Day 11 - Preparing Holiday Meals {12 Days of Being Organized for the Holidays} | From Overwhelmed to Organized: Day 11 - Preparing Holiday Meals {12 Days of Being Organized for the Holidays}

Monday, December 22, 2014

Day 11 - Preparing Holiday Meals {12 Days of Being Organized for the Holidays}

Last week I shared tips to help you plan a holiday meal, with the goal of being prepared ahead of time so you can spend time with your guests.

Today, I want to take that even one step further, and share tips for being organized on the actual day of the meal, so you can really enjoy yourself that day, instead of being overwhelmed in your kitchen the whole time.

I don't host any Christmas dinners or other holiday meals in our home, because it's just too tiny to have very many people over for a sit-down type meal.  We had 19 people squished in here for my birthday yesterday, but we picked up pizza so everyone could just sit wherever they could find a spot and eat their pizza and birthday cake.  It was lovely.  But it wouldn't work for a turkey dinner with all the fixin's :)

However, we had an early Christmas dinner last week at my parents' new condo with my parents, my 2 brothers and my one brother's family, and I helped my parents with quite a lot of the food prep.  I took advantage of the opportunity to take some photos that I could share with you today!

It was the first big meal my parents served in their new condo, so it was a bit of an adjustment having a much smaller kitchen than the last 40+ years, as well as having less pots, pans, and serving dishes to work with (they downsized a lot!).

But the organized process we used was still the same as always.  And it was even more useful this year than when they had a bigger kitchen.

{Note: my focus was on helping to prepare and serve our meal on time, so I kind of forgot to take pictures sometimes.  But hopefully these tips will help you even without pictures for all of them!}

1.  Make a list (and check it twice!)

I inherited my organizing interest from both my mom and dad, in different ways.  They are both planners and I learned early in life the value of lists.  For holiday dinners, my mom always makes a list of all the food she plans to serve.  That way, when things get busy, and others are helping in the kitchen, she won't forget anything.  It also makes it really easy for others to help out.

Here's her list for our family Christmas dinner last weekend.

My mom said if she knew I'd be sharing her lists on my blog she would have written them out neater, but I told her this is perfect.  It shows you that you don't have to have fancy printable menu planners to host a great holiday meal.  Keep it simple so you're not overwhelmed!  The point is the list, not what it looks like, right?!

There's nothing wrong with cute printables... it's just not a necessary step and if that adds extra stress to your day, then I say use a scrap of paper :)  {If you do like pretty printables, there are lots of those on my Christmas Organizing board on Pinterest - just make sure you print them ahead of time so you're not rushing around to do it on the day of your holiday dinner!}

You may have already done this step if you planned ahead as I suggested in last week's post {there were some cute printable menu planners there too!}.  But in case you didn't, I wanted to mention it first in today's post.

Another list my mom makes is a to-do list.  It also helps keep everything moving along on the day of a holiday dinner.

She'd already crossed off all the tasks that could be done before all of us arrived (peeling and cutting potatoes and veggies, bringing up extra chairs, tidying the bathrooms, moving some items from the living area to the bedroom so there would be more room for everyone, etc.).  The tasks that remained were all related to the meal preparation and needed to be done in the hour or so before eating.

Again, you can use anything your want for your list, but make a to-do list so you don't forget anything on the day of your holiday meal.

2.  Set your table in advance if possible

Some of you go all out on a holiday tablescape!  I love seeing all the lovely Christmas tables at this time of year.  If you love decorating this way, you know it take a lot of time.  So make sure you do all that before the actual day of your holiday meal.  If you don't go all out on a tablescape, at least set your table in advance if you can.  Plates, glasses, silverware, napkins, etc. can all be set out before your guests arrive, which will save you time and stress during "crunch time" when you're doing all the last-minute meal preparation as well.

My parents usually set their table(s) ahead of time.  In their old home, they had a large sunroom that they used for any large dinners.  They could set everything up in advance, and everyone stayed out of that room until after dinner.  Most of our pictures have people in them, but here's one that shows a table set up before the dinner.

They usually did a buffet-style meal for large gatherings because they had a huge island type counter in their kitchen that they could lay out all the food on.  So you don't see plates in this picture because they were at the buffet area.  Napkins with silverware inside are set out as well as centerpieces, candles, and glasses.

