Does it feel like the holiday season comes around earlier and earlier each and every year? I was in the store the other day and there are already Christmas trees and Christmas decorations everywhere!
I don’t know about you, but I love the holiday season and all the things that make up this time of year. Now, I know, I know that may seem crazy to love the fact that Christmas trees are being set up in October, but think about what the holiday season really means…
The time with family…
The hustle and bustle (not too much, though)…
The decorations and lights…
The yummy dinners…
Which begs the question: How do you manage to make that big Thanksgiving meal or Christmas Day dinner, get everything on the table while it’s all hot, and not lose your mind in the process?
Well, I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here are my top 5 tips I use year after year, holiday after holiday to help get our dinner on the table on time, hot, and without completely stressing myself out in the process! And these tips work even when you have little ones running around underfoot!
Tip #1 :: Plan Out Your Cooking Times
Let’s face reality: You only have so much room in your oven. You only have so many burners on your stove. You only have so much time to make your meal. How do you make sure that every dish gets made and gets fully cooked? But also, how do you make sure each dish gets done at the right time? 10 minutes of simple planning!
What you need: The Holiday Dinner Planning Pack, a pen or pencil, and your recipes to reference cook times and prep times.
How to do it:
- Choose the time you want to serve your dinner, let’s say it’s 4pm. Write ‘Eat and enjoy dinner!’ In this time block on your Cooking Plan Page.
- Next, start with your main dish, let’s say it’s your turkey. Write down what time you want your turkey to come out of the oven on your Cooking Plan Page. Let’s say you want it out of the oven at 3:30pm so you have time to carve it. Now, calculate what time you will need to put the turkey in the oven based on when you want it to be done. In this example, it would be about 12:30pm. Write that time on your Cooking Plan Page. Finally, how much time will you need to prep your turkey before it goes in the oven? If you want to give yourself 2 hours to prep your turkey, then write ‘Start prepping the turkey’ at 10:30am.
- Go through your menu items one by one and follow this same process, writing in when you want the dish to be finished or come out of the oven, when it needs to go in the oven, and how long you’ll need to prepare it. As you figure out the timing for each dish, be sure to write it on your Cooking Plan Page.
- Continue this process until every dish you want on your holiday dinner table is included in your Cooking Plan Page.
- Keep in mind, there are certain dishes, such as pies and cookies, that can be made and baked ahead of time, saving you time on the day of your holiday dinner!
Now, this might sound a little complicated, but it’s really so simple when you get the hang of it! It has saved me so much time and frustration when it comes to making holiday dinners – especially on the years when you’re hosting!
Trust me, 10 minutes of planning here will save you hours of panic and headache later!
Tip #2 :: Determine the Serving Bowl for Each Dish
This one sounds almost too simple and a little too over-the-top planning doesn’t it? Can I let you in on a secret? This one simple tip has saved me a lot of time, energy and frustration over the years! Not to mention I no longer have to transfer food from one serving bowl to another, then wash the original serving bowl before I can put something else in it! (Yup. Totally been there done that before I tried this!)
Determining the serving bowl for each dish on your menu is especially helpful if you have multiple people helping get the food on the table. It just makes things more simple and streamlined while at the same time eliminating frustration. Now, who wouldn’t want that?
So, how do you do this? Two simple ways come to mind: The first way is to simply make a list. In fact, you’ll find a page called Selecting the Serving Dish in the Holiday Dinner Planning Pack all ready for you to fill in. All you need to do is write down the different items on your menu, then write the serving dish you want to use next to them. For example: Mashed potatoes – glass pedestal serving dish. Nothing fancy. You can then tape your list on a cupboard door or on the fridge where everyone can see it and use it.
There’s another way you could accomplish this same concept, but it’s a bit more hands-on than simply writing a list. I find this method to be easier to do the day before or first thing in the morning on the day of your dinner before you start cooking.
- Take out all the serving dishes you want to use.
- Grab a pad of sticky notes and a pen or a sharpie.
- Write the name of your menu items down, one on each sticky note. (For example: turkey, mashed potatoes, etc.).
- Put the sticky note in or on the dish where you want that food item.
- Make sure every item on your menu has a serving dish.
- Stack all the serving dishes together to await their food goodness. Just remember to take the sticky note out of the dish before putting the food in!
Tip #3 :: Recruit Help in the Kitchen
Cooking by yourself is fun, but the holidays are all about family! Don’t only make eating the dinner a family affair, but make cooking it a family affair, too!
How do you do this?
- Does your son or daughter like to make biscuits? Put them in charge of making the biscuits!
- Have your little ones help by putting out cheese and crackers or veggies and dip for appetizers. Yes, they will eat as they go, but isn’t that part of the fun of the holidays?
- Does your child like to mix things for a recipe? Give them a simple recipe to make – with your supervision, of course!
- Does your child want to learn how to cook or want to help you? Have them work with you as you put together the meal.
- Do you have family or friends coming over to help? Have them work on one side dish while you work on another side dish or put the final touches on getting the turkey in the oven.
- When the turkey comes out of the oven, have your husband or someone old enough to wield a carving knife take on the turkey while you finish dishing out the rest of the food.
Think outside the box here! Don’t forget: You are not the only one who has to do all the work! Include other people – even if that means things won’t be done exactly the way you think they should!
Tip #4 :: Set the Table Early
This tip is pretty self-explanatory. Plus, this is a great task for the younger ones in your family – with discretion as to how young is too young, though! The aim is to set the table, not break all the dishes!
But think about it, plates and glasses and cutlery can sit out for hours. You don’t need to worry about them getting cold or spoiling. If you can get the table set and ready to go before the food preparation takes every moment of your attention, why not get it set up and ready to go? Plus, you can spend a little extra time and make it look especially pretty this way. In recent years, my daughters have taken on this task and they will take their time to make it look especially beautiful – even adding name cards to each place setting!
Tip #5 :: Put on Some Holiday Music and Have Fun!
Don’t forget: The holidays are supposed to be a fun time with friends and family! Start with a mindset of thankfulness, gratitude, and a desire to enjoy the day. No one wants to sit down to a holiday meal feeling all stressed and angry! So, start with the right mindset even before you start cooking!
Some things that help me include:
- Telling my husband my plan for cooking the day before, what I want to accomplish, and where I would like his help. This really sets the expectation between the two of us and gets us on the same page before we even start. (This principle holds true for roommates or parents or children – whoever you live with and might need help from in the cooking of your holiday meal.)
- Start with a grateful mindset. I love the fact that I have the opportunity to make memories with my family by making and eating a big holiday dinner. It’s a blessing that we have all this available to us, not a burden that must be done. Starting with this mindset sets the tone for the entire adventure.
- Turn on some music! My favorite is Christmas carols. (Yes, even at Thanksgiving. I’m one of those people!). Enjoy this time! Music is fun, motivating, and when you don’t know what to say, you can sing along!
More than anything, remember to give yourself grace! You are cooking – and cooking with multiple other people in and around the kitchen. Things will not go perfectly! Give yourself grace and exude grace to everyone around you.
One last thing: Happy Thanksgiving and an early Merry Christmas, my Friend!
- The Most Important Part of the Christmas Season
- The Magic of Baking with Your Children for the Holidays
- Discovering the Legends of Christmas
- A Christmas Carol: A Fresh Look at a Christmas Classic
- Brighten Your Winter Days with Simple Things
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.