1. Map out every event that you plan to cater. Decide on a menu, remembering breakfast, lunch and snacks if guests will be staying for several days. Find out about any dietary requirements in advance. If you feel anxious, simplify your plans or rope in some moral support.
2. Think about the cooking utensils and serveware you will need. If you don’t have enough, and can’t borrow it, the Black Friday sales at the end of November are a good opportunity to buy anything you need at a bargain price.
3. If you find cooking a bit too stressful, ask yourself the following questions:
- Which item or meal do you most associate with Christmas? Consider letting go of more peripheral fare to save you time, energy and money.
- If you ask guests to bring something, specify what you need, so they don’t have to guess.
- Could some of your homemade products make good gifts?
4. Set up party stations so your guests can help themselves to drinks and snacks. Serve the meal itself in large bowls or on platters, or straight from the oven so people can help plate up.
5. Write a complete list of the ingredients you need, check your cupboards to see what you already have, then do your shopping. When compiling your list, remember to include ingredients for healthy breakfasts, such as frozen fruit for smoothies, to give everyone a good start to the day.
6. To avoid the supermarket crowds, either book an online delivery or shop locally. If possible, talk to the traders. Buying direct from growers, bakers or independent shopkeepers makes it so much more special when you come to eat their produce.
7. If you buy too much, consider donating some of it to the local food bank.
8. If money is scarce, encourage your guests to contribute something, such as wine or dessert. If you have a large family, consider organising a Christmas dinner kitty, to be used by whoever is hosting. Plant-based dishes tend to be cheaper than meat or fish, so even if you do a roast, be extra-generous with sides to fill plates. It will still feel like a special feast if you take extra care with the table settings and lighting, and radiate festive spirit.
9. Make a simple week-by-week plan for December, and a day-by-day plan for the week before Christmas. If your schedule seems overwhelming, reduce the number of guests at your main gathering, make it more casual, invite people to stay for fewer days (or not at all), simplify your menu or plan to eat out on occasion.
10. Batch cook and freeze casual, nutritious meals, such as warming stews, for eating between christmas and new year.
11. When cooking, put on some festive music, rope in help, and enjoy it. Make a timeline counting back from when you want to serve, and set alarms for when each item needs to come out of the oven. This can be a mindful experience as you melt into the smells, sights, textures, sounds and tastes of your dishes.
12. Finally, try to relax. Remember, your guests are all grateful for the effort you’re making and they want to spend time with you.
For more, read this Beth Kempton
Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year by Beth Kempton (Piatkus, £12.99)