How to Host a Stress-free Dinner

Okay, there’s no such thing as hosting a stress-free dinner. But we’re hosting Christmas this year and I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I can make it as stress-free as possible.

This will be our second year hosting Christmas. The first year, we only had one child. Now, we have 3! The elders in my family are ready to pass the torch, but we’re the only ones with multiple kids. How are we going to host Christmas dinner when we can barely get through spaghetti for the five of us on a normal evening? (I’m not exaggerating. We are having pasta tonight and my husband could not start cooking until I got home.)

We would like to spend Christmas morning with our young children rather than cooking and cleaning. Furthermore, my husband cooks not one or two meals a day, but three meals every day. He is adamant about having three days off a year: his birthday, Father’s Day, and Christmas. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

So how do we enjoy Christmas with our kids and not cook (if you’re wondering why I’m not cooking then you’ve never tasted my food) yet still host a family dinner?

This Year is Different

In years past, I spent days decorating our home, cleaning every baseboard and cranny, making lists of everyone’s favorite beverage and dietary preferences, looking up how to make the perfect place settings, and planning out a full menu.

This year, I don’t think I could do this if I wanted to. As soon as I put up a decoration or set a place mat, my kids just pull them down. When they see you cooking or setting out, they find a way to climb up to sneak some as soon as your back is turned. 

This year, we will be hosting not only my family, but also my husband’s family.

Because we want to spend quality time with our loved ones, we are doing whatever we can to simplify every step. Our carefully selected menu will minimize dishes and utensils while also focusing on dishes that can be made a day or two before.

Decorations

The first time we hosted Christmas, we went all out on the decorations and décor. I even studied napkin folding and, after folding and removing every trace of lint, turned our cloth napkins into flowers with a golden-wrapped chocolate in the middle at each place setting.

Not this year! We will stick to decorations that we already have. We did put lights on the house and decorate for the holiday. We’ve not yet put up our tree (my youngest ate part of Santa’s belt during our Christmas crafts last week so, yeah). My kids love the decorations we have and haven’t asked about a tree.

Due to concerns about my youngest child eating the decorations and/or climbing it and/or pulling it on top of him, we will likely put the tree up the day before and take it down the day after. But hey, if they don’t ask about it, I might save myself the stress and not put it up at all!

I did get each of them a miniature live tree with decorations, which was placed on a table in each of their rooms. On Christmas morning, I plan to put their individual trees next to their gifts so they know which stack is theirs. 

Place Settings

Regarding place settings, don’t you hate it when you pick up a plate to get your food and when you walk back to the table you find that someone you weren’t expecting is sitting next to you? This has happened to me more than once. And I was not happy. I wanted to have place cards one year, but my husband said that I couldn’t do that for a family dinner.

Because dinner will be a buffet-style self-service, the dishes and silverware (and napkins) will be simply placed on the counters in the kitchen next to the food.

This means no setting silverware or perfectly folding napkins. And no unexpected guests sitting next to you.

Dishes

Not only will we be hosting dinner with our maternal families, but my father will be coming over for Christmas breakfast.

So we need to ensure that there are enough dishes and utensils for two family meals!

We also do not want to spend the entire day doing dishes.

In years past when my mother hosted, there were dishes for appetizers, soup or salad, the main course, and dessert.

To simplify, we have carefully chosen the menu so that we only need dishes for dinner and dessert. Forks will be used for dinner, and spoons for dessert.

To both save money and more importantly reduce waste, we started using mason jars in place of plastic cups.

Jars will also serve to hold our utensils.

Menu

Since it is my husband’s day off from cooking, and so that we can spend this day with our children (and cleaning), we have chosen the following menu that can be prepared ahead of time:

Appetizers:

I’m not going to stress about them

In years past, we have gone all out with appetizers. Last Christmas we had veggie trays, a charcuterie of meats, and fancy cheeses just to name a few. This was quite expensive. It also took a lot of time because we cut all the veggies and rolled all the meats ourselves. (Pre-made veggie, meat, and cheese trays are not only more expensive, but I find the food to be of lower quality.)

