Feeding a Crowd - It's Not That Bad!Credit: http://www.photoxpress.com/Content/decoration-indoor-evening/11766324/partner/Xj9qdHIQyb7etVXie4irtPQ9xtZobSzz

Are you hosting your family's Christmas Eve dinner at you house and you don't know what to cook?  Maybe your husband invited his whole office over for a "little celebration" and you're feeling a bit overwhelmed?

Well, don't worry!  With a little planning and patience you too can cook for a crowd without going insane.  Here's how:

1) Plan Your Menu

Hosting A Party Doesn't Have To be Stressful!Credit: http://morguefile.com/archive/display/98783Start planning the menu the moment you (or your spouse) get the idea to host a party.  Cooking for a large group can be a bit scary, especially when you start thinking about the sheer amount of food you have to buy, prep, and cook all in a short period of time.  The more planning you do now, the easier it will be and the more time you'll have to shop around for the right ingredients.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your menu:

  • Your dishes should be able to stand up to sitting at room temperature for a period of time.  That means no soufflés or anything else that will be ruined if it sits out on the table for more than five minutes.
  • It's best to pick a few dishes that you can cook ahead and then reheat on the big day.  This can include soups, dips, bread, desserts, vegetables, etc.
  • Cook what's season – not only will this save you money but your dishes will taste even better!
  • Check the grocery store ads and allow your menu to evolve as you find ingredients on sale.  You may have planned to serve carrots as your vegetable but your local store has a great sale on Brussels sprouts – a special treat during the holiday season.  Feel free to make the change – only you will know, right?

2) Be Realistic

Many hosts make way too much food for their guests.  Some do it because they want the table to be bountiful.  Others worry about accidentally running out of food - a very embarrassing moment.  In reality, it just overwhelms everyone and makes them feel guilty when they can't eat it all.

It's best to take a step back and be realistic about how much you and your guests will actually eat.  Your guests' waistline will thank you!

Here are a couple tips for estimating how much food you need:

  • Not everyone is going to eat everything nor at the same amounts.
  • Most people eat more starches and meat than vegetables so go ahead and decrease the green bean casserole and up the potatoes and turkey.
Feeding a Crowd - Do you Need Alcohol to Survive?Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/338633

3) Do the Prep Work Ahead of Time

The more slicing, dicing, braising, and baking you do on the days leading up to the big party, the more relaxed you'll be when your guests show up.  So, make your soup, bake your bread and dessert, cut up your vegetables, and mix your dips a couple days ahead of time.  You'll be thankful that you did!

4) Get It Catered

If you're not a great cook or you don't want to deal with the stress of juggling food and guests, then go ahead and order out!  I'm not talking Chinese or pizza but rather ordering restaurant-quality food from your favorite café or caterer.  Though this is not the most affordable option, it will take a lot of stress off of your shoulders and allow you to really enjoy the party instead if spending all of your time in the kitchen or watching a timer.

Food For a PartyCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/botter/74987747/5) Hire Help

Trying to do everything yourself will no doubt stress you out and send you screaming from the kitchen by the time your guests are ready for dessert.  So, do yourself (and your sanity) a favor and hired some help.  Having even one person in the kitchen babysitting things will lift a lot of stress off of your shoulders.

Don't worry if you can't hire a professional caterer or chef to do this.  You can always find helpful (and cheap) help at the culinary arts program of a local college.  If even a college student is out of your budget, see if a friend would be willing to barter with you – they help you out on that night and in return you do something for her on another.

6) Serve Early

Ever been to a dinner party where they don't serve dinner until after 9 PM?  Everyone spends three hours milling around and talking, hungry but not wanting to complain.  Don't torture your guests or yourself – serve the food within an hour of the dinner party's set start time.  This will give any latecomers a chance to arrive while still feeding everyone in a timely manner!Food for a Large Party Doesn't Have To Be Stressful!Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/484817/

 7) Save the Cleanup for Tomorrow

Once the party is over, put away the leftovers, rinse off the plates and pots, and head to bed.  After spending weeks planning, days cooking, and hours being on your best behavior, you are sure to be exhausted.  So do the minimum and head to bed.  There is always tomorrow, right?