Holiday Meal Planning: Make the Most of Your Lists

Make a list, check it twice and save yourself tons of time and stress in your holiday planning.

Holiday Sweet Potatoes Prep

Yesterday, we talked about how a little planning can make holiday entertaining easier and today, we bring you the ultimate tool for helping you keep cool, calm and collected: lists! Grocery lists, guest lists, to-do’s and more! It can be challenging to keep all the details of your holiday meal in your head, so get into the habit of creating lists and checking them twice. Write your various lists at least two weeks ahead of time and add more items as they pop up. Here are some essential list ideas and tips on covering all your bases.Guest List

Number of Guests: Write down your guest list so you have an accurate idea of how many servings you need to prepare (add a few extra servings for last-minute guests and leftovers). As you select your recipes, review for serving size and double or triple the recipes as needed.

Special Dietary Needs: From vegetarian to dairy-free to low sodium, people have a variety of special dietary needs, some even life-threatening. Not to worry though, big holiday meals are actually perfect — since there are so many dishes, there is bound to be something for everyone. Check with your guests to make sure you are aware of their needs, and review our tips on Entertaining Guests with Special Diets opens in a new tab.


One of the most fun lists to create! Write down all of your traditional favorites and any new twists you want to try. After the meal, capture notes about what worked and ideas to try next year.

Holiday Wine

Festive Beverages: Wine and champagne are wonderfully festive, but be sure to offer nonalcoholic beverages to your guests as well. Sparkling apple ciders and fruit juices make good alternatives and can be served in wine glasses to facilitate toasting. Organic fruit juices mixed with sparkling water make festive punches and iced herbal, black or green teas are always nice.Healthy Options: Festive holiday meals can lead to overindulging. Consider adding some fresh, raw foods to the menu, like an appetizer tray of cut fruits and vegetables to help curb appetites before the big meal. Along with the main dishes, serve a delicious fall greens salad or a fresh fruit salad. Many pre-cut fruits and vegetables are available to reduce prep time.

Let Guests Help: There seems to be a false perception that if you host the big meal, you have to prepare everything yourself. Nonsense! Big holiday dinners are all about sharing good food with family and friends, not the stress of constant cooking. If your guests ask if they can bring something, by all means, say yes! If they have a specialty dish they want to bring, that's perfect. If they offer to pick up a pie or a bottle of wine, that's great too. Remember that your guests want to contribute to the meal and you don't want to cut them out of the event.

Shopping List

With menu and recipes in hand, making up your shopping list is a breeze.

Star anise

Check Your Spices: Remember to check your spice drawer for any holiday favorites you need such as sage, thyme, cinnamon and nutmeg. Dried spices lose their potency and freshness within six months to a year from the date they are first opened, so spices you used last year may need to be replaced. Check out the bulk section so you can buy just enough for all your recipes.Buy Quality Ingredients: From meats raised without antibiotics to fresh cut herbs, guests will taste the difference. Always buy the freshest, best-quality ingredients you can find.

Save Time: Another way to accept help is to cook some of the meal from scratch (focus on your strong suit) and purchase a few dishes to complement your menu. Really crunched for time? It is perfectly acceptable to purchase the entire meal so you can focus on enjoying time with family and friends rather than stressing out in the kitchen. Remember: this is your holiday too!

Cooking Plan

Make Ahead: Looking at your menu, put together a two or three day cooking plan. Be sure to put things like "bake cornbread" the day before you’re preparing your cornbread stuffing. Cooking a turkey? Make sure to plan time for thawing opens in a new taband brining. Have takeout or leftovers for dinner the night before your big meal so you can save your energy.

Practice Makes Perfect: This adage couldn't ring truer than on T-day. If you are planning to prepare new dishes, a practice run may be in order. The big day is never a good time to try out a fancy or complicated new recipes.

To-Do List

This one should include items such as "create a centerpiece" and "vacuum the house." Create this list in plenty of time to get a couple things crossed off daily for the week or two leading up to the big day.

So, while list-making may feel like a daunting task, we promise that putting some time in now will save you loads stress when you want to focus on relaxing with your friends and family.  What kinds of lists help you prepare for the holidays and what are your favorite holiday meal planning tips?

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