How to get ahead on holiday prep.
How are ya? How’s your kitchen? Over here in mine I’m (unsurprisingly) thinking a lot about hosting. Holiday hosting to be precise. “But Erica, it’s hot even Halloween!” you say? Yes, exactly, it’s not even Halloween. And as a person who loves a list, can format an excel spreadsheet into oblivion, and lives and dies by her g-cal, I have some news for you:
American Thanksgiving is just over a month away. And if you’re hosting a Friendsgiving celebration, that’s probably happening in a few short weeks. Diwali is next week, Christmas will be here in a deceptively short 69 (nice😏) days, and Hanukkah is even sooner! What I’m trying to say is that the holidays are essential already here, so if advanced planning gives you a sense of clam like it does for me, the time to start prep for any hosting you’re doing this festive season is…you guessed it: now!
Today, I want to walk you through the first set of steps I take to plan for a large gathering.
And how far in advance I like to do them, the details I’m sure to incorporate into my planning to ensure everything goes off without a hitch, and of course, tips to keep everything very organized along the way. I’m hosting a Friendsgiving celebration in a couple weeks, and as you’ll see in a moment, I started planning for it back in September.
You know I think the main thing that sets a good host apart from a great one is the great host’s ability to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for her guests. For me, advanced planning allows for a relaxed attitude and a lovelier time for the people I’ve invited into my home. If you’re more of a fly by the seat of your pants kinda person, more power to you (and I bet you don’t have eldest daughter syndrome) but I hope you still gain a bit of holiday hosting insight from today’s Fresh Letter. Let’s go!
My step by step holiday hosting plan starts with a spreadsheet, excerpted below. But don’t worry, I’ll break it down for ya. The overview:
I want to be sure I give you adequate detail on each step without writing an email so long it runs off the page, so my little holiday prep guide will span two weeks—yes, I’m extra, so this is a two part series. Today, we’re covering the tasks I’ve already completed: invites, tablescape, and menu planning. I’ll talk you through the rest in part 2, next week.
Step 1: Send Invites
What: I think sending an actual invite is a nice touch. If your family is anything like mine, it’s probably not necessary for your standard big holiday gatherings. But for anything you’re hosting with friends, an invite with the time, place, and anything you might want your guests to bring is a good idea. This can be as simple as a quick email, but more on that in Additional Tips.
When: At least a month in advance if you can. Holidays are busy, get on people’s calendars early!
Tips: Sure, you can send a quick email with the details, but for easier RSVP tracking and a little more fun, I like to make my own in a tool like evite. My friend Tarn recently made me aware of Partiful—if you and your friends are hip and cool youths, this one might be for you. Here’s a bit more on my thought process and a peek at mine (address and phone number redacted😉):
Step 2: Tablescape Planning
What: When I’m hosting, I like a little wow factor beyond the food. What can I say, I’m a Leo. A visually stunning tablescape scratches my constant itch to go just a little bit over the top.
When: Between 2-4 weeks out. Do it closer to the 4 week mark if there’s anything special you might want to purchase for the tablescape. This year, I’m springing for this gingham tablecloth.
Tips: I’m extremely visual, so Pinterest is my tool of choice. Take a peek at my board here. While I am purchasing something special for this particular gathering, I think it’s usually ideal to work with what you have—I like to plug photos of all my own linen, dish, and glassware into my Pinterest board along with some general *mood/vibe* pins to be sure everything’s flowing well together. I share more in depth about putting a tablescape together here if you’d like a bit more guidance.
A quick note of encouragement: Not enough table space for all your guests to sit down? Please don’t sweat that! The first time I ever hosted a Friendsgiving, my friends ate off dishes on their laps in our living room and there were zero complaints. I still set out a few flowers and candles on our dining table, even though we weren’t planning to sit down to dinner there. Makes things feel a bit more special!
Step 3: Menu Planning
What: the food is the star of the show so I like to do a lot of planning for it. As you can see in my overview, the menu planning stage of my prep is hyperlinked—it requires its own separate tab in my spreadsheet. Take a peek at the menu I’ve planned below.
When: 2-4 weeks out. Give yourself ample time to daydream about the food…and to get started on the food execution plan. More on that next week.
Additional Tips: We need more bullet points! Let’s go:
Gather all your guests’ dietary preferences/restrictions before you begin menu planning. Do this via your invite or follow up with your guests via text.
If you can, plan a menu where at least 50% of the dishes can be made ahead of time. I’ll have some more thoughts on that next Monday.
If you’re using recipes you found online, link out to them in your planning doc. For printed recipes, have them all in one place, like a binder or folder.
Don’t be afraid to outsource dishes! Whether you go full potluck or decide to opt for a store-bought dessert (I plan to pick some pies up from a local bakery), there’s absolutely no shame in accepting help with the food.
Find part 2 here and part 3 here.
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Okay, I’ve shared some screenshots of it here, but I’ve been thinking about making the entirety of my (admittedly a little bonkers) Friendsgiving Prep spreadsheet available for public viewing. Would you be interested in that? Shoot me a note by responding to this email if getting a detailed peek under the hood would be helpful for you.
And with that, we’ve covered it! Stay tuned for more next week! If you’re looking for recipe and meal prep content from me in the meantime, why not check out Meal Prep Made Simple? Wishing ya a well-fed, very well-organized week ahead.
With love and a tip of my chef’s hat,
Want more? I’m so flattered! You can also follow me on Instagram or TikTok, or check out my tips-laden e-book collection. The newest addition, Meal Prep Made Simple, is available to order now!
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Would love to see your Friendsgiving Prep spreadsheet!