How To Host A Holiday Dinner

Thanksgiving is right around the corner for us Canadians and although I’ll be in the Caribbean, I’m dreaming about all the fixings.

I love everything about fall. Cool weather. Sweaters. Cute boots. Windows open. Fresh air. Thanksgiving.

When I was young, my mom always hosted family holiday dinners at our house for any family that was in town. I had so much fun helping her bake and prepare for our honoured guests.

For the last few years, I’ve had the honour of hosting dinners at our house. My daughter Violet now loves helping me plan and prep for everyone.

Now, one thing I haven’t mentioned is that our family has grown over the years…which is to be expected. So our prep is usually for 25-30 people.

I need to be super organized for my dinners, otherwise it would be extremely stressful and overwhelming. If it wasn’t for my stellar prepping skills, I would never have survived the time when we had church in the morning, lunch at Brian’s parents and then I was hosting dinner for my side of the family – all in the same day! I walked in the door only about 20 minutes before guests started arriving.

So, with that, I figured I’d share my plan & timeline on how to survive hosting a holiday dinner.

First things first, I usually have a note on my phone that I can copy and paste (then edit). However, since Easter (the last dinner I planned), I have stumbled upon Trello. I now use Trello to organize every aspect of my life – and it’s AHHH-mazing!!

Ok, let’s dive right in!

1 Month Before

Set the Date & Time – Simple, but without it, you have nothing.
Guest ListSeparate your list into kids & adults, then add up the total.
Notify/Invite GuestsSeriously. Don’t forget to let them know.
Menu PlanList everything you want on the menu.
Seating PlanMostly just make sure you will have enough seating.
DishesStocking 30 place settings might be overkill; decide if you have enough dishes or if you need to use disposable dishes.

If you’re as particular as I am, you may want to do the following:

Diffuser/CandlesAtmosphere is a big deal to me. What scent do you want people to enjoy? I usually throw on something fall related.
Music PlaylistIf I don’t pre-pick my music, Brian will most certainly turn on 80’s classics or Amy Grant. Spotify to the rescue!
Playroom/ActivitiesI don’t like leaving things to chance, which means that I like to give the kids something organized to do (like a scavenger hunt or a video filming challenge). This is how we minimize arguments, broken items and disasters in the basement.
Coat RackMy foyer is tiny and closet space is limited in our house, which means I need to have a dedicated area for all the shoes, coats & purses. It is usually one of the bedrooms.

2 Weeks Before

Finalize Meal PlanThis is the point where I decide if I’m going to be superwoman and cook/bake everything myself. I love doing this, but it’s not always feasible. If needed, I will accept offers from my guests to bring certain dishes. Just make sure to write down who is bringing what, otherwise you may end up with 5 salads and no buns.
Finalize Guest ListI guess this changes from day-to-day, but I like to get a general idea if everyone is coming or not. I like leftovers, but if I don’t need a 25 lb turkey, I won’t buy one.
Grocery ListGo through your pantry and cupboards to see what you have and what you need. I usually add to my grocery list for a few days before I start shopping.

1 Week Before

Clean HousePlease don’t judge me, but I use this time to not only clean my living spaces, but also all the bedrooms, closets, drawers, etc. I feel like I need a completely clean slate to start with.
Grocery ShoppingMy list is usually separated into a few different sections according to the best deals – Costco, Superstore, Wal-Mart, etc. Once I know what I’m getting where, I go get ’em.

3 Days Before

Light HousecleaningThe deep cleaning might be done, but the second you turn your back, a clean spot can turn into the perfect spot to paint nails – if you know what I’m talking about.
BakingThis is absolutely my favourite part! The smell of pumpkin pie, apple pie, cheesecake, cookies, cupcakes, etc. just gets me every time! And yes, some of my baking is just typical, full-of-sugar goodies and some are specially made sugar-free for my enjoyment.

2 Days Before

Meat PrepThawing large cuts of meat such as a whole turkey or ham takes time and patience. Pull it out of the freezer and drop it in a sink filled with cool water (ok, maybe don’t drop it). This keeps bacteria from multiplying on the meat.
Light HousecleaningBut seriously, people need to get ready, eat, function on a daily basis, so keeping on top of tidying up is essential.

1 Day Before

Light HousecleaningOk, I think I’ve made my point on this.
Stuffing – If I’m stuffing the turkey – which I always do – I like to make the stuffing the day before and put it in the fridge so my hands don’t burn when I’m stuffing the turkey.
Table SettingSince we tend to have a lot of guests, I usually rearrange my living room and set up a long table. We can’t all fit around one table, so doing this the day before helps me see how many seats we have.

The Day Of

CookThe alarm goes off early in the morning, I throw on my apron and get to work in the kitchen. I stuff the turkey, season it and put it in the oven. I arrange the ham in the crock pot and set it. Peel the potatoes, cut ’em up and throw them into the pot with water on the stove – ready to be turned on later in the day. Lastly, I will throw on some homemade bread in the bread maker.
RelaxThere’s no need to be stressed when it comes to hosting a dinner. Once everything is prepped and ready, take some time to get yourself together.

There you have it! Take the time to enjoy every moment of the day.

Do you find it stressful planning/hosting a holiday dinner? I’d love to know your secrets to staying stress-free.

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