The holiday season is upon us — and if you decided to host a dinner party this year, you may be kicking yourself right about now. Creating a delicious, diverse meal for a variety of people can be overwhelming even for a seasoned pro. But this year, with a few simple tricks, you can and will dazzle your guests.

Create the Guest List

Having a clear picture of who is coming to your feast will help you create the best menu. Your side item choices will shift based on how many children versus adults will be present, as well as whether or not people with diet restrictions will be attending. You should always take a person's food allergies and diet restrictions into consideration. Doing so will make his or her holiday even brighter.

Plan the Menu

Build the menu in advance. Make a long list that includes family favorites, some new recipes you'd like to try and some holiday meal staples. Slowly cut the list down to the amount of food that is realistic based on how many people you are cooking for, types of food (i.e., only one sweet potato dish, but two veggies), as well as foods that cook in the oven and others that cook on your stovetop. If you are into technology, check out some meal planning apps that may help you.

Shop and Save

Make your shopping list. Don't forget to check your pantry for any spices you may need. Shop smart by sticking to your list and purchasing sale and store brand items rather than specific name brands. If you can find a coupon, you will save even more cash.

Schedule Your Time

You don't just need to know what you're going to make, but when you're going to make it. Plan a 3-day cooking schedule with a chart of each of your menu items, how long they take to prepare, and whether or not they can be made in advance. Many side items can be prepared, frozen, and reheated on the day of your party. In addition, some items can be prepared at the same time (one in the oven, one on the stovetop) and others can be prepared while your meat dish is resting. Good organization can go a long way in keeping you on schedule and stress-free. Don't forget to include extra time for each item you make on the actual party day to allow for some wiggle room, or even a chance to take a break and relax.

Let Guests Contribute

If a guest asks you if he can bring a special dish he likes to make, the answer is yes. One less item for you to make equals less work, less stress, and more downtime. Just make sure you know exactly what he is bringing so you don't make a similar item.

Planning and creating a big holiday meal can be as much fun as you want it to be. Just be sure to plan, plan, and plan some more. Even after you think you've got it all figured out, keep a notepad handy to jot down new ideas, problems that arise, or whether certain dishes were a hit. Keep it with your recipe books for next year's big feast.

This post was included in the Carnival of Everything Home.

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