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!