I love how at large family gatherings we used any and all chairs we could find!

Speaking of buffet-style dinners, if you've got a large group of people, it's a really simple way to serve your meal.

Yep... that's me reaching for some turkey :)

Anyway... back to setting tables...
This year, in my parents' condo, there really wasn't space to set up the tables ahead of time since the kids needed room to play and move around until just before dinner was ready.  So, my mom had everything ready to go for the tables and it only took a few minutes to set everything out just before dinner.  (We ate at their regular dining table with a leaf added, as well as a folding table that we set up just before dinner).

There are lots of rambunctious kids at our gatherings, so we're not in a fine dining stage of life right now :)  This year, we even used plastic plates and cutlery, which also helped keep things simple for set-up and clean-up.

My mom set them all ready on a shelf in her tea cabinet, which is close to the table. 

So, if you can set your tables ahead of time, go for it, especially if you like to create a beautiful, decorative tablescape!  If you don't have the space to be able to do that, at least set aside everything you'll need, so it's quick and easy to set the table when you need to. 

3.  Set out each pot or pan you'll need for each food item on your menu (same thing for your serving-ware).  

This really makes things simple during that busy (and often overwhelming) cooking time.  Plus, you won't have to scramble to find a pot to cook a particular food in, only to find out it's already being used for something else.

You can even label each piece of cookware and serving-ware, so you know what you will use for each food.

{Yes, we use some canned and boxed food... we keep it simple.  These tips work just as well for made-from-scratch holiday foods too though!}

Update: my mom is now preparing for an extended family meal on Boxing Day and emailed me this picture with another great tip... put your recipe ready with your ingredients and dishes.  I even see her measuring cup in her glass pan, ready to be used when she prepares her meal.  Great ideas!  Thanks Mom!

4.  Keep your fridge organized

Move food you don't need to one side or the back or the bottom.  Keep your holiday meal foods together, near the front and top.  These tips will help you easily access everything you need for your holiday meal. 

5.  Prepare any food in advance that you can

You can cut vegetables earlier in the day or even the day before your holiday meal.  Potatoes can be cut ahead and kept in water.  And I mentioned last week, that my parents usually cook their turkey the day before and slice it up to reheat the next day with some gravy over it.

That pan behind the broccoli contains gravy that's already made and just needs to be re-heated.  Another benefit of cooking the turkey in advance.

All these steps save you time, energy, and stress during "crunch time" when you're preparing a holiday meal.

6.  Plan your cooking time backwards from when you want to eat

Decide what time you want your holiday meal to be served.  Then look at how long each food item takes to prepare.  Think about which foods need to be in your oven and at what temperatures and plan what you can heat or cook when.  Same for your stove-top and microwave.  If you need to cook 6 things on your stove, but only have 4 burners, you need to figure out 2 things that can be cooked first and just kept warm.  If you need to heat 3 things in your microwave, figure out which ones can be done first and kept warm while you cook the others.  Foods that cool off quickly may need to be cooked last, or quickly reheated before your meal.

Make sure you also account for any food that your guests may be bringing that needs to be heated or cooked.  

Also, build in some cushion time.  You never know what may happen, and one thing can mess up your whole schedule if you haven't "planned" for it in advance.  Plus, when there are extra people in the kitchen, it can be a big help, but it can also distract you and slow you down.

7.  Follow your lists and plans and then enjoy your holiday meal with your guests!

 Once you have your menu, to-do list, and cooking plan, you'll know when you need to start your meal preparations and what order you need to follow for cooking each food.  

This kind of advance planning will save you so much stress on the day of your holiday meal!  No more late meals or forgotten food items, because everything is all planned out!  It also makes it easier to have other people help you, which means you can spend more time with your guests, instead of being stuck in the kitchen the whole day. 

I hope these tips help you get organized in your kitchen and dining room, so you can really enjoy your holiday dinner with your family and friends! 

If you're looking for other holiday organizing ideas, check out previous posts I've written on the subject in the Organizing tab at the top of the page - choose the Christmas submenu. Or check out my Christmas Organizing board on Pinterest.

Do you host a holiday meal at your home?  How do you stay organized?  If you're usually stressed with the preparations, which of these tips do you think will help you most?

Happy organizing!

Here are all the posts in the 12 Days of Being Organized for the Holidays series!

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