only does it lighten your load, but it helps guests feel comfortable to lend a hand.
When hosting a holiday party, keep in mind that you’re a guest, too. Your family and friends coming over to celebrate because they want to spend time with you. On the day of your event, ensure you have the help you need to make it possible for you to relax and enjoy your guests.