Gathering around the table symbolizes friendship, sharing and thanksgiving for many cultures around the world. Nonetheless, when your turn comes to host dinner, practical worries can overwhelm the anticipated pleasure of breaking bread with friends and family. Learn to plan a dazzling, low-stress menu so you can enjoy your company and the compliments after the meal.
Know Your Guests
Nothing's more disheartening than planning a meal, only to discover that your sister is avoiding gluten and won't try your home-baked bread, your niece has gone vegetarian and turns up her nose at the roast, and your little nephew won't touch orange foods, including your pumpkin soup and carrots. Determine any allergies, special diets or dietary restrictions before you begin your menu.
If your guest list includes kids, provide lots of tasty, unsophisticated foods; you can always jazz them up for the grownups after setting aside a portion for the kids. Keep emergency kid-friendly foods on hand for the extremely picky eater, like hot dogs, chicken strips and dried fruit snacks.
Remember that your guests aren't coming for the food but to enjoy your company. Sequestering yourself in the kitchen while you prepare an elaborate meal will leave your guests without their hostess and detract from your enjoyment of the visit. Whenever possible, choose meals that you can prepare mostly or entirely ahead of time. For example, cut salad vegetables the evening or afternoon before and store them in airtight containers in the fridge. Prepare soups ahead of time and keep them on low on the stove or in a slow-cooker until you're ready to serve them. If you're serving fresh veggies as a side, cut them up ahead of time so that they're ready for a quick sauté.
Save on Prep Steps
Reduce the number of steps needed to prepare a meal by picking up prepared foods from your favorite restaurant, bakery or supermarket. Crudités trays, artisan breads, and even prepared salads and soups offer restaurant quality with less mess and fuss than trying to make these items from scratch. Shop for an assortment of bottled salad dressings so guests can choose flavors they like. Plan your meal to include these items, particularly if you're running short on time.
Keep It Simple
Choose menu items that require minimal fuss while cooking. A roast that you can put in the slow -ooker and forget about for a few hours will let you enjoy your company and have a meal ready when your guests are ready. If you prepare a casserole ahead of time, you need only pop it in the oven before returning to your guests or enjoying the soup and salad course. Avoid foods with narrow time requirements. Losing track of time and overcooking an item or pressing a main course on guests only halfway through their salads add unnecessary stress to the dinner for all involved.