The Meal Planner

I'm sorry this post comes so late this week...I'm not gonna lie to you, I planned to post this on either Monday or Tuesday, but instead I got called in to sub Monday and Tuesday in a middle school. Those kids took the life right out of me! So much yelling and office sending and "go sit in the hall" it made my head spin. Each night I came home so lifeless and drained I could barely move.

Now that I've caught my breath and things are back to normal around here, I thought I'd share with you how I've been preparing for my dinner party on Saturday. This is called "How to plan a dinner party" but I think I'd rather just throw out ideas for what I'm doing. Here goes:

  • Plan your menu at least a week in advance
You want a clear idea of what you will be doing, how you need to prepare and which groceries you need to buy. Planning your menu at least a week in advance will alleviate stress. I'm very much a procrastinator and most of the time I push things off to the last minute, but I like to enjoy myself in the kitchen so if I can do things ahead of time I do. Picking your menu last minute is a sure-fire way to stress yourself out.

  • Choose recipes where the majority of the cooking can done ahead of time
When planning your menu, this is a good tip for choosing your recipes. If you can get lots of prep work out of the way beforehand things will go more smoothly.

  • Choose recipes that come together fast
My other suggestion when planning your menu, is to choose items that cook quickly. Choosing something such a seared steak with some kind of sauce, means you can prepare the sauce ahead of time, and when your guests arrive take a few minutes to cook the steak. Although, I wholeheartedly suggest that ALL your dishes are not ones that require last minute cooking. The stress of doing five different things for 4 different dishes is not appealing. Stagger your cooking methods: one dish in the oven that was premade and is just being warmed, a salad that you prepared ahead of time and just need to add dressing to, and something quick cooking on the stove top will ensure you aren't running around with your head cut off when your guests arrive.

  • Choose recipes you have made before
In my opinion, this is really not the time to try new things. Not only will you have no idea if the dish will actually be edible, but you won't have worked out the kinks for prep time, etc. Pick dishes that you love and that your guests will love.

  • Choose a fun theme for added interest
Of course this isn't a must, but it helps. If you are feeling lost as to what to make for dinner, or how to decorate or what entertainment you will have, choosing a theme for the night to center around will help you narrow down those choices. This includes regions or countries such as a night of Spanish Tapas or Swiss Fondue, seasonal themes like an Autumn feast or a Summery Beach cookout, or fun random themes like Retro 80's Night.

  • Shop for ingredients at least a day ahead NOT the day of
Anytime I go grocery shopping, come home and put the ingredients away and then later start cooking I feel exhausted! I don't even want to start cooking. Even better than shopping the day before, is to get the groceries you need with your weekly grocery shop. If you've planned your menu out ahead of time, this would be totally doable.

  • Write yourself a schedule for the day of game plan
If I have a lot of things to cook and need to go in the oven early and some I need to prep and some will be cooked last minute, I write out a game plan with times. This ensures that everything is staggered out and nothing gets forgotten. I did this for Thanksgiving:
11am - preheat oven

11:30am - prep turkey and make sure it goes in the oven.

12 pm - cook and mash potatoes, place in casserole dish.

You get the gist.

  • Don’t be afraid to involve guests in the kitchen
Don't feel like everything has to be prepared exactly for when your guests arrive. You may not be able to time everything perfectly and allowing your guests to be involved in the preparation adds interest and takes some of the pressure off your shoulders. Going to our friends place, chatting in the kitchen while they cook, chopping a green pepper for them if they's all part of our rapport as friends.

  • And last, but possibly most important: Don't get in a fight with your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend in front of your guests. It's true that hilarity will ensue, but mostly everyone will just feel awkward.

Ha! There were so many great moments from this episode, but this was one of the only clips I could find. Other contenders were:
  • Don't serve a slow-roasted dish that takes 4 hours to cook if you don't plan on putting it in the oven 4 hours before your guests arrive.
  • Don't describe the wine as having an "oaky afterbirth"
  • Don't tell your host their meat is dry and then dip it in your glass of wine.

I definitely don't pretend to KNOW ALL about planning a dinner party, but just take these as some suggestions I have picked up along the way. It really doesn't have to be a big pretentious production; it should be about friends enjoying good food, good conversation and good company.

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3 Responses
  1. Unknown Says:

    Great tips! I love The Office...this episode is one of my favorites.

  2. nick Says:

    This is a well thought out and written article. I think for the most part you hit the nail on the head.

    "Plan your meal at least a week in advance:"

    I prefer to "outline" a meal plan in advance. I mostly, especially when dealing with anything seafood, will break this one as well:

    "Shop for ingredients at least a day ahead NOT the day of"

    as I will purchase whatever is freshest and looks the best AT THAT VERY MOMENT. Personal preference, and as you point out, it is a huge pain in the arse.

    This is classic:

    "And last, but possibly m'ost important: Don't get in a fight with your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend in front of your guests. It's true that hilarity will ensue, but mostly everyone will just feel awkward."

    Hahahaha. I subject my guests to this one on the regular. If you are a hopeless jerk, like me, and KNOW there is at least a 50% chance there is going to be a confrontation, I highly advise allowing - nay requiring - consumption of more than the usual amount of alcohol per person. This has a dual headed effect such that I can always blame whatever they may actually remember on the booze! :)

    Nice post!

  3. Jen B. - Thanks! Such a classic episode. I think my favorite is when Dwight is a total creep and brings his babysitter as a date.

    Nick - I definitely outline a meal plan in advance. I'm jealous that you have access to things like fresh seafood. Being in the middle of the prairies means we don't have access to stuff like that...but I guess it also means that I can shop a day in advance. Haha, and your comments about the booze are hilarious!