Holiday Host Tips | How to Plan and Execute a Holiday Meal On Your Own

Pulling off a holiday meal for extended family takes practice. Thanksgiving this year was my most successful to date. I prepared all the items I planned (with only 1 bomb!), and they were all served at the appropriate temperature! This is no small feat, in my opinion.

I can remember my first holiday in my first house. I had my whole extended family there to help. We were using 2 microwaves, the stove and the oven, and yet somehow, not everything was hot at meal time.

The difference then versus now was a good plan. Back then, I remembering handing a recipe card and ingredients to my sister-in-law and asking her to make it using the microwave in the laundry room. Not ideal instructions nor location for cooking! Poor delegation, Emily!

I’m much more organized and prepared now (although still much to learn!), so I will share my schedule in the hopes of making your holiday meal more successful than some of mine have been.

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start (name that tune!)…

Research and select menu

In this post, I discussed my Thanksgiving meal plan. I have dietary restrictions (gluten-free, grain-free, and dairy-free) so finding recipes took some time. I primary use Pinterest to find recipes, and you can find my ideas for my Thanksgiving menu here.

I look for recipes to follow a well rounded meal. Well, actually, I look for recipes that mimic how my mom makes Thanksgiving dinner. Those foods you grow up eating for a holiday always stick out as the best, right?

My menu would look something like this:

  1. Appetizers – I wasn’t looking for anything specific, but 3 easy recipes for hand-held/finger-food.
  2. Dinner
    1. Meat and gravy – Dan was handling this, so I didn’t actually plan anything for this.
    2. Potato – My diet is limited to sweet potatoes so that helped limit my search!
    3. Green Vegetable – Any would do, but I was partial to green bean casserole which did end up winning!
    4. Bread/Roll – Tricky, tricky with the gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free restriction!
    5. Sweet/Fruit – This category is a stretch. I was looking for fruit salad, cranberry sauce, any sort of sweet-fruit-like concoction.
  3. Dessert – Again, not looking for anything specific, and i ended up making 3 of the 5+ recipes I liked.
Grocery List and Shopping

I am a firm believer in menu planning and making a list before heading to the grocery store any time of the year. However, I can’t emphasize enough how much you need to carefully make a list if the entire holiday meal is on your shoulders.

Plan. Plan. Plan. Write. It. Down.

I don’t use a fancy app for my grocery lists. I just use a Google Sheet with a tab for each store. I regularly shop at Aldi, Meijer, and Costco with occasional stops at Harvest Health (local health store). My shopping list Sheet has 4 tabs, one for each store.

Are you ready for my crazy method?

Go through each recipe and type each item needed on the appropriate store’s tab.

Earth shattering, right??

I know it isn’t, but sometimes I just need to hear the simple things. Oh right, that’s how I would make sure I don’t miss any item.

When I need onions, I put “onions” on the list then start a count in the next column. I doubt I will only need 1 onion or even 1 bag on onions. So I keep a running tally of onions as I go through all of my recipes. Then when I get to the store, I know I need at least 14 onions. Then I can decide to buy individually or in bulk. I use this method for any commonly used item (garlic, potatoes, eggs, etc.).

Yes, I needed 14 onions! I was shopping for the entire time family was in town though, not just Thanksgiving. Want some other fun facts? I needed 17 sweet potatoes, 74 eggs, and 9 apples.

preparation the Day before the holiday

The day before the holiday is the “get as much as you can get done DONE” day.

I started with the vegetable dishes and appetizers that would keep well or reheat well the next day. The pumpkin spice dip, maple bacon pecans, and cranberry sauce were very simple to whip up then stored in the fridge (pumpkin spice dip and cranberry) and counter (pecans). I also had the sweet potato mash doing its thing in the slow cooker while I tackled all these recipes. These were done by the end of the night, cooled, covered, then put in the garage.

The cranberry sauce was made early too because I used it in the Cranberry Cookie Crumb Bars. Make sure to think about the order you make things in your prep day! It will be so much easier when cooking if you take a moment to sit down and write a timeline of all you need to make and the ideal order to make each item.

