For my next post let me share how I now survive Christmas dinner. Plan, plan, plan!
I can see the eyes roll, everyone knows to plan. So, what do you plan? Every minute, up to sitting and saying Grace. Start three days ahead of time, at least. Me, I have already started the meal planning so I won’t shock my budget. Why three days ahead. Well, there are always forgotten gifts, added get-togethers, birds to thaw, more groceries to pick up. You get the drift?
But the week before Christmas, you need that meal planned out on paper and on a device. Phone, tablet? Once you know what you want to cook, do not deviate from your plans. This causes too much stress.
Verify any food allergies and if you do not have a magnifier in your grocery shopping bag, go to the dollar store and get one. Those help with reading those labels. Also, I do not recommend children going on this shopping trip. Remember, if someone has an allergy to not serve that food, even in a hidden ingredient. If you are having to deal with a guest with allergies, talk with them. Also, clean every surface and re-wash every dish that you use before you start prepping, (even if you just washed it). I told you to plan, plan, plan. Example, one of our family members has an allergy to corn products. Not just corn, but its syrup, meal, and starch. Yep, that means each item that goes into the buggy gets read again.
Also, the week ahead is for prepping your dishes. I wash up each dish, like that roaster that is only used once a year, the week before the dinner and I set those rarely used dishes somewhere with a towel covering them. Never wash these dishes with your regular meal dishes due to cross contaminates for allergies. Start with fresh clean soapy water, try to avoid the dishwasher. We have a niece that cannot survive peanuts, so when I take food to where she will be, I am very mindful not to use my regular prep bowls. I use all glass. I would hate to be the one to end her life. But back to the dishes you will be using. If they are clean and tucked away under a towel, label them so you know which food goes in what. That helps any body you can weasel into helping you. Even the serving dishes.
Now that you have the shelf-stable foods bought, set them in a bag or box and set them aside. [This is for the week before!] That way you know exactly where they are. If something is for sweet potatoes, then label it so you know that that can of marshmallow cream is for the yams and not for fudge. Measure your nuts and label each container separately. It might sound like a lot of work, but when the three days before gets there you will hug me for giving you that hint. Another reason for doing this is also so you know you have enough of an ingredient that goes into several dishes. How easy is it to make pecan pie if those nuts are already chopped and pre-measured? Same with sugars, flours, or really any dry ingredient. And if you have people who love to snack, and you have it pre-measured then they will leave that container alone. [Fear of loss of fingers helps here too.] I have a prep table in my kitchen and within the week of Christmas it looks like a mini grocery store. Everything has stickies and stacked in groups. Everyone knows to not touch a thing on that table and I help them remember by hiding everything under a table cloth.
Now since we are talking time; on the day that is three days out you want to refresh your mind with the fresh ingredients. What do you need still for the fruit salad and fresh vegetables? Is the bird in the fridge? Are the paper plates bought? Take an hour and walk yourself backwards for your meal-cook-plan. What do I mean? If you want to be sitting yourself and saying grace at two, then start there for your time. How long will it take for your bread to bake? 15 mins? then you want to put it in at 1:30. Are you having punch for your drink? Those glasses need chilled and filled. Are you setting special plates at each setting? All that activity needs a time slot. Know how many helpers you have and assign them duties. I use initials for who does what. I keep everything on my tablet and those in the kitchen know to find what they are doing. This has worked out for me for the last 10 years. I started with paper, but now love the fact that I can touch a space and put a plan in. I know this sounds confusing, so here is my dinner plan. We do rib roast, harvest root veggies, mashed taters, roasted brussels sprouts, fried cauliflower, rolls, fruit salad, seasoned butter, and punch. Now as I type what is below, I will be editing it as I think about what to do and when.
Dinner at 2pm:
1:50 Pour punch over sherbet and add sparkling juice, wipe, and set on table. (son) Flavored butter set on table.
1:40 Butter bread before turning out, cover with towel set on table (sissy)
1:30 Sherbet in punch glasses (fridge), stir the punch together, (me) Mash taters and put in warm bowl, cover (sissy) [hint- have a separate screen or sheet with what you want put in the taters, punch, etc – that way you don’t have to worry if something is left out]
1:20 Bread in oven (sissy) Roast out and resting. (son) check on veggies.
