This year, so many of us are looking forward to having family and friends around our table again to celebrate together. But, hosting your favorite people for the holidays can be incredibly stressful, especially if you try to take it on solo.
That’s why we’re making the case for getting the whole squad involved this holiday, group-project style. Enlisting their help with the menu, having everyone put the finishing touches on dishes before sitting down to eat, and even making decorations day-of can alleviate some of that hosting stress. More importantly, though, it also makes for a lot more memories with those you love — and maybe even a few new traditions.
Divide & Conquer Your Favorite Dishes
Trying to pull off an entire holiday menu solo is not for the faint of heart, so asking your group to pitch in on the dishes potluck-style gets everyone involved — and means you don’t have to spend the entire day stuck in the kitchen. As host, it’ll be easiest for you to take on the main dish, as classic turkeys or hams take a while in the oven and are best served immediately. On the other hand, side dishes that can be kept warm until serving (or can be popped in the oven for a quick reheat) are easiest to assign out.
Make a list of potentials if guests are stumped on what to make, like these Roasted Brussel Sprouts With Cranberry Balsamic Glaze, which uses Ocean Spray® Cranberry Sauce and Craisins® Dried Cranberries to combine the flavors of two classic Turkey Day ingredients. Once guests know what they’ll be bringing, write up a loose “oven schedule” to keep track of items that will need to be reheated: that way, nothing ends up on the table cold.
If you’re cooking for just your own household, you can still “assign” dishes to kids, roommates, and significant others. Pick out the recipes together and dedicate time to prepare each, based on what will benefit from a little time in the fridge and what’s best prepped day-of.
Spend Time Together in the Kitchen
Rather than cooking solo, then coming together for the big meal, spending the day in the kitchen together can be way more rewarding. Plus, it gives you the ability to tackle a recipe that may be outside your wheelhouse, because you have a few extra hands to help. Lean into recipes that are a bit more hands on, which will have everyone rolling up their sleeves. Tamales, for example, are a classic Mexican holiday dish, and assembling them is great for a group to tackle. If you’ve never made tamales at home before, this recipe for Cranberry Red Chile Pork Tamales was created by Jesse Tyler Ferguson for Ocean Spray®, and it's perfect for bringing people together to try something new. The recipe has you braise the pork in advance, so the day-of can be spent making the masa, filling the corn husks together, then steaming them.
Make Decorating a Group Activity
A pretty tablescape or festive mantel can really elevate your whole party, but when you’re managing the menu, drinks, and stress of hosting, sometimes making decorations can feel overwhelming. Instead of taking it all on yourself, set up a craft for the group to make decorations day-of. Cranberries and popcorn are great to string together for garland and look best fresh out of the bag. Plus, if you have a few cranberries leftover, you can use them to accentuate place cards, too.
Not the most crafty type? Just pull out what you have laying around, have the group bring a few of their favorite items, and let everyone play decorator. It’ll be more fun to see what your crew comes up with rather than setting it up alone.
Save Appetizers & Desserts For the Day Of
Who doesn’t love snapping pictures of a gorgeous charcuterie board? Turns out, they’re way more fun to put together as a group, too. Gather up all your cheeses, meats, nuts and dried fruit (Craisins® Dried Cranberries can work here, too!) then let your friends and family use a giant plate or serving board as their canvas. Save room for a centerpiece, like this Ultimate Baked Brie, and you’re bound to have an IG-worthy masterpiece. Desserts can be equally interactive, too: decorating cookies, putting the finishing touches on a cake, and plating up cupcakes can let everyone’s creativity shine.
Take Turns Being Bartender
For those celebrating with adults, rotate who is in charge of the bar cart throughout the night. It’ll give everyone the chance to not only show off some newly-developed mixology skills, but also ensure that each person gets IRL face time with the entire group. The setup can be simple too: just a few bottles of wine and beer is totally fine, but if your group is into cocktails, challenge them to share a cocktail they perfected in quarantine. This works equally well with mocktails or cozy cider for those that don’t drink, too.
Curate a Clean-Up Playlist
Look, no one loves cleaning up after a big meal — it can feel like just as much work as cooking. Making clean-up a joint effort and setting the mood with the right tunes can make this chore actually fun. Have the group curate their own playlist of their favorite songs and throwback jams to act as the soundtrack while you all put the dining room and kitchen back together, and you’ll enjoy this moment nearly as much as sitting around the table with your loved ones.
Credits: Illustrations by: Monique Aimee