Tips and Tricks to Cook and Host the Holiday Gathering Stress Free!

In: Holiday Tutorials

For the last three Thanksgiving Dinners, I have cooked the entire meal for 15-20 people- While the four little cousins with boundless energy did laps through the kitchen, the giant dog running behind them, 5 elderly relatives saying, “Is there anything I can help with?” but never actually getting up from the table, the sister’s in law reading Black Friday flyers all while my husband is no where to be found because he conveniently found the perfect times to “take the trash out.”

And I survived.  And had fun.  And got to have early cocktails because I made the whole dinner so I was entitled.  But I couldn’t have done it without these tricks that make my holiday prep super easy.  I’ll also share them because I know they can help you with any big holiday dinners coming up.

Delegate Dinner Contributions

  • About a week before Thanksgiving, I make a list of the items that each family unit should bring and call, text, email or pass the message onto my mom to disperse the information.

For example:
This was my list from this year’s Thanksgiving Dinner

Christy– 2 pound bag of carrots-sliced into rounds, 10 pound bag of potatoes

Mom– turkey, 1.5 pounds of Brussels Sprouts, 4oz Pancetta
Aunt Cheryl– Pumpkin Pie and other various desserts that she likes to bring.
Sherri– turkey, dinner rolls, Fresh Rosemary/Time/Sage- she usually will bring an appetizer.  This year it was Grog… or Glug…  really just Mulled Cider in a crock pot.
Grandma– (This is strictly because she likes to contribute-we don’t make her do it! Plus, I usually pick it up when I go grocery shopping.)  Stuff for Green Bean Casserole, Sourdough Stuffing

So, I usually assign one unit a dish and give them the list of ingredients, then I cook them on the Holiday.

Holiday Helpers

  • I wrote about this in a previous post, but it applies here as well.  When my guests begin to arrive, they pick a job out of a basket.  I reuse the same jobs every year and just keep the little cardstock pieces they are written on.  This helps a lot while you are cooking so that you don’t have to be distracted by the little jobs that are required by the host.  Plus, even though everyone groans, they secretly love having a small purpose they can use to get out of certain conversations with certain relatives…You know who I’m talking about.

For example:
These are the jobs that we use every year.
1-Keep Coffee Perking- I have everything for each new pot setting near the coffee pot.
1– Keep Water Pitchers Full- I have water pitchers on the table when everyone arrives.
2– Potato Peelers
1-Potato Masher- a tip to make this the coolest job ever- a beater from your hand mixer fits perfectly in your drill like a drill bit.  Boom!- Mashed potatoes in a flash without emasculating anyone!  Just make sure your drill battery is charged- 2 years in a row, mine died mid mashing :(
1– Wash the Dinner Table
2– Rinse Dinner Dishes
2– Put Away and Hand Out Left-overs- I buy little plastic dishes at the Dollar Tree for left overs.  Then I don’t have to worry about getting any dishes back.

job tags

The “Who Am I?” Game

  • Again, I wrote about this game previously, but it helps so much with keeping your guests entertaining themselves so that you can keep the dinner cooking and not starting it on fire.  Plus, it’s so fun!

Prior to guests arriving, make up sticky labels with names of famous people, family members, fictional characters, whoever, written on them.  When your guests begin arriving, slap a label on their back and explain that they can only ask yes or no questions to guess who they are.  Some of the questions that float around the room are hilarious!

name tags

Tips to make holiday dinner prep less likely to make you want to stick your head in the oven!

I’m sure that most families have those staple sides that they make every Holiday Dinner, but just because you make them every year, that doesn’t give you extra time on dinner day.  I’ll share my usual routine that makes dinner for 20 so much easier.

  • 3-4 Days prior to dinner, make your list and grocery shop.  I try not to make it like the “weekly” trip where I buy six dozen eggs, three tubs of yogurt and three gallons of milk.  Make this one mostly just for the holiday feast.

  • 1-2 Days before, I like to do all of my chopping.  I measure all of my ingredients and chop all veggies, then put them into their own individual labeled bags.  Then on dinner day, I just have to take all the bags out and everything is together like a kit.  It also helps with cleaning so you don’t have a bunch of cutting boards and the trash bowl overflowing with scraps.  Everything is pretty well contained.

  • Also, you know those foil cooking pans that are completely hideous, but leave you with no dishes?  Yeah, you know the ones.  USE THEM!  But if you don’t want them uglying up your beautiful table, here’s the trick- they bend and mold to your fave serving dishes.  Just pop them in the serving dish after your done cooking, squish them in a bit and your done.  Then no trivets are needed on your table either since your dishes didn’t just come out of the oven.  After dinner, toss ’em, and have someone else put all the serving dishes away.  In fact, add that to one of your job cards!
dinner kit

I hope these tips help make your holiday feast a bit less stressful and you won’t want to punch drunk Uncle Joe, throw water in your sister’s face, or duct tape the kids to the wall.


Next up:
The Bliss Street Christmas List.