Whether you are hosting Thanksgiving, Christmas or another festive family meal this year it can be stressful and you may find yourself out in the kitchen whilst the rest of the family enjoy the day together as you prepare to sit down for what could end up being a relatively short period of the day. Since we moved into our home I've hosted the family Christmas, and most years the New Years Day Meal for the family with between 6 and 10 of us enjoying meals together including babies, toddlers and children. Taking tips from my mum who celebrates her birthday on Christmas Day and wants to enjoy that, spend time with the family but produce a fantastic meal for us to enjoy together here's how we have it all and adding in my own parts, here's how we can have it all - a delicious home cooked festive meal and spend time out of the kitchen and together as a family.
Tip 1 - Write a meal plan
I am a meal planner, each week I sit down with my meal planner, some recipe books and a shopping list pad and I write down exactly what meals we are going to cook. Christmas is no different, but I plan well in advance - like the end of November. We like to have family time at Christmas and if at all possible my husband has the days off between Christmas and New Year as part of his annual leave so as a family we can spend the time together, one of the things we don't want to do during that time is pop to the shops and face the madness that is post Christmas shopping so I plan in advance, and start to buy non-perishables as soon as I have the Christmas Shopping list.
Not only does this mean that we don't have a rush but I can also pop to the butchers and order a turkey if we want or any other meat, sort out the milk order (we get ours from the milk man) and can look at what we are going to eat over the break and see what can be made in advance which brings me nicely to the next tip.
Tip 2 - Cook in advance
I do love Christmas Cooking and there are a few things that are extra specially Christmas in our house. I make Gingerbread muffins and they are only made at Christmas time - however like a few other things they can be made in advanced and stored in the freezer and then brought out, although what tends to happen is I make up batches and batches of these over the lead up to Christmas and they never make it as far as the Freezer. However, some things do - our Christmas Cake is baked in October and we feed it sherry between October and Christmas Day regularly, we make Christmas Pudding on Stir Up Sunday and these sit ready for the last steam on Christmas Day.
Things like Cranberry Sauce, I make and freeze to save some time, where ever I can I do try and get things ready in advance and that even extends to the main day, very little time is spent in the kitchen when we have a family feast, a lot of the preparation is done in advance.
Tip 3 - Share it out
A family feast doesn't have to mean that you do it all - although I must admit that I do like to have control of my kitchen and at times I'm reluctant to let others help. But, even then I share it out - with my meal plan and shopping list from tip 1 I sit down with the family members that are coming and we work out what everyone can bring, what they could prepare in advance and bring. As my parents, in-laws and brother all live a fair distance away some a LOT further than others if they are visiting it's generally for more than just the day and then we need to think about extra's like breakfast - even those little things, help reduce the stress and also the costs of what could end up being a very expensive few days.
Tip 4 - Prepare in advance
Christmas Eve is a kitchen day for us, for years I have started off Christmas Eve Morning with a list of things to do - at the start of the day it's normally as long as my arm (and I'm really not kidding with that) and does include things like decorate the Christmas Cake, Make Yule Logs with the kids, decorate the mini tree with the grandparents when they arrive, take a Christmas Eve walk with the dog, bake mince pies for Santa to eat when he visits.
But it also includes peel carrots, potatoes, prepare brussel sprouts, get turkey ready to place in the oven in the morning, make stuffings that can be made in advance. Any of the vegetables that we peel on Christmas Eve get placed in bowls of water and covered in film or foil to make sure that they stay fresh but saves us the time on the big day having to do that job. The turkey, we like to be brined first - so we prepare the brine and place it in the huge bucket till Christmas morning when I take it out and put it in the oven and cook. Ohhhh and whilst all this preparing is going on, the kids are helping out, the Christmas tunes are on the stereo and I can often be found dancing around the kitchen in my apron with the kids, it's family fun getting ready and doing most of it the day before means that we get to spend the morning as a family without me spending over half of it in the kitchen.
Tip 5 - Know your timings
I cook and mini family feast once a week, a traditional Sunday Roast and I have a timetable that I follow week in and week out for the last 60 minutes of it - our Christmas family meal is very similar to the Sunday Roast that I cook regularly just with a few added extras, the Turkey - it needs to rest before carving so just after that comes out my regular Sunday Roast timetable.
You may think I'm crazy, but I am a list writer so I think this can be excused, but I sit down and write a timetable working back from the time we want to eat so that we are ready to go - I set my alarm for when to put the turkey in the oven, although in the last couple of years we've had no need for an alarm because the kids are up excited for the big day.
Tip 6 - Go disposable
Yes don't shoot me, but seriously I did this for the first time a couple of years ago and I have never looked back, we swapped our roasting tin for a large foil tray and the time saved on the big day as I don't have to scrub it clean, we do have a dishwasher but it never comes out clean after Christmas dinner, instead we tip off the fat from the foil tray into a container for the birds, and throw into the bin.
If I had a bigger oven then I would buy more and save with things like the roast potatoes, the maple parsnips and stuffings that are all cooked in the oven but we have limited space and I know that my tins fit perfectly in the space that we have.
Tip 7 - Wash as you go
Even if you have a dishwasher, it's easier if you can enlist the help of a family member and wash up as you go, you know the odd spoon, colander, sieve that are used, they will take up space in the dishwasher or start to form a pile if you have someone that will quickly wash dry and put away you also have a little company in the kitchen and you can pop in and out instead of having to do it.
As you serve out the food, put what can go into the dishwasher, or have your helper wash up or put to soak things as you finish with them, if left overs need to cool then put them into containers with the lids off and let them cool washing up or into the dishwasher with the rest of the pots and pans. Whilst you sit down and eat you don't have a load of dishes waiting for you and if you have a dishwasher, and it's quiet then put it on, by the time you have finished eating so will it and the plates from the meal can go on as well.
Your Top Tips for Hosting a Festive Family Meal
Those are my tips, there are only 7 but over the years these are what have worked for my family making hosting a Family festive feast easier to manage, but what are your top tips? What do you prepare in advance if you can?