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10 Easy Tips to Host a Holiday Dinner Without Stress

The holidays are a time for celebration with family and friends, but they can also be a stressful time for home cooks. However, there are a few simple tips that home cooks can use to relieve stress and make holiday food preparation more enjoyable.

I’ve been writing this blog since 2011 and over the years I have gathered the best tips busy home cooks swear by. These tips will help you breeze through the holiday madness and savor precious moments with loved ones.

Stress-Free Holiday Dinner Tips 

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A picture of a Thnksgiving dinner table with dished and decorations.

Here are the top ten hacks that home cooks rely on to relieve holiday dinner stress:

#1. Plan ahead to avoid last-minute scrambling. One of the best ways to reduce holiday stress is to plan ahead. Martha Stewart says, “Careful planning can make holidays more joyous.

  • Plan your menu at least two weeks in advance. This will give you plenty of time to make a grocery list, shop for ingredients, and make any necessary substitutions. Schedule time to prepare dishes. The more you can plan ahead, the less stressed you'll be on the day of your dinner. Be as detailed as possible. Start with a comprehensive plan that includes a timeline, menu, and shopping list. Having a clear roadmap will help you stay organized and focused.
  • Be sure to check your supply of glasses, dishes, bakeware, and serveware.  Make sure you have tablecloths and napkins.

When making your plan, remember this sage advice from Ina Garten, “Whenever I'm planning a dinner menu, I always pick something I can make in advance, something you can put in the oven and forget about it, something that goes on top of the stove, and something that's served at the room temperature, so four things don't have to be hot at the same time.”

#2. Do as much prep work in advance as possible. This includes chopping vegetables, making sauces, and even cooking some dishes ahead of time. The less you have to do on the day of the meal, the more relaxed you'll be. 

  • Opt for recipes that can be prepared in advance and reheated. Casseroles, soups, and side dishes often taste even better when flavors have time to meld, saving you time and stress on the day of the event. For example, you could make stuffing or mashed potatoes the day before your dinner. Prepare gravy in advance, store it in the refrigerator, and reheat it when needed, saving you from last-minute stress.

Twice Baked Cauliflower Mash

Oven Roasted Vegetables

Butternut Squash Soup

  • Use shortcuts. There's no shame in using shortcuts when you're cooking a holiday dinner. There are many healthy and delicious shortcuts available, such as using frozen vegetables, store-bought pie crust, or pre-made stuffing.
  • Many desserts can be baked in advance and frozen.  Just be realistic about your freezer space.

Blueberry Pie with Wild Blueberries

Apple Pie

Carrot Cake

Caramel Cheesecake

#3. Plan your shopping trips to eliminate wasting time with emergency trips to the store. Divide your grocery shopping into those items you can buy well in advance and those that are perishable. 

A family shopping in a grocery store.

  • When planning your shopping trips, make a list of all the items you need and group them by store. This will help you save time and remember everything.
  • Again, be aware of refrigerator and freezer space.

#4. Use time-saving tools: Invest in kitchen gadgets and tools that can save you time and effort. A food processor can speed up chopping and slicing, an instant-read thermometer ensures perfectly cooked meats and a slow cooker can handle some dishes, freeing up stove and oven space. 

Air Fryer Chicken Wings

Baked Brie with Pecan Topping

Parmesan Pigs-in-a-Blanket

Sausage Pinwheels Appetizers

  • Slow cookers can be a lifesaver during the holidays. Use a slow cooker for dishes like mashed potatoes, soups, and mulled wine, keeping them warm and freeing up stove and oven space. They're a versatile tool that helps you multitask. 
  • Use the air fryer for crispy appetizers, the toaster oven for roasting and reheating, and the bread machine for homemade rolls and pastry dough.

A pan of dinner rolls.

  • Roast vegetables, melt cheese, and keep side dishes warm in your toaster oven to maximize your cooking space.

#5. Delegate tasks to your family and friends. If you're having a large gathering, ask your family and friends to help with the cooking, setting the table, and cleaning up. 

  • You can also ask your guests to bring a dish to share. Be sure to keep track of what dishes your guests are bringing to avoid duplication.
  • Ask for help. If you need help setting the table, serving food, or cleaning up, don't hesitate to ask your guests for assistance.

Delegation will take some of the burden off of you and make the whole process more enjoyable. Delegating responsibilities not only lightens your load but also makes the gathering more enjoyable for everyone.

#6. Set realistic expectations. Don't try to make everything from scratch or cook a complicated recipe that you've never tried before. Choose recipes that you're familiar with and that you know you can make in the time you have. You don’t have to make every family favorite yourself. Remember to ask for help.

Pumpkin Bread or Muffins

Orange Ginger Cranberry Sauce

The Best Cranberry Bread

  • Don't sweat the small stuff. If something doesn't go perfectly according to plan, don't worry about it. Your guests are there to celebrate with you, not to judge your cooking skills.

#7. Dessert hacks: Everyone looks forward to holiday desserts. Simplify dessert preparation by making no-bake treats or semi-homemade pies. 

Food Processor Pie Crust

Bourbon Pecan Pie

Easy Pumpkin Pie

  • Only make a complicated dessert if you are sure you have plenty of time. There are many easy and delicious holiday desserts that you can make, such as pumpkin pie, pecan pie, or chocolate chip cookies.

An apple pie with a lattice crust and leaf embellishments.

  • Make as many holiday desserts as you can in advance and freeze them. 
  • Consider using store-bought pie crusts and fillings, and focus your efforts on creating a stunning presentation.

#8. Set the mood. You don’t need fancy decorations.  Put on some festive music, light some candles, and create a welcoming atmosphere. This will help you relax and enjoy the cooking process.

#9. Set up a beverage station. Keep the beverages simple.  

  • Serve one signature cocktail and encourage your guests to serve themselves. 
  • Keep the selection simple. Offer one red wine and one white wine.  
  • Be sure to have water and soft drinks for those who would prefer them.  Remember the children with a special holiday punch.

#10. Take breaks and enjoy the process. Don't try to do everything at once. Take breaks to relax and chat with your guests. 

  • Enjoy the process. Cooking a holiday meal can be a lot of work, but it can also be a lot of fun. 
  • Rely on your plan.  Check things off when completed. Take the time to enjoy the process and appreciate the delicious food you're creating. Remember, it's just a meal. If something goes wrong, don't let it ruin your holiday. The most important thing is to enjoy the company of your loved ones. Your guests are there to celebrate with you, not to judge your cooking skills.

Bonus tip: Have a Backup Plan. In case of unexpected events, such as a power outage or a guest who cancels at the last minute, it's a good idea to have a backup plan. This could include having a few frozen meals ready to go or ordering takeout from a local restaurant.

By following these simple tips from home cooks like you, you’ll relieve stress and make holiday food preparation more enjoyable. What are your favorite holiday cooking hacks to relieve stress? Share them in the comments below!

Enjoy!


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