Tips for Planning Holiday Meals/Parties: A Manifesto

A note: This is really long but not really a manifesto. I have a tendency to want to share EVERYTHING. Since Thanksgiving is coming up so quickly I just couldn’t bring myself to leave anything out.

With Thanksgiving less than a week away I thought it was only fitting to offer some tips for planning a big meal or hosting a party. This is not an all-inclusive list so please leave a comment with your favorite tips. I’ve hosted Thanksgiving 5 out of the last 6 years, this year I’m not hosting but will do a good deal of cooking. Since moving to Arizona we have also hosted an annual Christmas party for friends and neighbors. Although I have a lot of experience hosting events I don’t do it perfectly and that is ok with me. I try to do better each year, not bigger, not more expensive, not fancier, sometimes I just have a better attitude through the planning and preparing process.


Make Lists

Being organized will make everything much easier. Make a list for everything! I make all kinds of lists and they vary depending on the party. Almost every party has a food list and a house list.

Food List

I make these lists in layout format and start with the finished product. For example, on my food list I may write mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, etc. Next to the mashed potatoes I’ll write peel potatoes, cook potatoes, mash potatoes; then on the far right hand side of the paper I write all of the ingredients I need like potatoes, rice milk, nutritional yeast. This makes an easy grocery list.

After I have the whole list organized this way I’ll go back and assign a day for each task. Mashed Potatoes keep and reheat well so these can be made a few days ahead of time. Some food like dressing/stuffing are best done on multiple days, one day I’ll make the corn bread, another day I can chop the onion and celery, and bake a different day. You can also assign someone a task by telling them to do everything circled in yellow. I’m sure you know that each food item will need to be put in a serving dish but we don’t alway plan for that, especially when making a lot of food. Under each dish write how it will be served so it is clean and ready to go, for example Mashed Potatoes- Long Oval Bowl or Sweet Potatoes- Rectangle Pan. The last time I hosted Thanksgiving I also wrote a loose schedule of when each dish would need to be in the oven. I can only cook 1-2 items at a time or I can keep 2-4 warm. If someone else is bringing food make sure to ask if it needs to be heated when they arrive.

House List

I arrange the house list similarly. Each room is listed on the left side of the paper, then chores separately. For example next to Living Room I’d write vacuum, dust, clean furniture, etc. if I need to purchase anything to accomplish those tasks I write that on the far right side of the of the paper a.k.a. the grocery list side. Many of these tasks can also be completed days before the party day. If you’re like me and have small children in the house this may be really difficult, but do the best you can. Having everything written out makes it easier to realize how much work you have to do, you can prioritize and delegate as needed.

To-Do List

Sometimes I’ll have a Special Project List. For my Healthy Cravings groups it might have item’s listed like, name tags, check RSVPs, borrow chairs, drinks, disposable plates, forks, cue up video clip, etc. Items that need to be bought are also written on the right side. If you are hosting for a holiday dinner you may need to plan out decorations, seating, safe places for kids to play, do you have enough toilet paper, coffee creamer, clean out fridge, etc.

A few more tips…

Don’t wait until the last-minute to do your shopping. Shop as early as possible for supplies so you can make one last trip for the perishable items.

Know your limits and ask for help. If you can’t do it all ask someone to help with cleaning, food, shopping, or even watch the kids while you check things off your list.

Get a head count and ask about allergies. You want your guest to be comfortable, that will be difficult if their isn’t enough space, seating, or food. For parties this isn’t always possible. When we host our Christmas party it is always open house style with a few seating areas but chairs removed from food areas so guest can walk up “buffet style” and stand to visit or go to the seating area in the other room. One year we didn’t get the chairs moved out in time and all the parents put their kids at the table, which is perfectly reasonable, and the kids continued to stick their hands in the food on the table. Ewww! If you’re hosting a dinner where everyone will sit having enough table and chair space is crucial.

Plan time to get yourself ready. After a long day or cooking and cleaning I sometimes forget what I look like. I try to run up to shower at least an hour before anyone else is going to arrive. That is enough time for me but I’m kind of plain and don’t take a lot of time to primp.

Focus on the reason for the get together more than getting everything done. On too many occasions (ok usually every time) I’m still working on getting things done when people arrive. There is always something else to be done. 🙂 I try to keep an eye on refilling the veggie tray or hummus but mostly I want to enjoy my guests. I want to have conversations that matter with people who matter. I even leave a few extra towels out by the drinks because spill are going to happen and people feel bad for making messes.

Let’s hear it. What is your best tip or tips for hosting a shindig?

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  1. Valerie Bassett says:


    Thank you for this post. I am not hosting Thanksgiving this year just cooking a few items to take with me. I am throwing my daughter an 18th birthday party the day after Thanksgiving and I have been a bit overwhelmed at the task. I live by my do to lists, but I love the idea of breaking them down in to smaller tasks. One, so I don’t forget something and two, so I know how I can ask my family to help. Thank you. I will be making starting my list tomorrow. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for sharing with us!


  2. Lists. I couldn’t live without them!!

  3. Thanks once again, Holly. We are having a very quiet Thanksgiving here under the Stoor roof with “just” us 5. We like it like that :o) A day to regroup, catch up, and most importantly – thank our Lord for all that’s He’s provided for us for another year. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

  4. Holly- love all your great,creative and inspiring ideas to eat and live healthy- You are beautiful in so many ways!

    by the way- you have been following my blog Mosaic- I am in the process of transitioning to a new site. Please stop by and connect with me there!

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