Cook for a crowd—no sweat!

platter with cooked turkey sliced on one side

The holidays are a great time to gather family and friends for a holiday meal. However, as your guest count multiplies, so might your worries—unless you use these tips to keep your cool as you cook for a crowd this holiday season.

1. Avoid stress over a high-cost menu
We don’t like to think about it or say it out loud, but sometimes the most stressful part of cooking for a crowd is the cost. Ingredients add up quickly, which can put a strain on your budget during the most expensive time of the year. It’s okay to put a budget on your holiday meal, and even ask others to bring dishes to pass.

2. Stick with familiar foods
This doesn’t mean offering a boring menu. It simply means that the holidays are not a good time to try a new recipe, especially if you want to reduce your stress. If you really want to try something new, be sure to make it prior to the big holiday meal. There’s good reason why roasts and baked dishes are popular during the holidays—once you get them into the oven, you’re pretty much done.

3. Plan in detail
Being organized is key to cooking for a crowd. Plan in detail how long each recipe will take and what recipes you can make in advance. Also consider how much room you have in your fridge and the ingredients you will need. Being prepared will reduce your stress and save you multiple trips to the store.

4. Survey your stovetop
Most stoves have four burners—six if you invested in a higher-end model. Plan out how you’ll use each burner to get your cooking done and meet your serving schedule.

5. Organize your oven
Most of us have only one oven, so plan for all the dishes that will need oven time. Aim to have the bulk of your heavy-duty baking completed ahead of time to free your oven for dishes that require cooking same-day.

6. Manage your labor
Plan your menu in terms of levels of difficulty. Categorize dishes as follows: highly labor-intensive, mid-level effort and easy. Then identify which dishes can be made in advance and which can be storebought. It’s helpful if you can prepare labor-intensive dishes early. That way, your food preparation gets easier as you go!

7. Manage your expectations
If you really want to do all of the cooking yourself this holiday season, then it is imperative to set realistic expectations. Don’t expect your meal preparation to go as smoothly as your favorite cooking show. There will likely be a few harried moments when you need to ask for help or abandon a high-labor dish and replace with a store-bought one. Remember to give yourself props for hosting your holiday gathering and take pride in getting a special meal on the table.

Don’t let hosting a holiday meal steal your joy. Make sure you keep your work manageable, enlist the help of friends and family when needed, and keep your expectations in check. Then, when it’s time to eat, you’ll be able to truly enjoy the food, friends and family.

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