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Holiday menu planning for first-time hosts

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Holiday menu planning for first-time hosts

Novice holiday hosts often have a lot on their plates. Whether hosting family or friends or a combination of both, first-time hosts typically want to impress their guests while ensuring they get enough to eat and have an enjoyable evening. Since dinner is such a big part of holiday gatherings, hosts often place extra emphasis on what to serve, and that can be tricky when this is the first time they are hosting.

When planning the menu for your holiday soiree, consider the following tips.

• Get a head count. Though other factors will influence what to serve, the size of your guest list may ultimately dictate what to serve. For example, a small gathering of four to five people will likely rule out turkey, as even a small turkey will prove too much effort and produce too much extra food. On the same note, a small dish like lasagna might not be doable for a larger crowd, as it will force you to prepare multiple entrees, which means more time in the kitchen juggling the various cooking duties and less time with your guests. Once you have confirmed just how many guests you will be hosting, you can then choose a main course that suits the size of your guest list.

• Decide which type of party you want to host. The type of party you want to host also will influence what you serve. A formal gathering should include an appetizer, a main course and a dessert, including both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffees. A less formal gathering gives hosts more leeway. For example, whereas a formal gathering may include soup as an appetizer, hosting a less formal gathering allows hosts to put out some snacks or bread for guests to whet their appetites before everyone sits down for the meal. The more formal the gathering, the more formal the menu. Hosts of less formal gatherings may even want to host a holiday pot luck buffet, inviting guests to bring a favorite dish or side dish while the hosts take care of the main course.

• Ask guests if they have any dietary restrictions. Upon being invited to a holiday dinner, some invitees may let hosts know if they have any food allergies or medical conditions that restrict which foods they can eat. Solicit such information from all of your guests, and do your best to cater to each of your guests' needs. Some guests might be on a gluten-free diet while others may need to limit their sodium intake. You might not be able to meet everyone's demands. Let guests know if they should bring an appropriate snack if you cannot provide one for them.

• Include traditional holiday fare. People have grown to expect certain things from holiday meals, be it sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving, brisket for Chanukah or holiday cookies or even eggnog at Christmas parties. When planning the menu, be sure to include at least one of these traditional items, even asking guests for suggestions. Such fare will give the party a genuine holiday feel, and guests will appreciate seeing some items on your dinner table they have enjoyed at their own holiday celebrations over the years.

• Don't overdo it. First-time hosts want to ensure everyone gets enough to eat, so it's easy to overdo things and prepare too much food. This can be expensive, and guests may feel obligated to overeat so hosts don't have to discard any of the food they worked so hard to prepare. Though it might once have been a holiday tradition to overeat, many men and women now prefer moderation, and hosts should keep that in mind when preparing their holiday meals.

Hosting a holiday dinner for the first time can be nerve-wracking. But there are a variety of steps first-timers can take when preparing their menus to come off looking like old pros.

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First-time holiday hosts can take a number of steps to ensure their menus appeal to all of their guests.