"Decide on what food to serve and stick to it. That way you know what needs doing and when, well in advance."
Well the festive season is rapidly approaching and this time of year means a lot of entertaining people. While it can feel overwhelming, there are many ways to make it easier and more enjoyable.
The first and easiest way to reduce stress is to make a plan. Especially if you’ve got a few different events where you have to feed and look after different groups of people. All it takes is 20 minutes and you’ll erase last minute panic.
Set out the details you’ll need in order to decide what you’ll need to prepare. This includes things like how many people are coming, what age they are, what time of day they’re coming over and if there are any special dietary requirements.
Decide on what food to serve and stick to it. That way you know what needs doing and when, well in advance. Have a plan B in case something goes wrong - maybe a key ingredient is out of stock and you need to make a change. If you have a back up plan it’s a breeze!
Part of planning is knowing what you can make ahead of time. This applies to full dishes and to components. Make pastry for a pie and keep it in the freezer. Make breads and warm them in the oven after thawing to re-crisp the crust. Make dips and sauces the day before.
Choose a mix of dishes that are served warm and at room temperature. That way they don’t all have to be ready at the same time. It’s a win for your sanity and takes pressure of oven and stove-top real estate.
Try desserts that can be assembled easily from pre-prepared components. A classic french berry tart is a great example. Bake a tart shell and keep it in an airtight container. Make luscious pastry cream and pop it in the fridge. On the day fill the tart shell with pastry cream and pile cut strawberries or fresh blueberries on top. A dusting of icing sugar and you’re done.
Depending on your need for control (trust me, I get it), work out what tasks or dishes you can get others to help with. That doesn’t mean you need to give everyone something to do, especially if that will add to the stress. But people often want to help so let them. You can decide what you’re happy letting someone else take care of - from serving drinks to bringing dessert, to just making sure there are enough napkins.
Delegating can also mean getting help from store bought dishes and items. You don’t need to make everything yourself from scratch. If you’re making a salad or pie with shredded chicken in it, you don’t have to roast that chicken yourself.
It’s one of the oldest tips there is but it is still true. Don’t make a recipe for the first time when you’re having people over. Serve dishes you’re confident making and don’t worry if your guests have had it before. If you want to make something new, find time to practice it first to make sure you’ve got it down pat, and know what to do if something unexpected happens.
Not all get-togethers require a full dinner service. As part of your planning think about what’s appropriate for the setting and give yourself permission to stop. You’re supposed to enjoy yourself as well and if that means fewer snack options, or having guests serve themselves buffet style, or serving strawberries and ice cream for dessert then so be it.
And if it all seems too hard just pretend you’re having renovations so someone else can do the hosting this year. Call it a Christmas present to yourself..