It’s hard to believe, but the holidays are just around the corner. Is it just me, or does it feel like it should only be June or July? It was just January… wasn’t it? In any case, ready or not, here they come.
Whether your hosting or a guest who’s bringing a side dish, there’s plenty that can be done ahead of time to get your kitchen ready for some holiday cooking. I’m a plan ahead, list making, organization loving kinda gal. I don’t like last minute changes, or coming to a busy time of year unprepared. So I make to do lists and a menu plan way ahead of time.
With this in mind, here are some ways you can feel one step ahead as we roll into the holidays.
Four Weeks Ahead
Come up with a rough idea of what you want to serve for your holiday dinner. Jot down a few ideas for other meals around that time too, especially if you will be hosting overnight guests, or people for more than one meal. Then, take a deep breath and jump in. (P.S. You’re so brave. I admire you. Way to go!) If you need some help getting started, I’ve done a menu planning series, plus have a few posts with holiday menu ideas (including brunch).
Figure out who’s coming with plenty of time to adjust the menu and seating chart accordingly. You’ll want to ask if anyone has dietary restrictions or allergies. If you come across any, and if you’re letting guests share in the cooking load, have those with the restrictions bring a dish that they can eat (and let them know if there’s anyone else coming who eats the same way). This will save you or other guests from buying expensive ingredients that you may only use once. Plus, someone who always eats a certain way is more likely to be a pro at cooking that way. Of course, it’s also nice to have other dishes that they can eat too (just one thing for dinner would be super boring).
One of the reasons you want to have an idea of who’s coming and what you’re making is you need to order your meat ahead of time. Turkeys tend to go quickly, so you don’t want to be serving tofurkey to your carnivores just because you didn’t get your order in on time. If you’re not ordering and are buying from a local store or market, it’s still a great idea to pick up your meat in advance (if you’ve got room in the freezer, or have a friend who could store it for you). There will be better selection than the day before the holiday, and you don’t run the risk of them running out.
Two Weeks Ahead
Nail Down the Menu
Figure out exactly what you’re going to be serving. List all items, including those being brought by others (and double check that they’re still planning to bring them). Write it down or type it out so it’s not just found in your head. This is a great time to figure out some ideas for what to do with your leftovers too.
Everything except the perishable items. If you wait until the week of or even the day before a holiday, you might be out of luck and Auntie Gertrude won’t get her canned cranberry sauce.
Make Your To Do Lists
My brain melts without organization. So, if I was going to host a big holiday dinner, I’d need many many lists of all the to dos. I’d want a list of the food to be served (with a note about who is preparing it, what serving utensils it will require, if it will need space in the oven etc). I’d make a schedule of the week leading up to the event, and the day of. For the day of (and probably day before), I’d go hour by hour with what will be done. I’d have a list of the household chores to be done and who is responsible for each one (guest rooms to prep, bathrooms to clean etc). Since others will want to know what they can do to help (cough, clean the bathrooms, cough), it may be helpful for each person to have a “honey do list”, that they can keep with them and mark things off as they go. Whether you do each list individually, or make one master list is up to you. I’d probably end up doing both, since I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to list making. Do whatever helps you to feel the least stressed.
Stock the Kitchen
Spices – I like to have salt (table salt and a good finishing salt), pepper, cayenne, paprika, coriander, chili powder, cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg, and ginger (the last four are what I use for pumpkin pie – you don’t have to buy the pre-mixed bottle) on hand. They might not all be used for a holiday meal, but I use them so frequently that they’d at least get used when transforming leftovers into something delicious.
Herbs – Fresh herbs are always my preference. But, if they’re not available, dried will work well too (just remember to use less since they’re more concentrated than fresh). In either case, for the holidays, I like to have basil, rosemary, parsley, thyme, oregano, marjoram, sage, and tarragon on hand. I don’t buy poultry seasoning since it can be made with herbs and spices that I have on hand (it usually consists of: thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, black pepper, and nutmeg).
