Holiday Prep Tips for the First Time Host

By Dawn M. Smith

Good for you! Either eagerly by choice or by default and with reluctance, you’ve decided to take on your very first holiday event as a host! There’s so much to get done. You’ll need a good chunk of your free time to prepare and plan over the next few weeks.

No matter if the event is a cocktail party, an open house, or a full blown holiday meal, there are ways to work ahead and avoid overwhelming circumstances. For tips on grocery store runs to day of prep hacks, keep reading because we’ve got sanity saving ideas for the new host plunging into holiday entertaining.  

Create accounts for your favorite grocery stores and delivery services

You’re going to want to take advantage of every coupon and discount offered as the holiday season rolls on. Traditional coupon clipping is time consuming, so load up your phone and go. The commissary even has its own Rewards Card, but don’t forget to sign up before arriving.

Now, there is no doubt that you can pull off an event without using the assistance of a delivery service, but why? Have you ever shopped at a grocery store the Saturday before Thanksgiving? Chaos. Delivery services are the ultimate time-saving assistance. The minimal additional fees are well worth the aggravation of hitting multiple grocery stores with hundreds of other people at once. Research your area and see what providers service your zip code.

This isn’t a complete list, but here are a few to get you started: AmazonFresh, Costco, Walmart, Safeway, and Peapod. Instacart and Shipt often fill in the gaps of stores that don’t deliver on their own, like Whole Foods and Target. New to the delivery scene is JoyRun.They have a different take on delivery—it isn’t just for grocery stores. Because these services are flexible employment, the odds of actually hiring a military spouse are high in military-centric locations.

Make yourself a checklist…or two

It doesn’t matter if it’s handwritten or a memo on your phone, just know that you’re likely to forget a few things, which require extra trips to the store. This is when a delivery service really sells itself! Or, you can try your hand at sending your significant other in with the wolves and armed with pictures of the EXACT items or brands you need.

New hosts often plan the food menu without fault, but overlook the other supplies that pull the whole party together. Yes, you can get away with paper plates if your shindig is casual, but serve your guests from sturdier and more attractive bowls and trays. Here’s a list of common non-food items you’ll probably need:

  • Full and dessert size plates, bowls if needed
  • Paper goods: cocktail and dinner size napkins, absorbent roll of paper towels for clean up
  • Glassware for cocktails and everyday drinks
  • Cutlery, to include all of the courses served
  • Serving ware: platters, trays, baskets, bowls, large utensils, tongs, appetizer forks
  • Centerpiece: a DIY masterpiece or a vase of flowers arranged at conversation height
  • Ice: the small cubes, not the giant chunks in a bag
  • Miscellaneous: candles, matches, toothpicks (for serving, not for grooming), and coolers for storing warm and cold food or beverages

Plan ahead and rely on go-tos

Even as a novice host, you probably have one or two dishes you can prepare easily and maybe even in advance.

Appetizers and desserts are some of the easiest dishes to make and freeze. A dessert table decked out with three different types of cookies and maybe a pie is a sight to behold. Get to baking early, freeze dozens of cookies, and save loads of time. Or, for even more fun, turn a chilly Saturday into a get-together with a group of friends and pack the kitchen with holiday baked goods to swap. Swapping means more of an assortment with minimal effort.

If you’re famous for your mac ‘n cheese, throw one or two together and freeze for later. Or, if your family’s onion dip is a prize winner, toss it together the night before to make space for the time sensitive items that have to be prepared the day of the party.

Practice unfamiliar dishes at least once

Don’t worry—preparing each dish from scratch is overrated. Professional chefs and bakers go to school for a reason. There’s no way to out-bake or out-cook a pro in a few weeks’ learning time.

Pick a new dish or two you’d like to try and give it a go. Side dishes are easier to prepare and easily fit into a preceding night’s dinner menu. Practice cooking a small turkey weeks ahead (you can share with neighbors), because there’s some art and science to timing everything just right. Take advantage of the exhaustive amounts of informative printouts and advice for dressing and correct cook times. Butterball has an entire How To Roast a Turkey” section on their site. To master gravy, it takes a lot of practice. For gravy, you might want to find a high quality store-bought version. Williams Sonoma has a good one.

Here’s a tip—many pre-cooked hams found at a variety of grocery stores come with prepackaged spices and seasonings. On the day of your shindig, just warm it in the oven before serving.

Just invite the people

For first time hosts, the self-imposed high expectations can be overwhelming. Remember these truths to relieve some of the pressure:

• Your mashed potatoes (stuffing, pumpkin pie, whatever) will never be as good as your mother-in-law’s, or insert relative here, in their opinion. She’s been serving it for eons and won’t likely let that dish go without a fight. This year, instead of pumpkin pie, bake a pumpkin cheesecake or tart. Find a way to make a classic with your own twist.

• Gatherings filled with military friends who can’t travel to see family lend themselves to potluck-style events. This takes pressure off the host to provide every little detail that hits the dinner table. Your guests will probably bring their tried and true dishes that are always a hit because they can make them in their sleep.  

Friendsgivings are a thing for a reason. The people you picked to love, love you back, and just want to hang out and eat food. If hosting a large, formal family event is beyond your comfort zone right now, try hosting friends instead. You’ll experience the work and planning involved with hosting multiple people, but have the room to just relax and chat with friends.

Always remember that the holidays will go on with a dry turkey, AND they will come again next year! Practice makes perfect!

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