How to Cook a Holiday Meal Like a Pro

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 kitchen barely houses three plates and two steak knives. Don’t panic!

Hosting is intimidating, even if you only host yourself and your partner for an intimate meal. The good news is that whether you cook Christmas Eve dinner for 25 people or host a date night for two, you can learn! Impress your family, 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 has little to do with the cooking and much 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 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 cooking times, and when they need to be put in. Otherwise, you might run into three dishes still needing to be cooked 30 minutes before guests arrive. No one likes crunchy green beans in their green bean casserole. 

Also, remember that you don’t have to cook every dish the day of the get-together. Bread, salads, desserts, etc., can be made ahead of time, like the day before.

3. Don’t attempt new recipes last minute.

You might be a risk-taker by nature, but we beg 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 want to try out the flamethrower, practice a few days in advance.

4. Delegate jobs if possible.

If you are cooking a special, romantic date night 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 another 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 will do nicely. Two or three sides accompany a steak dinner well; 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 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 three dinner plates and five 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 (I get my products from Misfits Market). 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 planning, organizing, and 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 DoorDash.

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