How to Cook a Holiday Meal Like a Pro

If it's your turn to host the next family holiday, have no fear. These tips will help you cook a holiday meal like a long-time pro.
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So, it’s your turn to host the holiday meal. You might be plagued by thoughts of your great aunt’s famous cherry pie, 17-dish table settings, and perfect lighting while your own kitchen barely houses 3 plates and 2 steak knives. Don’t panic!

Hosting is intimidating, even if you are only hosting yourself and your partner for Valentine’s Day. The good news is that whether you are cooking Christmas Eve dinner for 25 people or hosting a date night for 2, you can learn! Impress your family, your partner, and yourself by following a few basic steps to cooking a holiday meal like a pro.

How Can You Cook a Holiday Meal Like a Pro?

Cooking a high-quality holiday meal actually has little to do with the cooking and a lot to do with the background work. So, as long as you think ahead, you can put your great aunt to shame (in love, of course). Just remember the following tips.

1. Organize, organize, organize.

No matter what type of event you are hosting, you cannot be too organized. Create a menu, a grocery list, a guest list, an evening itinerary, a cleaning schedule, etc. It might seem like overkill, but trust us, it’s much better than getting to the “chocolate” part of your chocolate cake and realizing you don’t have any chocolate. Save yourself 75 trips to the grocery store and just organize it all ahead of time.

2. Write out an assembly/oven schedule.

Something many hosts fail to think about is that oven space is limited. Definitely create a master schedule of the dishes you intend to prepare, their cook times, and when they need to be put in. Otherwise, you might run into 3 dishes still needing to be cooked 30 minutes before guests arrive. No one likes raw steak.
Additionally, keep in mind that you don’t have to cook every dish the day of the get-together. Bread, salads, desserts, etc. can be cooked ahead the day before.

3. Don’t attempt new recipes last minute.

You might be a risk-taker by nature, but we are begging you not to spontaneously cook your ham with a flamethrower the day of your big holiday meal. Instead, stick with tried-and-true classics. Or, if you really want to try out the flamethrower, practice a few days in advance.

4. Delegate jobs if possible.

If you are cooking a special, romantic Valentine’s meal for your partner, this step probably isn’t for you. However, if multiple family members or friends are joining you, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If one person brings drinks and one person brings dessert, that’s two fewer things for you to worry about.

5. Keep your holiday meal (and your decor) simple.

The golden rule of hosting: simple is always best. While the temptation to be “fancy” is strong (particularly if your great aunt will be in attendance), most people won’t notice. A vase of flowers, clean napkins, and some background music do nicely. Two or three sides accompany a steak dinner well, and everyone enjoys a cozy atmosphere over a complicated one. Simplicity reduces stress, and a relaxed host is a better host.

6. Take shortcuts (no shame!).

You may have heard a lecture or two in your life about cutting corners, but it doesn’t apply to holiday meals. Cut corners wherever possible. If you have never made a successful dinner roll in your life, buy the self-rising frozen ones. If you only have 3 dinner plates and 5 guests coming, just buy the nice-looking disposable ones. The world will keep turning, and no one will arrive on your doorstep clutching their pearls because your butter wasn’t hand-churned.

7. Fill your guests up with appetizers.

Most guests enjoy snacking, and a cheese board and vegetable tray make for easy reaching. Pre-meal snacks also create a more welcoming environment. Food relaxes people!

8. Relax and enjoy connecting with your loved ones.

Ultimately, try not to get so caught up in the planning and the organizing and the cooking that you forget to enjoy your loved ones. If it’s a special meal with your sweetheart, talk about your favorite memories together. If it’s your family, joke about the holiday meal disasters from years ago. And if your great aunt is there, ask for her cherry pie recipe (it will make her feel good).

Go Forth and Cook!

Now you’re ready to cook a holiday meal like a pro. We hope our tips gave you some confidence. And remember, even if it’s a disaster, there’s always Door Dash.

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