Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and hoards of people will be gathering together with friends and family to celebrate the bounty of the season. Here are a few ways to ensure that your holiday celebration will be a fabulous one; free from stress, fights, and anaphylactic shock.
It’s sweet and ambitious to hope that quarrelling relatives will use a time of togetherness as an opportunity to let bygones be bygones, but if a couple of people haven’t spoken to each other for years because they can’t stand one another, your dinner party isn’t going to be the balm that eases all ills. If you’d like a stress-free, pleasant get-together, invite friends and family members who actually like one another and will mingle well. You can see the more ornery ones over the winter holidays.
Most of us have friends and family members of various ethnic/religious backgrounds, and there are a variety of food restrictions that go along with certain cultures and faiths. Furthermore, whether someone avoids a certain food because of personal ethics, or because it will make them horrifically ill, it’s best to avoid adding any of it to your meal plan. The last thing any host or hostess wants to do is kill anyone with their cooking, so as soon as you receive confirmation that your guests will be attending, ask them about any foods that may be forbidden. The same goes for if kids are attending: some may be solely accustomed to “kid food” and will refuse what’s being served, so ask parents what (if anything) the kidlets will eat, so some of that is available.
If you find yourself in a situation where your guests have multiple food restrictions between them (vegan, nut allergies, kosher/halal, gluten-free, etc.), you might wish to visit a site such as Epicurious.com for recipe ideas. In the upper left section of the page, you can click on the “advanced search” button, and it’ll allow you to add different criteria to your search. When in doubt whether something is acceptable or not, clear it with your guests first. Alternatively, you can go another route entirely…
One way to ensure that everyone can eat something at your party is to make it a potluck. Have every guest bring a favourite dish of theirs, so all attendees have the opportunity to try something new (if they like), or stick to what they know is safe for them. This alleviates stress (as well as workload for the host), and you never know—you may discover a new, fabulous recipe that you’d never encountered before.
Many hosts end up stressed out and frustrated because they get so overwhelmed by trying to handle every aspect of the celebration itself that they don’t end up enjoying the actual event. Gather together friends and family members and allot certain tasks to everyone: this way, everything will get done, and you won’t end up sitting on the kitchen floor crying into your wine glass.
Estimate how much time is required to prep + cook each item, so you can schedule when different dishes have to be popped into the oven or heated on the stove top. Salads and side dishes can be prepared ahead of time and then just dressed or heated prior to serving, and you can likely tetris the pans inside your oven to bake (or just heat) numerous dishes at the same time. If necessary, place sticky notes on your appliances so you know that X has to go into the oven at 4 pm, and Y needs chocolate grated on it just before it’s served.
When it comes to seating, it’s important to consider who’s going to sit where; you don’t want all the extroverts at one end of the table, leaving the opposite end all awkward and silent. Try to place the more vivacious people at regular intervals around the dining space, as they’ll engage those around them in conversation. On the other hand, if you know that one of your guests is rather shy and quiet, don’t sit them too close to a chatterbox, as they’ll be tempted to stab themselves with their butter knife twenty minutes into the meal, just for an excuse to flee.
If children are attending, they’ll likely be bored out of their skulls halfway through the evening. If you can set aside a small area for art/crafts, fabulous. If not, you can always usher them into a room with a movie or some video games so they’re not subjected to boring grown up conversations.
There will undoubtedly be leftovers after the meal, so encourage your guests to bring plastic containers with them so you can foist some on them. If you don’t, you’ll be stuck with zero fridge space, or a bunch of food that you may not want to eat for a week afterwards.
There’s absolutely no reason why you should feel that you need to do all the cleaning up by yourself, especially if those attending are close friends/family. After you’ve finished eating, ask for a bit of help tidying up, and get another couple of people to help set up for dessert. If you know that one person loves to mix drinks or serve wine, get them on booze duty. Keep your sink full of soapy water and encourage people to plop dirty dishes in so they can soak over the course of the evening.
If you’re hosting this year’s party, be sure to book some time off the following day to just. chill. out. Even the most stress-free party will require a lot of work, and it’ll likely do you good to have some “you” time the next day.
It’s inevitable that something may not go entirely according to plan, and that’s absolutely okay. Try to flow with things, keep a sense of humour, and remember that you’re among those who love you: dinner doesn’t have to be “perfect” in order to be amazing.
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