Hosting your first holiday dinner can be fun, yet stressful. If you plan ahead then you can survive the day with your sanity intact.
If you are hosting any of the holiday dinners this year, then it’s time to start your planning now. Oftentimes, being the host means a lot of worry and stress on you and your family that can sometimes be avoided if you plan ahead. Of course, it’s impossible to predict and plan for everything, but you can try to head off any potential problems now.
Originally Published On: November 2, 2017
Last Updated On: April 23, 2020
Prep for Hosting Your First Holiday Dinner Two Weeks Before
14 Days Before
This doesn’t have to be anything formal. Especially if it’s just family that you plan to have attend your dinner, then either a quick call or text should suffice. Use this as an opportunity to ask if they plan to be there so you can start getting a head-count. Make sure they aren’t bringing anyone that you weren’t originally planning (such as a significant other or friend). If you are planning to have a formal dinner, then a paper invitation is better and will also inform guests that it is a more formal occasion.
Plan the Menu
You don’t have to plan amounts just yet, but start thinking of what you want to make. Gather your recipes together, and have them all in one place. Even better, print your recipes so you don’t have to go searching for them later. Also, keep in mind if you have anyone coming to dinner who has a food allergy. You don’t necessarily have to cater to their allergies, but it is thoughtful to keep it in mind while you are planning and let them know if you will be making foods that contain the allergens so they can plan accordingly.
Do you have any family traditional foods you are going to try to make? Get the recipe and consider asking someone for tips on the food to make sure it’s done right. For example, if you are making Grandma’s favorite apple pie for dessert, ask her about it. She would probably love to give you insider advice, and you can learn to make the dish for everyone.
Also, consider how you are going to cook the turkey. If you plan to fry it, make sure you give the turkey ample time to thaw. Remember, you don’t have to buy one turkey big enough for everyone. You can always buy two smaller turkeys which will cook faster and have double the number of drumsticks and wings so less fighting over who gets which piece.
Check your Equipment
It will be awfully hard to roast a turkey if you don’t have a roasting pan. And you don’t want to try to bake a pie in a square dish if you don’t have a pie pan. Check your menu list and make sure you have all the equipment you need to prepare everything. This is also a good time to check that you have enough plates, bowls, silverware, cups, etc. for the number of people you will have at dinner.
10 Days Before
Now is the time to track down anyone who hasn’t responded to whether they will be at dinner or not. Before you go grocery shopping, you need to know how many people will be there. Do you need one pumpkin pie or two? How many pounds of turkey do you need to purchase? Since this depends on the number of people, make those phone calls and tell them you need to know how many people and get that response.
Yes, I said lists. Plural. Make yourself two grocery lists. One is everything that you can buy now, and the other is the ingredients that have to wait until only a day or two before the dinner. For example, if you are making a green bean casserole and plan to use canned beans then they can go on the “buy now” list. But if you plan to use fresh green beans, those should go on the “buy later” list. Don’t forget to think about any appetizers and desserts you may be planning, as well as drinks.
Check the Pantry
I don’t know about you, but when I make a grocery list, there are some things I just assume I have on hand. Salt, pepper, flour, sugar, butter, cornstarch, milk, etc. The staples for our home. But they have to run out at some point and you don’t want that to be while you are in the middle of making your meal, maybe have guests over already, and now you have to run to the grocery store or ask someone to go for you. Plus, check the expiration dates!
The Week Before Hosting a Holiday Meal
7 Days Before
Clean out the Refrigerator
The last day or two before your big dinner, you will have a few things you can start to prep ahead of time. Make sure that you have space in your refrigerator to hold these dishes and the extra ingredients you will be buying to feed the increased number of people.
Grocery Shopping Trip #1
Grab that list of the “buy now” items and get to the store. Don’t be surprised if some of these items are already starting to get picked over. It may also be a good time to hit the liquor store to get any drinks you plan to serve (or maybe something for you to celebrate getting through the day!).
6 Days Before
Thaw the Turkey
Don’t forget to take the turkey out of the freezer and transfer it to the refrigerator to start the thawing process. Depending on the size of the turkey, this can sometimes take a few days. The last thing you want when hosting your first holiday dinner is a frozen turkey when you want to start cooking.
