11 Grandma-Approved Hosting Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday Gathering
There's no time like the holidays to throw a festive cocktail party, cookie swap or feast, but planning and hosting a gathering of any size can feel a bit daunting. Whether you're a veteran party planner or taking your first swing at holiday hosting, it's easy to get overwhelmed with the details and lose sight of the fact that parties are all about being together. Here, we're sharing some of own grandmothers' best tips so you can be the host with the most this holiday season—and still enjoy your own party.
1. "Meals Don't Have to Be Fancy in Order to Be Good"
While whipping up a six-course meal that looks straight out of a magazine may sound like the only way to host a dinner party, that's really not the case. One of our staffer's grandmothers is queen of the simple yet elegant affair, crafting a menu that allows the flavors to speak for themselves while still being approachable to a variety of eaters. Another prioritizes making her family's favorite foods—even if that means forgoing some more traditional dishes.
Victoria Seaver, M.S., R.D., EatingWell's digital meal plan editor, created this delicious yet easy menu for throwing holiday parties. This menu simply calls for a main dish, salad, side and dessert—plus a cocktail recipe if you're serving booze.
2. "If You Put It on a Ritz Cracker, It Turns Into a Canapé"
Whatever you do, please don't overthink your appetizers. Grab some cheese and serve with crackers or wrap it in a little puff pastry and call it a day. People just want things to snack on!
3. "Always Be Prepared for an Unexpected Guest"
This is especially true during the holidays. Sometimes a guest has an extended family member in town, brings an unexpected plus one or can't find a babysitter, but there's no need to let a few extra bodies stress you out.
Your party is not the time to go cheap and cut corners on serving as little food as possible. Grandma would never let someone leave their house with an empty stomach! When in doubt, always buy that extra bottle of wine and make that second serving of bruschetta. You may want to pick up a package of chicken fingers too for some kid-friendly foods—and adults will love them, too.
4. "Why Cook It From Scratch If Sam's Makes It?"
While we would all love to host holiday gatherings a la the Barefoot Contessa, even she admits that (sometimes) store-bought is fine. Decide which foods you want to make from scratch, and then head to your favorite grocery store to fill in the gaps. We love buying mixed nuts, veggies with hummus and cheese and crackers for guests. We like to think our grandmas—and Ina—would be proud.
5. "Invite Everyone and Make Room"
Most of us know it doesn't feel great to find out we weren't invited to a party of a close friend or neighbor. If you know there is a person who would have their feelings hurt by not receiving an invite to your holiday gathering (and wouldn't cause party drama), it might be worth adding them to your list. After all, it is the holidays!
6. "Make Your Table a Happy Place to Be Around"
Everyone is going to feed off of your energy as the host, so be sure to steer clear of dicey topics like politics or family gossip. Make a point to connect with your guests and set an example for them to engage in real conversation, instead of complaining about their in-laws coming in town or how much weight they want to lose when January rolls around.
7. "Never Let People Leave Without a Plate of Leftovers"
Not only does every grandma want guests to leave with a full belly, she also wants her guests' hands to be full of tasty leftovers. Our friends at Real Simple have the whole party planning thing nailed down, and we love their idea for setting out classic takeout containers for guests to bring home cookies, finger foods or a serving of their favorite dish when the party's over. This also saves you from eating party leftovers for the next week—without creating food waste.
8. "Don't Get Too Caught Up in Having the Perfect Party That You Don't Have Any Fun"
Unfortunately "hosting a party" and "enjoying a party" seem impossible to do at the same time—but what's the point of having one if you don't have any fun? One of our staffer's grandmothers always made sure she had time to connect with every guest and enjoy a plate of the food she worked so hard to make. She wasn't concerned about achieving Martha Stewart status among her friends, she was focused on bringing people together and sharing some favorite recipes.
9. "Find Your Signature Recipes and Bring Them Back Every Year"
Whether you're hosting the whole family for Christmas dinner or planning your annual holiday open house, it's nice to have a few of the same recipes in rotation every year to build tradition and give guests something extra to be excited about. Plus, recipe cards with one of your crowd-pleasers makes for an inexpensive yet invaluable party favor!
10. "Vanilla Ice Cream Is Never a Bad Idea"
One of our grandmas is always sure to have plenty of ice cream in her freezer when expecting guests. A scoop of vanilla ice cream makes even the simplest dessert seem a bit more sophisticated and helps stretch out servings. Pair it with our Mini Pecan Pies or Gingerbread Tea Cake for the perfect end to your holiday party.
11. "Make a Plan for Success That Works for You"
One of our editors says she didn't realize just how organized her yiayia was during the holidays until she was older. She made her grocery list and shopped early, baked all her desserts in advance and wrote out a cooking plan for the day before—and the day of—her events.
Even if you have a Type-B hosting personality, it's worth sitting down for a few minutes to set up a cooking plan. Nothing's worse than having 20 minutes until party time and there's no room in the oven to cook your main dish.