Tips for Hosting Company Over the Holidays
The holidays are a time of celebration and special gatherings with family and friends. But when it’s your turn to host, that joyful occasion can turn out to be an exhausting experience. Keep all your guests – and yourself – happy and healthy this holiday season with the following tips.
By Mary Beth Wallace
One thing’s for sure: Whether it be an intimate gathering or a large family get-together, hosting is a lot of work. Planning ahead is one of the best ways to manage the stress and make the party fun for everyone. Start by creating a schedule for the days leading up to the event. This should include grocery runs, any necessary communication with guests (whether sending formal invitations or a simple text), and any make-ahead dishes you plan to prepare. Other tasks to add to your list include testing new recipes, gathering the decorations you plan to use, and cleaning out your refrigerator to make room for party leftovers. Are kids invited? You may want to have age-appropriate activities, such as toys or a holiday movie, to keep them entertained before or after the meal.
It’s also helpful to have an hour-by-hour schedule for the day of the event. Here, you’ll want to include cooking times (when to chop the Brussels sprouts, when to bake the ham, etc.), last-minute cleaning items (make sure your bathroom is fully stocked with toilet paper and soap), and any finishing touches. Of course, assign yourself adequate time to get ready before the festivities begin.
Master a Menu
Choosing what your guests will eat is one of the most fun, yet nerve-wracking aspects of holiday hosting. If you don’t already have a traditional meal in place, consider incorporating some healthy twists on classic favorites: Top sweet potato casserole with nuts instead of marshmallows, slip some whole-wheat bread in the stuffing, and ditch the canned cranberries for a homemade cranberry sauce. Whatever the menu, be sure to incorporate a variety of seasonal fruit and vegetable dishes among your more caloric mains and desserts; fiber-rich foods like these, along with whole grains, will help guests feel full and overcome the temptation to overeat. Additionally, be mindful of any guests with food allergies or special diets and accommodate appropriately.
Once you have a menu in place, don’t be afraid to delegate a few items to your guests – especially side dishes and desserts. Not only will this save you time, your guests will have a chance to show off their culinary prowess! Buying some items premade, such as dinner rolls or frozen appetizers, from a store or local bakery can simplify things further.
First, a note on food safety: It may be tempting to leave hot dips, cold appetizers, and leftovers out on the counter for guests to enjoy for hours on end. However, the FDA recommends storing all perishables in a refrigerator or freezer within two hours of being prepared. After this time, the food is no longer considered safe to consume. Some foods, including meat, dairy, and egg products, are more prone to harmful bacteria than others when at room temperature. The moral of the story is, keep any leftovers safe by storing shortly after your meal!
For easy cleanup post-meal, station trash bins and bags strategically throughout the kitchen and dining area – you’ll be encouraging guests to dispose of garbage on their own. And, it’s always a good idea to have cleaning tools nearby, including stain removers and absorbents, in case of spills or other accidents. Just remember to save the bulk of the cleaning until after your guests depart, and prioritize the essentials: picking up trash, filling the dishwasher, wiping down countertops, and removing any debris from the floor. Other tasks, like taking down decorations or hand-washing fragile dishes, can wait until the next day.
For these local ladies, hosting large crowds is all part of the holiday fun. From crafting the perfect menu to creating an inviting, festive atmosphere, learn how to become a “hostess with the mostess” with their top tips and tricks!
“A successful holiday party is made up of three things: good food, fun friends, and a cozy atmosphere. The day before the party, I make sure all of my serving dishes and platters are arranged on the dining room buffet and table. On each, I put little pieces of paper saying what will be placed on that particular piece, from my husband’s beef tenderloin to my signature hot onion soufflé. The smell of oranges and apple cider in the winter months makes me smile, so for all my gatherings I keep a silver service with hot cider – it’s always a hit! I love to do all the food and the decorating, including flower arrangements and centerpieces, for our holiday parties, but I often hire help for serving and cleanup. This allows me the opportunity to enjoy the party with our guests.”
Lynn Anderson, Signal Mountain
“The holidays in general can be a stressful time for anyone, especially when you add in working full-time, being a wife and mother, and being very involved in church and community activities. So to stay sane as a hostess, I like to plan and organize in order to maximize my time and ensure everything gets done in a timely fashion. First, I make a list of everything I need for the party and start purchasing as many items as I can in advance to keep from stressing closer to the event. Next, I enlist the help of others by hiring cleaners, calling caterers, and involving family and friends when they offer much-needed assistance before, during, and after the party. By doing this, I am actually able to relax and enjoy the event I’m hosting because I’ve done the necessary prep work. As with most things in life, I have discovered that planning is key!”
LaTasha Rogan, Ooltewah
“Holidays are my favorite time of the year, and I never tire of the fun of a party. As the years have gone by, I’ve simplified a great deal. In fact, I now have decorating down to a science: poinsettias from Costco, then lights on the tree out front. I long ago discovered the gift to myself of catering the party, as I no longer have the energy to prepare food for 100. When selecting a menu, my husband and I make detailed notes about what was enjoyed the most and the least, and we carry that forward to the next year. Shrimp is a crowd favorite – no frills, just spicy cocktail sauce! I also wouldn’t give a party without an array of wonderful vegetables, and a cheese tray is a must. The best tip I have for enjoying the holidays is to host your party after Christmas. We call it Christmas in the New Year, and I highly recommend it!”