4 Days Before
Start prepping anything that you can. Some pies and desserts can be made ahead and frozen until the day of. You can also start to prep some of your casseroles and other dishes, then store them in the refrigerator so they are ready to take out and cook.
3-3 Days Before
Grocery Shopping Trip #2
Grab that list of “buy later” groceries and head to the store. This is also a great time to do one last sweep of the pantry and make sure you aren’t missing anything that you will need to make dinner.
While you may not be able to fully cook anything, you can get a few things started. If you are making a homemade stuffing/dressing, start chopping up the vegetables and bread now. If you plan to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, start making your pumpkin puree now as well. And don’t forget to start defrosting anything you may have frozen ahead of time.
The Day Before
Most of the desserts can be made ahead of time and then warmed up. Get those made now so you don’t have to worry about them tomorrow.
Wash any of the vegetables you are going to serve, and get them trimmed or chopped as needed. You could also make your salad now if you are serving one. Just hold off on putting the dressing on so it doesn’t get too wet.
Set the Table
If you can, go ahead and set the tables. If you have young kids, or pets, or need that table for breakfast in the morning, this may not be possible. But you could at least gather the dishes you will need and have them all set aside together. It’s also a good time to wash any of your plates or other dishes that you plan to use so they are ready to go tomorrow.
Tomorrow will be a busy day. Consider a breakfast that you can make ahead now and have ready for the morning. This will also allow you to wash the dishes for making breakfast tonight and not have to worry about those in the morning either.
A few of my favorite make-ahead breakfasts:
The Day of the Holiday Meal
The Morning Of
Coffee & Breakfast
If you are a coffee drinker, get yourself a good cup of coffee and take a few minutes to yourself and enjoy it. You are in for a crazy but fun day, so embrace the calm while you can. Hosting your first holiday meal is no easy feat! Make sure you eat breakfast so you have the energy to get the day started.
Once you’ve had your coffee and breakfast, it’s time to get started. Most people don’t want a warm drink, so start chilling the drinks now. I find that having a cooler with ice works best to keep free space in the refrigerator, and you can put it somewhere out of the kitchen so guests can grab those without getting in your way in the kitchen.
Potatoes & Bread
Start baking your bread in the morning. Luckily bread usually only takes a few minutes to reheat, so you can have them cooked and ready to go early. Then a few minutes before dinner, pop them in the oven to warm them up again. Potatoes can also be peeled and placed in a pot of room temperature water and kept that way for a few hours until you are ready to boil them.
4 Hours Before
Depending on the way you are cooking the turkey, you need to get it started. Make sure you check the size of the turkey and recommended cooking time because you may need to start it sooner than this.
If you haven’t done so yet, get your casseroles prepped and ready to cook. Most of these can be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to fully cook them.
2 Hours Before
Appetizers & Cocktails
Start getting your appetizers and cocktails plated and ready to go. Guests will probably be arriving within the next hour, so have something ready for them.
Thaw Pre-Made Foods
Anything that you pre-made and need to reheat should be taken out of the refrigerator or freezer now. They will reheat better if they are brought to room temperature before warming. That is unless they are made with a cream or custard or other ingredients that need to stay chilled.
1 Hour Before
Set the Table
Start getting the table set if you weren’t able to do it the night before. If you are assigning seats, get the place cards set out before guests arrive so they don’t get a chance to say anything about the arrangement.
Reheat & Cook
Start to cook any dishes that need to be cooked and reheat anything that needs it. All of this will depend on your menu and what needs to be the warmest when it’s eaten.
This is a low priority, but if you have a few extra minutes or someone asking how they can help, get the dishes started. Try to get the sink cleaned out and start the dishwasher now if possible so it is clean and ready to go for all the dishes after the meal is over.
I don’t mean to make everyone’s plates for them, but get everything transferred to serving dishes.
Heat your gravy as one of the last things because it usually cools quickly. This is also a good time to put the pies in a warm (but turned off) oven to keep them warm and ready for dessert.
The hard work is done! Sit down, enjoy your meal and enjoy your company.
Look around and take it all in. You did it. You survived hosting your first holiday meal! Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?