How-To: Survive Holiday Cooking for a Crowd

holiday menu

*My actual Christmas Day menu*

I’ve been busily compiling lists and recipes for the upcoming holiday weekend. Our house will be packed the 23rd-25th, with 8-11 people for dinner every night! Not to mention breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. That’s enough cooking coordination to challenge even the most experienced hostess.

My handy plan of attack to survive cooking for a crowd is detailed below. It’s especially helpful this time of year, but this basic plan will work anytime you find yourself with a house full of hungry guests. These tips will help you to plan ahead, know what you’re doing and when to do it, and make cooking for a crowd seem effortless!

PREPARE: The key to remaining calm amidst monstrous holiday meals is to prepare, prepare, prepare. Luckily for me, my wonderful mother is among our house guests this year. She is a terrific cook and taught me how to feed an onslaught of people for an extended time. We outlined menus for each meal during her last visit in November (prepare!) and fine tuned it over the phone. Then we gathered the appropriate recipes from our various collections and I wrote two (very large) shopping lists. One is for items I can get from my bulk store, the other is for items from the regular grocery. Write your shopping list in the order items appear in the store. All veggies together, then canned goods, then meat, etc. This will cut down on having to back track for items. After writing the list, double check it against the recipes AND any pantry items to make sure everything is covered.

PUT IT IN WRITING: I like to keep a daily menu posted on the fridge. This serves several purposes. 1 – it will keep everyone from bugging you about what’s for lunch, dinner, etc. 2- a good menu just looks pretty (download the one I designed this year shown above: blank printable holiday menu) 3 – it keeps me on track for what I need to do for each meal. Without a posted menu, it’s easy to forget to pull out the green beans when you are handling 3 or 4 other dishes. Or to put the rolls in. Or to make salad dressing. Or to set the butter out to soften. A written menu will serve as a handy reminder of what dishes should be in process at what time.

STICK WITH THE TRIED AND TRUE: I love to experiment with new dishes, but feeding a crowd is NOT the ideal time to do it! If you are dying to try out a new recipe for the holidays, make a small trial batch a few weeks before. Doing so will familiarize the process, frame expectations for time and effort, and allow for a taste test before making something in bulk.

MAKE SOME MIS: Mis en place is a French term that refers to having all ingredients for a recipe prepped and in place prior to beginning to cook. This is super handy during the holidays. The morning or afternoon before a big meal, wash and chop whatever vegetables possible, measure and store in plastic sandwich bags. Measure out spices and put in tiny bowls or bags. Measure liquids and put in lidded plastic containers. Keep these prepped items together by dish in the fridge and pull out when ready to cook.

CLEAN AS YOU GO: Wash those pots and pans as soon as they are relieved of duty. Wipe the counter down often. Put ingredients away ASAP. Delegate these tasks whenever possible!

BEFRIEND THE CHECKLIST: Like the printed menu, a checklist helps keep everything moving along. But unlike the menu, this is the place to record non-cooking related tasks, too, like chilling the wine or ironing napkins. Take a minute to jot down a quick checklist of things that need to be done in the order they need to be completed.

ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES: Look, it doesn’t matter how many huge meals a person has cooked or how accomplished they are in the kitchen, sh*t happens sometimes. It’s especially bound to happen when a kitchen is full of those trying-to-be-helpful bodies that seem to multiply during the holidays. So what if the gravy burned while your sister was supposed to be constantly stirring it? It’s going to be OK, it is just a meal after all! It’s hard to cook for a crowd, so turn a deaf ear to criticism (and to all you moms and mother-in-laws out there, DON’T criticize), do your very best, and make sure there’s a hidden bottle of wine somewhere just for you!

Happy cooking, hostesses!

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One Response to How-To: Survive Holiday Cooking for a Crowd

  1. Steph,
    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this one!!! I wish that I was entertaining for the holidays. No scratch that I want to be at your house! I am still so bummed that I could not make it for the wedding. I really wanted to spend time with you and Amanda…and of course the boys to. Or should I say Old Men as I have heard that they have all taken to drinking scotch and smoking cigars. 🙂 Have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!!

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