The next items I tackled the day before were the desserts as those keep very well; although, I did hesitate because some gluten-free flours spoil quickly. I ended up making my desserts Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, wrapping tightly in plastic wrap, and storing in the garage (outside was refrigerator temperature here in Michigan!). Every dish was still fresh the next day, and even still fresh 3 days later as we nibbled on leftovers. (I’m eating pumpkin pie as I write this, 4 days after I baked it!)

To tally that up, I made 7 (rather 6.5, the sweet potatoes weren’t all the way finished) of the 13 dishes I had planned. While Wednesday ended very successfully, I didn’t get the paleo cornbread recipe made which I thought might mean it wouldn’t get done on Thursday. I had to let it go. Even if I don’t get to the paleo cornbread stuffing, the meal will still be enjoyed.

The Big Day

It’s the big day! The holiday you’ve planned so much for is here! What should you do first??

First, don’t sleep in. Yes, it’s a holiday, but if you want it to be successful (meaning stress-free for you and therefore your guests), you need to be on your A-game.

Second, make a cup of coffee then make two lists:

  1. The list of dishes still to be made in the most efficient order you can think
  2. The “oven schedule” – This list states the time, temp, and dish that needs to be reheated before the main event. Ideally, everything is finished and hot at the same time!

Third, get to work (with a good attitude!). This is where I have gotten burned in the past. I let the joy of cooking leave my kitchen. I got stressed. So my kids got stressed. Then my husband gets stressed, and before you know it, the whole household is angry and bitter. This is not how to have a good holiday!

I know you know this, but I say this to remind myself, the host sets the tone. If the host is happy and relaxed, so will the rest of the family/guests. On busy days like this, I start my day asking God to multiply my time and efforts that I may accomplish all He wants for me that day. Guess what? He hasn’t failed my request, and I’ve prayed this prayer many times.

I wish I had kept my handwritten timeline of 1) and 2) above. Because it really wasn’t too daunting or long.

List of Things to Make:

  • Green Bean Casserole
  • Paleo Stuffing
  • Coconut Flour Biscuits
  • Topping for the sweet potatoes

Oven Schedule

  • 4:00 – turn slower cooker on low and top sweet potatoes with pecans
  • 4:45 – Bake stuffing for 30-40 at 350°
  • 5:00 – Bake green beans for 20-30 minutes at 350°
  • Meanwhile Dan was carving the turkey and making gravy on the stove-top

I only had 2 casserole dishes in the oven at the same time! Thanks to the slow cooker, big green egg, stove-top, and oven; we had 5 hot dishes ready and piping hot at the same time with no overcooking! Other than our grill, we have a very typical kitchen: no fancy huge range, no double ovens. We cooked this delicious meal in the kitchen you have in your home + a grill (which you just might have!).

As I reread my thoughts, it all boils down to a plan:

  • Research and Select the Menu
  • Grocery List and Shopping
  • Preparation Day
  • The Big Day
    • “Everything Still To Be Made” List
    • The Oven Sdchedule

I did make this entire meal (except the turkey and gravy) by myself. Yes, I did have Dan home to care for the kiddos, and yes, I did spend almost all day in the kitchen. It was a labor of love that was richly rewarded both in good food and good time with family.

Was your most recent holiday meal a success? Did grumpiness take over? It has for me many times, but it can be better, you can be better!

Stress-Free Holiday Meal


Thoughts and Reflections | 5 Steps to a Use-What-You-Have Transformation

Thinking through Micah and Betsey’s office revamp, I had lots of odds and ends thoughts, ideas, musings. I’m going to wander through them in no particular order in the hopes to encourage you to love your space more and take the leap to make it work for you.

You don’t need to spend money.

We approached the home-office-with-reading-nook dilemma with a budget of $0. It’s not that we couldn’t think of ways to spend money. Au contraire, I had LOTS of ideas to add more style and function (brighter overhead light, pendants over the work space, matching desk and credenza, curtains, rugs, etc. etc.). You could spend oodles of money updating a space, all in the name of function or style. However, Micah and Betsey revamped a space to make it more functional and displaying their loves and interests all by shopping their own home. Betsey is content with the space every time she walks by. Spending money on your space will not give you more joy or make you content with your space.

You don’t have to change the quirks.

Micah and Betsey did some painting when they first moved into the house. Surprise, surprise, the colors they chose didn’t turn out the way they envisioned. This room in particular. The accent wall is the deep shade of purple that was intended.

