BIG Dinner Tips

Back in November, 2010, I shared information with our readers on ways to make holiday entertaining easy. Since we have so many new readers now, and this information is so timely, I thought I'd share it again.

So I'm actually talking about the dinner being big, not necessarily the tips. I found these ideas on a great website,; the contributor, April, won a prize for these savvy suggestions. The theme here is to simplify all you can so nothing gets overwhelming. Gatherings are meant to be fun, after all. See what you think:

First, be realistic. If you don't have enough entertaining space, or you don't have the proper equipment or enough parking space, then see about renting a facility to house your dinner, or let someone else host it. With that being said...

A week before dinner, start your baking. Much can be made ahead (cookies, pies, cakes, rolls, etc.) and frozen. The day before your dinner, remove them from the freezer. Also, contact guests and ask them to bring a covered dish-especially if they are a close or local family. (A special guest or someone from out of town wouldn't be asked to bring anything, of course.) Do ask everyone to let you know what they're bringing however, so you don't have 7 green bean casseroles.

The day before your dinner, set up your tables and chairs and lay out your place settings. Make your tea; make sure you have enough ice on hand. It's perfectly fine to use good quality foam or paper plates, if not for the entire dinner, then for at least dessert. This minimizes cleanup time, and provides more time to visit and focus on other activities of the day. Simplify your dinner even more by setting up your dinner as a buffet. Ping-pong and pool tables are great for this purpose.

If children are attending, cover a designated "kids table" with newsprint or butcher paper and set a cup of crayons on that table, along with coloring books and drawing paper. It helps keep little ones entertained while their plates are being prepared.

Consider starting what dishes you can the day before:

ü peeling potatoes for mashed potatoes (store in salted water in the fridge)

ü making relish

ü prepping fruit and veggie trays

ü baking your turkey or ham and pre-slicing it.

Consider checking your local deli for any specials on turkey. It may actually be cheaper to have them bake your turkey and slice it than for you to buy a turkey. And don't forget to delegate (like "Downton") as much of the other work as you can.

The day of your dinner, use crock-pots. They work great for gravy, noodles, yams, and keeping mashed potatoes warm. Check a day or two beforehand to make sure you have proper extension cords.

Also consider setting out some board games, a cheese plate and snack tray. If you end up waiting on a last-minute guest or have a kitchen emergency, you won't have to worry about people being hungry, especially if your family has any diabetics and/or lots of children.

If saying a blessing is part of your tradition, then afterwards you might ask the parents of young children and those over 60 to go through the line first, if it is a buffet. If it is not a buffet, then ask the moms if they want to fill their children's plates before the blessing is said. Then, as soon as the prayer is over, they are handed their plates. But with or without a blessing, seeing that the children and elderly are served first is a thoughtful way to start your meal.

It's also thoughtful to ask those who brought a special dish to also bring the recipe. Provide enough index cards and pens so others can copy them.

Finally, be prepared for nasty weather if that's an issue where you live. Ice and snow can hit quickly in some parts of the country, so if this is your case, make sure to have flashlights, candles, lanterns, and extra blankets on hand. We've had guests stay over due to the weather more than once, or we've sent them off with a blanket for their trip home (in case they ran into car trouble). And one last thought: If you didn't include driving directions in your dinner invitation, then the day of your dinner be sure to keep your phone line open so any lost guest can call for directions.


    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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