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The Ultimate Guide to Planning and Cooking a Large Holiday Meal without Losing Your Mind

Hosting a holiday meal is often stressful, but it doesn't have to be! Here are some tips to keep calm while cooking your next holiday meal.
February 21, 2024

The holiday season is a time to celebrate with your loved ones, but it can also be a source of anxiety and frustration if you have to host a large holiday meal in your home. You may have to deal with different dietary preferences, limited kitchen space, and high expectations from your guests. How can you make this task easier and more enjoyable for yourself and everyone else? Here are some tips on how to plan and prepare a large holiday meal with less stress.

Start planning early

Don’t wait until the last minute to decide what you are going to cook and how you are going to serve it. Start planning your menu at least a few weeks in advance, and make a list of all the ingredients and equipment you will need. You can also ask your guests to bring a dish or a drink to share, which will reduce your workload and add some variety to the meal. Make sure to communicate with your guests about their dietary needs and preferences, and try to accommodate them as much as possible.

Figure out your portions

No one wants their guests to walk away hungry, but you also don’t want to be eating leftovers for an entire week. Once you confirm your guestlist, you’ll want to figure out how much of everything to make. A typical serving of protein will be 3 – 6 oz per person (1 – 1 ½ lbs of bone-in meat). For stuffing, plan on ¾ cup per person. Starches, such as mashed potatoes or candied yams, will be about ½ lb per person. Plan ½ cup each per person for gravy and cranberry sauce, whereas vegetable side dished will be about 1 cup per person. When it comes to dessert, plan for 1-2 slices of cake of pie per person.

An infographic showing the recommended portion sizes per person of various holiday dishes.

Your freezer is your friend

Remember all of that fabulous fresh produce you got during the summer? Instead of trying to eat it all at once, you can always prepare it and freeze it with the holidays in mind. Fruity desserts, like pies and cobblers, are fantastically freezer friendly when frozen before baking. And the whipped cream to top that slice of pie? You guessed it! You can freeze homemade whipped cream for future use. The same goes for several side dishes, such as casseroles and even mashed potatoes. Having a few dishes pre-prepped and ready to pull from the freezer and toss into the oven will make your holiday a lot less stressful.

Cook in stages

You don’t have to cook everything on the day of the party. Plan out your cooking schedule and make as many dishes as possible before the day of the party. Chop and refrigerate vegetables early; get casseroles ready to heat; bake desserts and breads. And clean up as you go.

Think outside the box

You don’t have to stick to the traditional holiday dishes if they don’t suit your taste or your guests’. You can experiment with different cuisines, flavors, and ingredients, and create a festive and delicious meal that everyone will enjoy. For example, you can try a honey-chipotle glazed turkey instead of a plain roasted one, or a butternut squash lasagna instead of a meaty one. But, one thing to bear in mind is that it’s best to choose recipes you’ve cooked before. Testing out a brand-new recipe when you have a large crowd to feed can bring its own stress.

Embrace appetizers

Having hungry guests frequently pop into the kitchen to ask when the meal will be ready will definitely up your stress level. Keep people happy by offering a few simple appetizers to hold them over until the main meal is on the table. Be sure not to overdo it though, you don’t want them filling up on apps and ignoring all of the hard work you put into the main meal.

Get your timing right

It would be a shame if that beautiful, perfectly roasted turkey was stone cold by the time everyone sat down at the table because you were waiting on the casserole to finish up. To avoid this, make a list of all the dishes you want to make and how long they take to cook. Decide what time you want to serve the meal and work backwards from there to determine when you need to start each dish. Recipes that take the longest should be started first, and less time-intensive recipes can be started closer to dinnertime so that everything is ready all at once. Also, be aware of which dishes take which appliances. Try to vary the appliances you’ll be using to avoid a traffic jam. You can even consider using your crock pot, Instant Pot toaster oven, or air fryer to give you more wiggle room.

Delegate tasks

You don’t have to do everything by yourself. You can ask your family members or friends to help you with some tasks, such as setting the table, washing the dishes, or serving the drinks. You can also assign each guest a role, such as the entertainer, the photographer, or the storyteller, to keep the party lively and fun.

Enjoy yourself

The most important thing is to enjoy yourself and your guests. Don’t worry too much about the details, and don’t stress over the imperfections. Remember that the holiday season is about celebrating the relationships and the memories that you have with your loved ones, not about the food or the decorations. Be grateful for what you have, and share your joy and love with others.


We hope you found these tips helpful and that you have a wonderful holiday meal with your loved ones. Happy holidays!

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