The holidays are in full swing, thus the season for parties, dinners, and gatherings with family and friends. Many of us will be hosting guests throughout the season, here are a few practical ways to reduce stress so you can enjoy the holidays.
1. Focus on the goal and run everything through that lens.
Your goal may be to create a fun night for your co-workers, a chance to get all of your cousins together, or to have a fancy adult-only party. In general, when hosting others, my goal is usually to create moments of connection with us and our guests. Once you have your goal in mind, you should then use it to determine the type of food you serve, any decorations (if applicable), and any activities (if applicable). I run everything through the filter of “Does this foster connection?” If your goal is to have a fun night, you will probably want to serve food that is more casual and approachable, like a chili bar or chips and dip, and also plan some sort of game. If your goal is a fancy adult-only evening, you may want a bunch of passable hors d’oeuvres or a sit down multi-course dinner.
2. Prep as much as possible in advance.
I like to have #dinnerdoneby9am to avoid last-minute stress just before guests arrive. Many components of your meal could be made that morning, or even a day in advance. Sauces, dips, salad dressings, casseroles, chilis, soups, and many desserts can usually be made well ahead of time. For a big party, I will start 3 days ahead of time and make 2-3 items per day to keep the daily load manageable. For the sake of sanity, try to have no more than 2 dishes needing to be finished last minute and everything else items that can be made ahead. I like to have all hands-on activities done before my guests arrive, with dishes staying warm in the oven or on the stove. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your guests will be, so don’t set yourself up to be frazzled and stressed the last minute. With a little preparation, you can be ready to welcome your guests and look them in the eyes, rather than mumbling a quick hello in between stirring pots.
3. Embrace “clean enough.”
Confession: I am not a cleaner. I don’t even really know what deep cleaning is. I’ve embraced this idea of “clean enough.” I have the kids pick up the toys, then I vacuum the house and clean the bathroom. That’s it. There may be random items on my counters when others come over, and my baseboards have not been dusted, but I tend to think others don’t care. I’m a believer that allowing others to see bits of mess in my home is authentic and sets the atmosphere for guests to be able to be themselves and share the less than perfect parts of themselves also. I have nothing but admiration for people who are natural cleaners and keep their homes sparkly, that is just not me. So if you’re not naturally a cleaner, learn to settle for “clean enough.”
4. Consider disposable dishes
This makes clean up so much easier, and these days you can find nice options on Amazon or in party stores.
5. Stick to dishes you have made before and are effortless for you.
This is not the time to try a bunch of new, super involved recipes or ingredients you’ve never worked with.
6. Have a schedule.
Especially when hosting larger gatherings for which I am cooking multiple dishes, I like to make a schedule in advance listing items I can do a day or two ahead and giving a full schedule of what needs to be done and when on the day of the event. This comes in handy, particularly when balancing baking different dishes and coordinating resting time for meats.
7. Always overestimate the amount of time things will take you (from cooking to cleaning to getting yourself ready).
Especially with littles running around, unexpected things tend to pop up and interrupt your task at hand. If your overestimate causes you to be ready with extra time, you can relax for a few minutes before your guests arrive, but if you are in a frenzied tizzy, you’ll be inviting them into that chaos.
8. Recruit help.
If others offer to bring something let them or even ask them to. If it’s a larger gathering, consider making it a potluck. Solicit help from your spouse/partner/ kids in cleaning the house, setting the table and cleaning up.
9. Lay out all the platters and serving utensils in advance
And have sticky notes on them saying what will go on each dish. Doing this frees up brain space from having to make last-minute decisions and can also be a great guide if a guest needs to jump in and help the last minute.
10. Have something to sip and something to snack as guests arrive.
Whether you are doing a potluck or multi-course dinner, there is often a guest running late or reason why the planned meal gets delayed. I like to have something for guests to sip on and snack on to keep them happy while we wait for everyone to arrive. I like to serve one signature cocktail for each event and allow others to bring wine. My go-to appetizer is a cheeseboard because everyone can happily find something they like to munch on, and it involves zero cooking, freeing me up for other things.
In all of this I like to keep in mind a quote by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” In other words, people won’t remember what you wore or if your house was spotless, but they will remember how you made them feel while they were there, so spend your time and energy focusing on making your guests feel something worth remembering.