Ten Tips to Prepare for a Holiday Feast

By P. Allen Smith

With just a little advanced planning, your holiday meal prep can be a breeze.

  • Write a schedule
    • Counting back from the time that you want to serve the meal, write a schedule for the times that each dish needs to go into, and come out of, the oven. Details like oven temperature and cooling time are essential. Make sure to include a time slot for you to get dressed and take care of any last-minute details.
  • Prepare your mise-en-place a day early
    • Set your table, take down the serving dishes and label them with the items they will eventually hold. This way, you won’t end up short one casserole dish or salad fork, you’ll have time to try out elegant napkin folds, and you’ll simply feel closer to completion.
  • Chop up your vegetables the day before you need them
    • Chopping your onions and celery for the dressing a day in advance won’t damage the freshness of the dressing one bit. The same is true for nearly any ingredient going into your pies, side dishes, or other dishes that will be baked. Having these ingredients ready for assembly will speed things up immensely. Keep them in a plastic bag in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
  • Peel potatoes in advance
    • If you’re planning on making homemade mashed potatoes or a sweet potato casserole, peel the potatoes the day before. Keep them fresh in a bag in the refrigerator, and slice, dice, or mash them as needed while the turkey is cooking.
  • Mix up the green bean casserole or sauces early
    • Let the flavors marinate with the green beans by preparing the casserole and letting it sit overnight. Just pop it into the oven the next day and you’ll have a delicious side dish or marinade.
  • Bake the pies the day before
    • Having pies baked early doesn’t mean you won’t have warm, fresh dessert; it simply means that you don’t have to worry about them while you’re enjoying the feast you’ve prepared. When you take the turkey out of the oven, turn off the heat and place the pre-baked pies in the oven just before you sit down to dinner. The residual heat will slowly warm the pies without burning them, and when you’re ready to have dessert it will be warm and waiting.
  • Open the bottles of red wine
    • If you’re serving red wine, open it after the turkey is in the oven. The wine will have time to breathe, enhancing its flavors, and you’ll be able to have a pre-dinner glass while preparing the rest of the meal.
  • Don’t stuff the turkey
    • It may sound unusual, but stuffing your holiday bird adds an enormous amount of cooking time and can very easily dry out the meat. Instead, cook the dressing separately. If you are making cornbread stuffing, prepare the cornbread the day before.
  • Let the turkey sit
    • The turkey is often the centerpiece of the dinner, so don’t cut corners on the preparation process. After you remove the bird from the oven, it needs to remain covered for about half an hour, allowing the juices to distribute. Leave this time open for any last-minute details, and you’ll likely get to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail with your guests because everything else will be done.
  • Garnish
    • After spending so many hours preparing something that surely tastes and smells delicious, don’t scrimp on the final details that can make it a feast for the eyes as well. Sliced citrus, sprigs of herbs, and decorative food items like cinnamon sticks or whipped cream are the finishing touches for a fabulous meal.