The Pantry – You don’t want to run out of olive oil or balsamic vinegar in the middle of cooking for your big dinner. So make sure you have a few staples on hand. I like to have: olive oil, canola oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine or apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, baking powder, baking soda, flour, vanilla, salt, honey, maple syrup, and sugar (brown and white).
The Fridge – Eggs, cheese, dijon mustard, mayonnaise, milk, and yogurt are staples in my home no matter the time of year.
Clean the Kitchen
Like a good deep clean… It might be a good time to do the same for the bathroom. This way you can clean the week of, but it won’t take nearly as long. I’d suggest cleaning out the fridge and freezer (and using up some of the food to make room for the turkey, made ahead meals, and leftovers), sink, shelves, stove, oven, and other small appliances that may get used (mixer, microwave, toaster oven, blender). There’s going to be a lot of traffic in your kitchen, whether it’s just your own two hands doing a lot, or many others. It’s always better to start with everything clean.
Wash and Fold Linens
This can be done the week of. But, it’s something simple to get off your to do list, and it can be done while relaxing with a glass of something yummy, while watching something fun (and yes, others can help, especially the kids!).
Count Plates, Platters, Bowls, Serving Bowls, Silverware, Serving Spoons, Glasses (water and wine)
You want to be sure that everyone has not only a plate and cup, but a fork to eat with. Everything doesn’t have to match (unless you want it to), so if you’re not sure you’ll have enough spoons, borrow from someone who will be attending the event (then they can take them home at the end of the night, leaving you with one less thing to do), or who will be out of town (and not needing them for their own gathering). If you’re borrowing someone’s fancy dishes and you have children coming to your event, be sure to ask if they’re ok with kids using them, or if you should have special plates for the kids, rather than risk breaking them.
Prep Freezer Meals
It wouldn’t hurt to have a meal or two in the freezer for two days after your big dinner. You’ll probably have eaten leftovers the day after, but maybe you don’t want to eat the same thing three days in a row. A frozen lasagna or shepherd’s pie would be perfect, and will feed many if you still have loved ones in town.
Prep Breakfast Foods
Breakfast doesn’t have to be fancy. But, if you want to make something ahead of time, your guests are sure to feel extra loved. If you’re not crazy about making even more food, or your freezer is completely full, cereal and toast will be just fine. I mean, your guests have a comfy bed to sleep in and your wonderful company. What more could they really ask for?!
The Week Of
Grocery Shop for Last Minute Items
Any perishable items that you’ve waited to purchase. Try to avoid shopping the day before or day of the holiday if you can. Selection will be better and your sanity will thank you.
Either sharpen or use a honing steel to realign your blades before cooking your holiday feast. It’s important to keep knives sharp, so don’t neglect them.
Be sure to give your meat plenty of time to defrost in the fridge. No one wants to end up with a beautiful outside, but still frozen inside turkey. For large cuts of meat you will need days, so plan accordingly and make room in the fridge. I like to keep meat covered, on the bottom shelf, in some sort of a pan with sides so there’s no way that it will cross contaminate other foods in the fridge.
Mis en Place
You have your lists made, so you know what you’re going to need and when you will need it. You could save some time and prep ingredients for the big cooking day by chopping and measuring in advance. Things like carrots and celery for stuffing, dry ingredients for biscuits or pancakes, and nuts for green bean casserole can all be prepped in advance and stored in glass or plastic containers (in the fridge or not, depending on what they are). Pie crusts can be made and frozen. Mashed potatoes can be completely cooked and then reheated the day of. There’s lots to do so that the day of isn’t stressful.
The kids don’t have to just be cute little observers/distractions/noise makers. They can lend a hand too. Some things that kids can do to help are: tidy their rooms, help with other household chores (sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, and depending on their ages, cleaning bathrooms and the kitchen), doing dishes, setting the table, whisking, stirring, measuring, chopping (depending on your comfort level with them using a sharp knife and their knife skills), coming up with menu ideas (they might be more likely to eat it if they’ve come up with the idea), folding linens, counting silverware, and on and on… lots for the kiddos to do.
With these tips, I hope that everything goes as smoothly as possible and that you’re able to enjoy your time with loved ones – in the kitchen, around the table, and wherever your holidays may take you.