Easy and Festive Make-Ahead Holiday Menu

Holiday party planning can be made simple by preparing food in advance

Entertaining can be fun and easy with a little bit of planning.

The holiday season is a time for festive parties, but hosting often becomes a source of stress. A simple game plan and little bit of preparation go a long way toward easing your tension as party host.

Plan your menu at least two weeks ahead of time. This means going through all of the diet restrictions of those who that will be at the party and taking into account how much food you'll need to prepare. Here's a chart that will help you figure these numbers out.

Click here to see Easy and Festive Make-Ahead Holiday Menu (Slideshow)

Pick recipes that can be made in stages. For example, crostini are perfect party appetizers because the toppings can be made, and the bread sliced and toasted, in advance. The day of the party, just spoon some topping onto the bread and plate it. Casseroles are perfect make-ahead main and side dishes that can be easily reheated on the big day.

Utilize your slow cooker for either the main course or side dishes. You can set everything up in the morning the day of the party and it will be fully cooked and ready to go by dinnertime.

Desserts like cookies and brownies can be made a few days in advance and help your schedule on-track to leave room for the other dishes you'll be preparing the day-of.

Once you've figured out the menu, come up with a shopping list and read through all of the steps of the recipes ahead of time. It sounds silly, but what happens when the party starts in four hours and you just found out the meat is supposed to braise over low temperature for six hours? Plus, it's super frustrating and stressful to have to run to the grocery store to pick up something you forgot every 30 minutes. Get very specific with your shopping list: note how many cups or ounces of product you need to avoid over or under-shopping and, most importantly, overspending.

Purchase dry goods and hardy vegetables the weekend before your party. This will leave you on the day of the event (or the day before) with only a small shopping list of fresh herbs, delicate vegetables, and fresh proteins, which are all things you want to have as fresh as possible.

The day before the party (or the morning of), prep all of your vegetables. This means peeling, chopping, and blanching, and working through recipes as much as you can. Most side dishes, like mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables, can be gently reheated in the oven and then held at a warm temperature until you serve the food.

After the final shop, the day of the party should be dedicated to cooking and setting up. Go into this knowing that everything will take longer than you expect, so plan accordingly. Start with the recipes that will take the longest to cook and work your way through the rest. If you've prepared everything in advance, you'll have plenty of time to finish cooking and enjoy the event.

The following dishes are seasonal, delicious, and, most importantly, can be made (at least partially) in advance to help make your hosting duties a breeze.

Roasted Beet, Feta, and Walnut-Topped Crostini

(Credit: iStock/Thinkstock)

Roasted beets will last in the fridge for a few days, so prepare the filling in advance. These crostini are served at room temperature, so you can set the platter up ahead of time. Click here to see the recipe.

Baked Cheese and Bacon Jam Bites

(Credit: Safeway Market)

Stuff these bites before the party starts and cook through in the oven when guests start arriving. Click here to see the recipe.


Julie Ruggirello is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @TDMRecipeEditor.