1:15 Start the cauliflower to deep frying, never leave it. (me) Check potatoes (sissy) [The dish I plan to drop my cauliflower in to drain will already have been prepped. The oil that needs to be in the fryer is already waiting and prepped. ]
1:00 Check potatoes, all serving dishes put on top of stove to warm. [I use microwaved water in each and then pour it out before the food is put in them. If they stack neatly then just put the very hot water in the top bowl.]
12:50 Get the veggies in the oven. Bottom shelf. Start the potatoes to boil. (me)
12:40 Toss root veggies in zip bag with spices, prep pan with olive oil (sissy) – same for brussels sprouts (me) [my coating will be prepped on Eve]
12:00 All veggies prepped/chopped. All set in water to keep from turning color. (husband)
10:30 Roast in oven (son)
10:00 Chop fruit for salad and chill it. (me)
9:30 Pull Roast out of fridge and set in its pan. Cover. (son/husband)
Eat as everyone gets up.
7:30 Since I cheat and use frozen rolls, get them prepped and set out to raise. (me)
6:30 Rise and shine and take my shower
9:30pm Set the table, dry sweep all prep floors, damp mop if needed. Get your apron ready. Pot holders set out in a variety of places. Towels to wipe hands (I use the metal shower curtain hangers to have them hanging on every lower cabinet.)
9:00 All dishes cleaned and out of the way. The breakfast for the morning is sitting for them to help themselves. They use throw away’s, no dishes to be washed.
8:00 Prep the roast with spices and wrap in cheese cloth to hold it on the roast.
7:00 All pies baked. [Believe it or not I have prepped pies and forgotten to bake them.] Did you make the butter? If you feel like it, scoop the sherbet into balls to put into another container for the next day.
3:00 All food that needs prior prep work, pans lined with foil, etc. Pies baked or any deserts. Any finger foods for snacking prepped and easy to get to for today and tomorrow.
2:00 Fry the bacon for brussels sprouts.
10:00 Go to the store to pick up extra butter etc.
9:00 am Go over all supplies and make sure all your groceries are set out and ready to go. Are your serving dishes labeled? Is the foil on the roasting pan? Remember to type in any time adjustments if someone adds to your day
Christmas Eve Eve
Go back over list. Think on foods and meals for Christmas Eve, are you eating out or fixing? Do you need any finger snacks, this is the day for chopping cheese, rolling lunch meat, gathering any serving dishes for Christmas Eve.
One week before:
Make shopping list for food, table, foil, baggies, wrap. Garbage bag?
Shop for all the above items
Now I know those reading this might have little ones opening presents so don’t forget to put that in your plan. Maybe go with a later dinner time to give them time to play and you to enjoy. I have had people who come from out of town and I show them the game plan and see if they want to help with some prep. Don’t leave them out, there is nothing I can’t stand more, when I am trying to visit, while someone else cooks around me. I am always asking to help. If your meal is in the evening, don’t forget about lunch and plan that in there too. Also, find your dish washer that knows to come in each time the kitchen gets ‘un-busy’ to wash up the ones used and put them back where they belong. That little chore gets assigned to one who does not help cook. My husband, lol.
After the first year of doing this I wish I had the years back that I had not done any planning to this detail. I was always stressed. Now I get to visit and feel sure that things will go smoother. And if you cook basically the same meal each year, just save this year’s plan and add corrections as you go through your days. By saving and storing, you have a cheat sheet to use for the next year. There have been years that I was responsible for two meals within two days. This planning has saved everyone’s life around me. I never had to yell, ‘check the bread!’ because someone was assigned that chore.
Don’t forget to have a list of your ingredients for each dish you plan to serve. Don’t do that list the day you plan to shop, no, do it now! Warning if you have two dishes that calls for some of the same ingredients buy separate for them, you never know when something might get knocked over and then you do not have the ‘rest’ to put in your other dish. Experience speaking here.
I would love for some of my readers to let me know if they go at the meal planning like this or if you wing it. As a control freak there is no winging going on in my kitchen. Also, let me know if you try this or need help getting started.