Streamlining Holiday Meal Events...

Discussion in 'Holiday Cooking' started by AuntJamelle, Aug 10, 2018.

  1. AuntJamelle

    AuntJamelle Well-Known Member

    When it comes to hosting large meals – whether for Thanksgiving or Christmas or any time really – there is a lot to be said for streamlining your prep. I think a lot of us do this, at least in part, already. I’ve compiled a summary of how I approach this sort of thing and would love to hear additional thoughts, tips and tricks! There is always something new to learn!

    Establish the Menu – No brainer, right? lol I usually determine main dish first and then build appetizers, sides and desserts around that. If some of the guests are bringing something I give them an assignment – as in “Can you bring an appetizer” or “Can you bring some sort of side dish involving corn? Or a green vegetable?” That has worked pretty well for me – avoiding a situation where I overcompensate with what I make because I’m unsure of what is being contributed.

    Master Grocery List – Most of us are probably already very familiar with concept of master grocery list from the various plans, HGP, etc. Broken down in to non-perishable and perishable – a list like this gives you good control over what you need and lets you start stocking up early.

    I have been using an Excel spreadsheet, more recently a Google Sheet, to create and maintain my list. I include a row for each ingredient for each recipe. How much I need. The name of the dish. The event the dish is planned for. The date I need the ingredients by (especially important for anything to be prepped ahead and frozen)

    I can resort the spreadsheet by any of my columns depending on what I’m interested in. I can sort by ingredient if I want to count up how many sticks of butter total I’ll need for the season. Maybe there is a great sale and I want to buy it all then.

    I can also sort by date I need the ingredients by and include things I’ll need sooner than later on my weekly grocery lists based on that need.

    You can create a grocery list for each event or one big one for everything – whatever seems easiest to you! Here is a snapshot from mine this year...items in green highlight are things I already have purchased or have on hand.


    Event Timeline – Once again I have turned to spreadsheets to plan the days leading up to any event. I look at each recipe in turn. I read through the directions and think about each thing involved and what could be done ahead of time. I include tasks for digging out seldom used kitchen equipment so it is handy – roaster ovens, pans, etc.

    Common things I target for doing 2 or more days ahead include:

    Pre-cooking/Browning meats and freezing until needed - i.e. shredded chicken or ground beef

    Shredding cheeses – putting the cheese into labeled containers or Ziplock bags and then back in the fridge.

    Hard Boil Eggs – They keep, still in shell and covered in water, in fridge for at least 2 days, until you are ready to peel and use them

    Juicing citrus (lemon, limes, etc.) – This can be done ahead of time and juice kept in fridge up to 2 weeks.

    Pre-measuring/Mixing any dry ingredients for any recipe. I often use masking tape written on with a Sharpie to label containers.

    Cut and/or set out bread for stuffing or croutons to air dry

    Here is a sample shot for the timeline I am working on for our annual Christmas party - you'll see I've blended in some last minute cleaning tasks as well. My goal with the timeline is to have a one stop list of to do's that walks me through right up to the moment guests arrive:


    Common things I'll do the day before:

    Clean and cut any veggies (except cucumbers, I usually wait on those!) – Mushrooms especially can take a long time to clean! Get all that onion chopped and measured out in to different baggies – labeled! – for each recipe!

    Peel and cut potatoes, they store just fine in fridge covered in water until ready to cook

    Cook and chop any bacon needed for a recipe

    Set out sticks of butter to soften

    Toast nuts

    Roast garlic

    Misc. Tricks

    Let’s say you way to serve little chicken salad slider sandwiches – you don’t want to assemble them too far in advance because the bread will get soggy – which leaves you potentially scrambling to do it last minute.

    My solution is to use a large cookie scoop to place individual mounds of salad on a wax paper lined cookie sheet that gets covered and put in the fridge. The time in there chills the mixture together so it holds its shape when you grab it and pop it on a bun.

    Are you making pigs in blankets? Or something similar? You can wrap the meat in the dough and line them up on wax paper lined cookie sheets and store in fridge until ready to bake. Transfer to a non chilled baking sheet when ready!

