5 Fail-proof Tips for Holiday Menu Planning

‘Tis the season… to host a huge party, drop a pie on the floor and overcook your entree. It happens every year, as you pass the Christmas light-lined avenues or step foot into a department store high off fragrance gift-set fumes you start to get the holiday bug. And you have the BEST idea… “I’ll host a holiday party for all my friends!” Once the invites are out and anticipation running high, it hits you. You’ve never hosted a party and your five course menu with specialty cocktails and assortment of desserts requires an army of elves to pull off.

Don’t worry, these 5 fail-proof menu planning tips will bring the joy back into your holiday party planning.

1. Keep it simple. Even the simplest recipes can be show stoppers. Don’t wait for the holidays to make the most complicated and involved recipe that you know will impress your guests. Making a recipe with multiple components for the first time is stressful enough, throw in 3 courses and a room full of people and it spells disaster. Instead, choose recipes that you are comfortable with (or at least have made once or twice before), to ensure smooth execution. If you’re worried your go-to recipes won’t impress, dress it up your garnishes. Use edible garnishes such as pomegranate seeds or herbs to brighten a soup or salad, infused oil to drizzle over entrees or gold dust to sprinkle over desserts.


2. Limit the spread. With inspiration from Pinterest, Instagram, Food Network or Food52 it is easy to find 20 recipes that you know your guests will just LOVE. Don’t stretch yourself too thin. Choose 5 recipes with color, flavor and texture variations that will satisfy your guests’ taste buds without the fuss.

For example:

Appetizer: Polenta squares w/ sundried tomato tapenade  {yellow, red, creamy, soft, salty, nutty} 

Salad: Kale vegan caesar salad topped w/ baked chickpeas and cherry tomatoes {green, brown, red, crunchy, umami}

Entree: Lentil loaf, mashed sweet potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts {brown, orange, green, meaty, salty, crispy, warm}

Dessert: Classic apple pie  {golden brown, flakey, warm, sweet, spiced}

3. Preparation is key. Don’t be caught in the kitchen as guests are arriving, you need to have fun too! Read through the recipes you've selected days beforehand and see what you can prep ahead of time. Most recipes can be broken down and prepared in advance that way all you have to do is toss it together and throw it in the oven hours before the party. (What to make ahead of time: pie crusts, croutons, salad dressings, vegetable prep, dips and spreads.)

4. Leave it to the professionals. When you are the host you need to highlight your strengths. Which means doing what you do well and letting someone else take care of the rest. Appetizers and dessert are the easiest courses to seek outside assistance. If you know you won’t have time to make an appetizer grab an amazing hummus with crudite and pita chips, or put together a rustic cheese platter. Never been able to make the perfect pie? Don’t chance it, order a pie from your favorite bakery. In the end, delicious food is delicious food your guests won’t know the difference.  

5. Make yourself a drink. Take a deep breath, you’ve planned a simple and delicious menu that is all prepared and warming in the oven. All you have have left is plating with the perfect garnishes. So go ahead, get those creative juices flowing and treat yourself with a cocktail. You’ll have your guests wondering how you pulled off an amazing dinner party without breaking a sweat.

Bonus: Brush it offOkay, so you followed all the tips, stuck to simple recipes that you could make ahead of time BUT they still didn’t turn out picture perfect. Brush it off, in the end it’s just food. Worst case scenario your family and friends put their Instagram accounts on hiatus for the night and chow down on delicious lentil loaf “crumbles” or pumpkin “pudding” in a pie tart shell. Laugh it off, dig in and make memories!


Why Culinary School?


Before I break into the nitty gritty, it is important to understand the driving force that led me to culinary school and The Natural Gourmet Institute. Food has been a source of energy, inspiration and love throughout my life. I grew up in a large Mid-western family whose idea of holiday traditions and celebrations was nothing shy of an all-you-can-eat buffet. I quickly learned my way around the kitchen by watching and spending time with my mom and aunts and learned how to handle a grill by watching my dad. These family and food-filled gatherings were a place of laughter, love and happiness. Understanding at a young age that food brought people together, inspired me.

My desire to test my creativity in the kitchen escalated as I entered high school. It all began when I decided to bake cupcakes, cakes and cookies to surprise my friends on their birthdays but very quickly grew into something more. I found myself straying away from cookbooks and coming up with my own recipes – ones I would sneak into the kitchen late at night to test out – instead of sitting in my room studying.

By the end of my senior year, I was torn between applying to college or pastry school. After countless hours of research and debates – internally and with my family, I decided to put my passion on the back burner and head to San Diego for college. While in school, I further defined and redefined my passion for cooking, baking and the food industry. I sought out internship opportunities at small to medium sized companies within the industry. Over the course of my college career, I interned for DairyChem, Chuao Chocolatier, Beach Bum Foods, Yelp!, a food-marketing agency Sterling Rice Group, and The Patachou Foundation. Each experience was amazing and taught me more about food, health and food culture than I knew possible.

Beyond my internships, my relationship with food continued to change as I struggled with my weight and began experiencing digestive health problems. I started researching nutrition and alternative cooking methods in order to improve my health. I tried everything from juice cleanses to gluten free, vegan and raw diets. All of which would make me feel great for a few days, until the weekend came and I’d binge on cocktails and late night grub with my friends. After beating myself up week in and week out, disappointed with my semi-conscious decisions and the way it made me feel, I decided to make a lifestyle change that would enhance my life. I came to peace with the idea that health is a balancing act of eating to fuel your body and your soul. For me, that means following a primarily vegan diet full of vitamins, proteins and healthy fats, while maintaining an open mind to alternative diets, new foods and various ways to think about nutrition. As a result, I have cleared my mind, loosened my waistline and amplified my drive to step into the food industry.

Before I knew it college graduation was around the corner… missing the kitchen and hungry to learn more about the foundation of the culinary world I decided to apply to a culinary school. However, I needed a school that shared my passion and outlook on food as a source of nutrition and healing. The Natural Gourmet Institute is a primarily plant based school (in NYC), focused on teaching the fundamentals of culinary technique, nutrition and sustainability to enrich the culinary landscape and change the way we think about food.

I created The Fresh Slice as a way to share my experiences, knowledge and recipes with others. So follow along on Instagram at @TheFreshSlice and check back here for even more insight and inspiration. But most importantly, I’d love to hear from you – so feel free to ask me questions and share your experiences in the comments below or on my Contact page, but most of all bon appetite!