Family First: Tips for Hosting Your First Holiday Gathering

It’s a family first — you’re having everyone over for the holidays. And while planning your first family feast can be nerve-wracking, it’s also an opportunity to create wonderful memories and new family traditions. So take a deep breath, follow these pro tips for your first holiday gathering and prepare to enjoy a successful feast.

Planning 4 to 6 Weeks Ahead

Starting early sets you up for success. Sit down to finalise your guest list and plan your menu. Since it's your first holiday, keep the meal streamlined — a simple starter, an entree with a few sides, and a selection of two or three desserts is all you need, with the portions scaled to meet your family's needs. 

Finalise the dinner date with your loved ones and contact a farm to order your turkey and ham, with a pick-up date scheduled two or three days before your feast. 

Plan your drinks menu and pick up your holiday wine in the weeks leading up to the holiday. Stick to the classics for simplicity — choose a pinot noir for your red option and a full-bodied chardonnay for white.

Planning 2 to 3 Weeks Ahead

Start prepping dishes that can be frozen in the weeks leading up to your holiday feast. Baked cookies can be frozen ahead of time and thawed the day before your meal. Choose two or three types of cookies for an impressive platter that won't require any work the day of your dinner. 

Use your Vitamix machine to make soft sugar cookiesgingersnap cookies and almond cookies, taking advantage of the easy 60-second cleaning feature to save time between batches.

If you don't want to forego apple pie at your feast, make and freeze the pastry dough ahead of time. You can thaw it and assemble your pie the day before your dinner.

Preparing the Day Before

Many traditional holiday dishes can be made the day before to minimise your to-do list on feast day. Go for a simple starter of pureed vegetable soup, like a acorn squash soup. Not only will you save time making it in advance, but the soup's flavours also will marry overnight for a better-tasting bowl.

Bake your pie as you're roasting the squash and make a decadent-but-simple orange cranberry sauce to serve the next day. Now's also the time to thaw your frozen cookies for the dessert platter. 

While you're baking, prepare the table for the next day's feast. Keep it simple — red or green table linens give your table festive atmosphere, and a few unscented red candles set a holiday mood. Use small pine cones for five-minute D.I.Y. place cards — simply stick the card between the spines on the pine cone for decor with rustic charm.

Stay Stress-Free on Feast Day

The day of your holiday should involve as little intensive cooking as possible. Get up early to prep and cook your turkey. Chop heartier vegetables, like carrots, for cooking later in the day, and arrange your cookie platter for dessert. Set out empty serveware for each of your entrees and sides, with its future contents labeled on small pieces of paper. Once the food is prepared, you'll have your serveware ready to go, and you'll know which food goes in which dish. 

In the half hour before dinner, prepare your mashed potatoes and easy-and-delicious gravy and steam your veggies. Dress up your sides — try a drizzle of olive oil, a dash of parsley or a sprig of fresh rosemary for added flavour.