    Attached Files:

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  2. sweetpumkinpye

    sweetpumkinpye Well-Known Member

    AJ, Wow. You are an planning marvel. I have all my plans and lists written in my planner. I would love to be able to do s spreadsheet like this but I am not really a computer person. A marvelous job though.
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  3. housewife2

    housewife2 Well-Known Member

    sounds like a great list tfs
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  4. Cathymac2

    Cathymac2 Active Member

    So organized! I do lists and a timeline too but just in a notebook or binder. Good job.
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  5. luludou

    luludou Well-Known Member

    you are amazing! I too have lists and timeline but also just in a notebook
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  6. Holiday_Mom

    Holiday_Mom Well-Known Member

    AJ, I thrive off of lists during the busy seasons of life.

    I used to write out my lists but over time, I have moved my lists to Google Docs. I copy and paste from the year before and then tweak the lists for the current year.

    Your spreadsheet with the list of things to do and the times is intriguing. I tend to keep the food and cleaning separate and my timeline is more like the 2 days before, the day before, the morning of, etc. I can see how making a schedule with a detailed time frame can be helpful on those busy days. You've given me something to consider doing this year.

    I like the pre-scooping idea for chicken salad. I did something similar for an elementary school ice cream party. I pre-scooped ice cream into muffin tins and then put them into our deep freezer.

    I'd like to add a tip for those who live where Christmas is usually cold. On the day of the party, if we are short on refrigerator space, then we take advantage of the cold weather. We place the trays of wrapped ready to bake appetizers into our garage. It's like a walk in refrigerator. We've also filled a cooler with refrigerated items that we weren't going to use at the party to free up space for the party food. the filled cooler gets placed it in the garage during the party.
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  7. luludou

    luludou Well-Known Member

    Holiday Mom, we use the basement entryway for the 'extras' during the party days too.

    I liked the prescoop ideas.
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  8. AuntJamelle

    AuntJamelle Well-Known Member

    Some other random thoughts...

    I can't say enough about the usefulness of crockpots when entertaining! Not only can you cook a recipe in them start to finish but they work great to hold items at a nice hot temp too.

    I've done this for mashed potatoes - once they are made up and piping hot - into the crockpot they go on the Warm setting and then I don't have to worry if the rest of the meal won't be pulled together for another 1/2 hour.

    I have several crocks in different sizes - one was a wedding gift and the rest have either been Black Friday purchases (crockpots are on sale EVERY year) and even one I got at a garage sale!

    I've kept rolls warm in a crockpot too. Placing a paper towel or fabric napkin across the top of the insert and then setting lid down on that helps to prevent any condensation that might come off the hot bread and drip off the lid when you remove it.

    I've used a crockpot to heat apple cider for events too!

    Another great thing to have is a roaster oven. You can make your main dish in it and leave your normal oven for all the side dishes. Many roaster ovens also come with warming tray inserts which can be nice too.

    I have an actual warming tray that I just sit casserole pans right on and that keeps those items nice and hot! Stoneware is great too for holding heat for a good while.
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  9. Minta

    Minta Administrator Staff Member

    Crock pots are also great for hot chocolate ... make a hot chocolate station with extras in mason jars or other pretty containers.

    They are also great to make over night oatmeal or other breakfast recipes if you are doing a holiday breakfast.
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  10. Myron's Mom

    Myron's Mom Well-Known Member

    I love my crock pots. So handy on a busy day.
    As Aunt Jamelle mentioned perfect for mashed potatoes. I always served buffet style and used a smaller one for gravey.
    The Black Friday sales are the best. I got my son's free between rebates and coupons.
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  11. Holiday_Mom

    Holiday_Mom Well-Known Member

    We have used the crock pot for hot chocolate for the post ice skating gathering at our house. We came across a shortcut for hot chocolate quite by accident a couple of years ago. It was the day of the ice skating party and we didn't have enough hot chocolate mix or milk on hand so dh ran out to get them. Our youngest noticed that the grocery store sold chocolate milk by the gallon. The price difference wasn't much different than the milk and hot chocolate mix so dh bought it.

    I'll have to look into the overnight breakfast recipes.
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  12. sweetpumkinpye

    sweetpumkinpye Well-Known Member

    Holiday_Mom, love the idea of using chocolate milk in the crock pot. I might have to use that one next Winter.
    I have realised after reading this that I do not use my crock pot nearly enough. It is an older version, maybe I need to look at upgrading to one of the newer models.

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