I love having friends and family over during the holidays, but hosting a meal, party, or gathering during the holidays can be anxiety-inducing. I’ll be hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house again this year, but I’m determined to make this a less stressful event than it has been in the past! So I decided to search the web for the very best tips and tricks that can help make hosting a holiday gathering easier. And I was thrilled with all the brilliant tips I found! These holiday hacks are sure to lighten your workload, reduce your stress level, and help you actually enjoy your own party! :-)
13 Brilliant Holiday Dinner Hacks
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1. “Air Iron” Your Tablecloth
Instead of spending time ironing your tablecloth, just lay it out on your table a day or two before your party. The wrinkles will disappear with no effort needed! If you have a REALLY wrinkly tablecloth, try my homemade wrinkle release spray to help it along.
Related: Homemade Wrinkle Release Spray
2. Set Up An Auxiliary Fridge
Even the largest refrigerators can be too small to hold everything needed during the holidays! Create an “auxiliary fridge” by setting up a cooler on the porch or back deck. Use the cooler to chill any extra drinks, or to store bulky items you won’t need like condiments and pickles.
3. Outsource It!
Simplify your pre-party to-do list by buying at least one item that’s pre-made. You can save yourself a lot of time and effort this way! For instance, I usually try to make a couple of my mom’s famous pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving dinner, but it takes a lot of time and I’m not really much of a baker. So this year I decided to order our Thanksgiving pies from our favorite local pie shop. I already feel less stressed knowing that at least the pies are taken care of!
4. Keep Dessert Simple
For non-pie desserts, I suggest serving something simple like store-bought ice cream with chocolate sauce and crushed candy canes, or a platter of homemade cookies with hot coffee and tea. The dinner is generally the star of the show, so save yourself some time and effort by keeping dessert simple.
5. Increase Oven Space
One issue I run into every year during the holidays is feeling like I never have enough oven space! So until I can build my dream kitchen with spacious double ovens, I found a great solution—a 3-tier oven rack! This nifty little rack allows you to stack 3 casserole dishes or baking pans vertically, so you can fit more into your oven at once. It’s a real game-changer for holiday cooking and baking! Check it out on Amazon here.
6. Clean Strategically
When it comes to cleaning before your guests arrive, focus on the main gathering areas and don’t stress about the rest. I always feel like I have to deep clean my whole house before having company over. But I eventually realized it wasn’t really worth it to spend time cleaning rooms that my guests likely won’t even see! So now I just clean the entertaining area and the hallway bathroom, and shut the doors to the other rooms in the house. It saves a ton of time, and no one’s the wiser! :-)
7. Make Napkin Rolls
Save yourself some time on the day of your gathering by making simple napkin rolls ahead of time! Roll a fork and knife up in a napkin and secure it with a piece of twine or washi tape. They look great, and they only take a second to make.
8. Ask Guests To Help
Most guests will offer to bring something when you invite them over for a dinner or party, so take them up on it! (This can be hard if you’re a bit of control freak like I am, but it’s a great way to lessen your workload!) Mosts guests will be happy to bring drinks, rolls, or simple side dishes to your gathering!
9. Effortless Party Playlists
I’ve always felt that music is a vital component of any party or gathering. But putting on music doesn’t mean you have to play DJ all night! Take advantage of ready-made playlists on Pandora or Spotify, and you’ll have great mood-setting music all night long.
10. Get Groceries Delivered
Groceries stores can get pretty crazy in the days leading up to a major holiday. You can skip the stressful grocery trip by utilizing a grocery delivery service! Even in our small town we have a grocery store that will deliver your groceries for a small fee. Many grocery stores also offer an option to order online, then pick up your completed order at the store later. Any one of these options will save you quite a bit of time and stress!
11. Don’t Clean Up After Dinner (Yet!)
The reason anyone has a party or gathering is to be able to spend time with friends and family. So don’t worry about the mess left after dinner! If it helps, leave the dinner table or main room, and go eat dessert in another area. You’ll be less distracted by the dinner mess and you can enjoy the time with your guests instead. Today we party, and tomorrow we clean. :-)
12. Keep Kids Entertained
If kids are invited, I like to provide a few options for crafts or activities. Set aside a small table or corner of the room, and stock it with easy, age-appropriate, not-so-messy crafts or toys. Anything from LEGO bricks to free printable coloring pages will keep the kids entertained for an hour or two while the adults are busy being boring. ;-)
13. Cook Ahead Where You Can
Tackling some of the cooking ahead of time is an easy way to save yourself some stress on the day of your party or gathering. Here’s a list of common holiday food items you can make or prep ahead of time!
- Turkey. You can brine a turkey 1-3 days ahead of time, and the brining process will ensure a juicy and flavorful turkey. Combine 1 quart of hot water with 1 cup of coarse salt, and stir until dissolved. Add 3 quarts of cold water, and submerge the turkey. Cover and refrigerate. Before cooking, rinse the turkey and pat dry.
- Cranberry sauce. Making cranberry sauce ahead of time is actually better, because the flavors will have time to mix and mingle. Keep it in the fridge for a week, or freeze it for up to a few months. Just let it thaw out in the fridge the night before. Related: No More Canned Cranberries!
- Mashed potatoes. Make and freeze the mashed potatoes, then defrost them in the fridge 1-2 days before your dinner. If theyʼre a little watery after thawing, add a couple dollops of sour cream or cream cheese.
- Stuffing ingredients and garnishes. If you need to toast nuts, toast breadcrumbs, make salad dressing, make croutons, or bake bread, you can take care of those well ahead of time. Keep them in the fridge for a few days, or the freezer for a few months.
- Side dishes. Chunks of veggies donʼt freeze very well, but purees do! Cook, blend and freeze purees in freezer bags and reheat on the big day. You can also make green bean casserole ahead of time and freeze it (just add the crispy onions before baking).
- Rolls. Freeze your homemade dough before baking. They can go straight into the oven from the freezer – theyʼll be delicious!
- Pie. Put together the pie and freeze it before baking. Freezing the crust will actually set it up, leaving you with a crispy crust that wonʼt be soggy. Related: How To Make And Freeze Fresh Fruit Pie Filling
Utilize these tips and get ready to entertain with ease this season!