The other three walls? They are lilac. Lavender. Periwinkle. Heather. No two ways around it, they are purple.

What were they supposed to be? Grey. Oops. I totally understand how that happened because I’ve misidentified undertones myself (lighting and other colors in the room play a role too!). I’ve cried over mis-tinted paint myself. True Story. Ask my husband. In my defense, I was pregnant and hormones were raging.

We didn’t paint this room, but we did hang art on the wall that complemented the lilac. Is it everything Betsey envisioned? No, but it isn’t an eyesore. The colors are working together not fighting each other.

You do need to invest time.

Time planning. Time mulling over your issues with the space. Time contemplating solutions to those issues. Time dedicated to doing the work.

Time. Time. Time.

A well thought out space doesn’t happen overnight with little effort. All good things take work, even $0, use-what-you-have projects.

Before you start moving furniture, buying paint, knocking out walls, take some time to ask and answer a few questions:

  1. What is the primary (and maybe secondary) purpose of the space?
  2. What is prohibiting the space from being used to its fullest potential for this purpose?
  3. What do I need (furniture, lighting, space, filing cabinets, etc.) and do I currently own an item that could fulfill this need?
  4. How could I rearrange what I have to make this space more functional?
  5. Do I need to get rid of things in the room that don’t fit the purpose of the room?

Then spend some time creating a mock-up of potential floor plans either on graph paper or use a free floor planner website (I used floorplanner.com for this project.).

You do need a buddy.

Tackling projects are so much more fun with a friend. Grab your BFF, spouse, sister-with-irrational-love-of-organizing, or whoever and have them do it with you. You will have infinitely more fun and be more likely to finish the project with an extra set of hands.

A buddy will also add an objective opinion as you sift through the accumulated stuff in a room.

  • My “Most Improved” cheerleading trophy from eighth grade? Sweetie, those days are long gone. Donate to a worthy cause or toss it.
  • My half-read books that didn’t interest me? Honey, if they didn’t keep you interested the first time you tried to read it, they never will. Find another person who might enjoy it, donate it, or toss it.
  • Wedding gifts I’ve never used (I’m looking at you ceramic canisters, glass serving plate, and cracked cake stand!) It’s been 11 years, Emily. It’s time to let go. Let’s give someone else the opportunity to use that item. Donate the usable stuff, junk the broken.

You need someone to give you these honest opinions. It is so easy to get attached to all the stuff in our house, and yet, if we can only keep the stuff we love, we will find so much more peace and contentment in our homes.

Do re-think, re-purpose, re-use

Do you have a basket you like? Put the kid toys in them!

Unused coffee table? Use it to make a functional “L” desk! Extra end table? A perfect, sturdy spot to hold the scale for your home business! (Obviously very specific to Betsey and Micah’s office, but you get the idea. This can work for any area in your home!)

Want to implement new organization in your dresser or closet that needs small boxes? (Ideally like these or these) While the store-bought boxes, do look nice and tidy like in my dresser below.

Shoe boxes work too, and they don’t cost anything! In my closet, I’ve used a combination of store-bought and regular shoe boxes to organize my clothes.

Use Shoe Boxes to Organize Your Closet

Think outside the box! I love new things as much as the next person, but I the joy and satisfaction is just as great by using what you have (and your wallet will thank you!). Think of the pat on the back you can give yourself for finding an use for an item collecting dust (Gifts from your wedding!), organizing a closet in bad need of purging (ahem, linen closet, ahem), or actually using that lovely tray someone gave you (A perfect spot for all your coffee items)! I’m speaking to myself here with examples of my own home! Purchasing another “just right” item for a project introduces “more” into your home. The items collecting dust are still collecting dust. The overflowing closet is still overflowing and may even house this “just right” item too one day. Use what you have first. The solution to your issue is probably right under your nose!

So there you have it! A brain dump straight from me to you!

I left the office project so inspired to work on various areas of my home. I cleaned out my garage before I even unpacked the car from our trip. I was motivated. I am starting on other rooms in my house too. I’ll share when I have some finished.

What are you perplexed by in your home? What would you like to change if you could? Are you working on any of these $0 transformations?

Transform Your Home