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!