Holiday Entertaining – with less stress

Holidays are often very stressful. We often pile on even more tasks on top of all those  we already have in our daily lives. Of course, we want to spend time with family and friends and share special meals with them.  That can add a whole other level of stress – choosing the most delicious recipes, having just the right place setting and decor and then after preparing it all – mustering up  the energy to enjoy the gathering!

Below are some tips that I used when I was catering and still use wihen planning for entertaining. This is one of the topics we talk about in the Culinary Learning Vacation and I excerpted some of the text from the reference manual we use.

First and foremost – plan, plan, plan. Nothing can take the place of knowing what you need to do, putting the tasks on a timeline and organizing it well. Group simialr tasks together to maximize efficiency. Plan everything from the shopping, to cooking and serving –  right down to the plating. What service piece is used for each dish; how will it be garnished, where will it be placed on the table and such.

Create a menu that allows for staggering the preparation. For example, many items can be prepared ahead with very little last minute effort required.  Choose only one or two items that require a lot attention just before serving. Or if you do choose something like risotto that does require last minute attentiona, consider an alternate way of serving it such as Risotto Cakes or Arancini that allow you to have risotto and still make it ahead. I will be posting some ‘holiday’ recipes on the website that are perfect for making ahead.

Whatever you do – make sure you are part of the festivities and enjoy!

Menu Planning Guidelines

  • Balanced selections —  Taste, Texture, Color
  • Dietary considerations – have options for vegetarian, low fat, low sodium, religious, etc
  • Varying degrees of difficulty and time required
  • Balance the time required for each item to finish and serve
  • How will it look when served – to the first and last person
  • Make it a comfortable eating experience for the guests – finger foods that really are, two bite appetizers, easy disposal
  • Avoid communal dips or make it easy to have an individual serving 
  • K.I.S.S. —  Keep it simple and spectacular
 Event Planning

  • Prepare a shopping list by category & store
  • Prepare a food prep timeline by menu item
  • Prepare a task list by day
  • Plan the actual event – lay out a timeline
  • Be realistic – don’t over plan your time
  • Plan food and beverage locations to help traffic flow
  • Finishing touches should not “finish” you off
  • Consider hiring some local youth to help with serving and clean-up
 Hors d’oeurve                                                         

  • Plan on 6 hors d’oeuvre per person per hour – less if it is a full dinner party
  • When serving trays of passed hors d’oeuvre, go with single subject on a tray vs. a mixture of everything. 
  • Fresh herbs or edible flowers make an attractive garnish on the trays. 


 The Main Menu

  •  For the first course, try to have something that can be “pre-plated” or very quickly served, like a soup or colorful composed salad. 
  •  Braised foods work well for the main course because you can make in advance and reheat.  These dishes are usually best in cold weather when “comfort foods” feel appropriate.
  • Ambient temperature foods can work well. Be sure to choose foods that really taste great at room temperature.
  •  Dessert can often be made ahead of time, either the day before or in the morning.  Also, buying a wonderful cake from a pastry shop is totally acceptable.
 Additional Tips

  • Make sure the dishwasher is empty when your company arrives.
  • Set the table the day before.
  • 20/20 rule for wine: 20 minutes before company arrives, put the red wine in the refrigerator and take the white wine out.
  • Consider removing everything from underneath the sink so when the dirty dishes start coming back from the dining room, you can stash them in a bin and do them later without them making the kitchen look messy during the party.

  • Plan garnishes and presentation when planning the menu
  • Incorporate ingredients in the garnishes; use variety on different items
  • Make sure garnishes edible and trays are food safe
  • Be creative and artistic – decorate undersides of glass platters
  • If using place cards, be innovative – small package with name tag,ornament with name written on
  • Remove, restock or rearrange when buffet items run low
Check out these web sites for some more tips on entertaining –


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