After all that time and money spent on apps, our guests would arrive with all the leftovers from Christmas Eve. We always had more than we needed on Christmas morning, so this year I am not even going to stress myself over preparing appetizers.

Because I plan to start dinner promptly at the scheduled time, even if no one brings an appetizer they will not go hungry.

Main course:

Lasagnas

We will make a veggie lasagna and two meat lasagnas the day before and warm up in the oven before our guests arrive. Lasagna always tastes better the next day anyway.

Meat Lasagna

  • Lasagna noodles
  • 1lb lean ground beef
  • 1 Jar of your favorite pasta sauce
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2lb mozzarella cheese
  • 15oz ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs

Cook lasagna noodles according to package and set aside. Brown ground beef and add sauce. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. Mix ricotta, parmesan, and half of the mozzarella with 2 slightly beaten eggs. Start to build your lasagna by spreading sauce in a 13×9 pan just enough to cover the bottom. Layer noodles, cheese mixture, and sauce — repeat until you have 3 layers. Top the last layer of noodles with sauce and the other half of the mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes.

TIP: If you don’t like the top layer of cheese browned and delicious, cover with foil for the first 30 minutes of cook time. Remove for the final 10 minutes.

 

Veggie Lasagna

Veggie lasagna is cooked the same way with a few modifications. Obviously omit the ground beef. Up the amount of ricotta cheese to 32 ounces and add a package of frozen chopped spinach (cooked according to directions and drained as much as possible). Add spinach into cheese mixture and layer as above (sauce, noodles, cheese and spinach mixture, sauce).

TIP: Add about 1 cup sauce into the cheese and spinach mixture to keep the layers from drying out.

Meatballs

I recently learned that some of our guests will be on a keto diet. Lasagna is not exactly keto-friendly. A friend suggested I make an additional lasagna out of zucchini noodles. Because I am trying to reduce stress this year, I wasn’t too keen on this idea. When my mother kindly offered to bring meatballs, I gladly accepted her offer.

Caprese salad

I considered making a garden salad, but that would require same-day preparation. It also requires more room on the plate (if not a separate salad bowl) as well as options for salad dressing.

To keep things simple, this year we will try something new and offer my husband’s mouth-watering Caprese salad. I brought this to an Italian-themed pot-luck today and it was a huge hit.

It’s another dish that is super easy to make and can be made a day or two ahead of time. Plus, it can be served straight out of the refrigerator.

Cube 1/2 lb mozzarella cheese, chop 3-4 Roma tomatoes, 4-5 fresh basil leaves, 2 tbsp. oil (Olive oil is great, but if you can get your hands on some oil from a jar of Italian Olive Salad it is so much better), and salt and pepper to taste, stir.

Rolls

Garlic bread goes well with lasagna, but you have to heat it up. In the spirit of keeping it simple, I think I will choose a bread option that does not require any preparation.

Dessert:

Because it’s my birthday, I get a pass on organizing dessert.

ice cream Cake

You know I love ice cream, but surprisingly I don’t care for cake. My mother always brings me a Carvel ice cream cake of my birthday. Thanks mom!

pies

My cousin often brings a pie or two out of fear that I will eat all the ice cream cake.

cherry delight

You may recall from our post on homemade Christmas gifts that each year my husband looks forward to his sister’s Cherry Delight. She offered to bring one this year. It’s yet to be seen whether my husband will share it with anyone else (but that means more ice cream for me).

Drinks:

Everyone in our family drinks a different type of soda. To keep things simple, I will supply iced tea and lemonade. We also have plenty of cold, clean, filtered water.

If there is another beverage a guest would like, they are welcome to bring it.

 

In what ways can you simplify to reduce stress when hosting?

 

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