Food is often a large part of holiday celebrations, and something people look forward to all year.
That’s why holiday treats and meals should be fun, not something to cause hosts and hostesses stress.
For those planning to entertain on Christmas, whether it be a full, traditional meal, or snacks for a small party, there are ways to make the task easier.
The first step is to think about the guest list, said Jennifer Howard, Clark County Extension Service agent for family and consumer sciences. The people coming will most likely influence the menu, and the amount of food prepared. If guests have special dietary needs, take that into consideration.
Also decide if you want guests to contribute food items, or if you want to provide everything. Potluck is a good option for those on a budget, and makes hosting easier.
If guests are contributing food, make sure you don’t replicate items. If a family member is famous for making desserts, then focus your own cooking efforts on a different part of the meal.
After the guest list is completed, and you know what others plan to bring, start compiling your own menu. Make sure all ingredients are on hand before cooking begins, and never try a recipe for the first time when expecting guests. If you want to use a new recipe, practice it beforehand, especially if you plan to make substitutions.
Many items can be cooked several days ahead of time and frozen. Cookies are a good example, Howard said. Baking can be done early to eliminate work the day of the event.
“There needs to be a lot of pre-planning,”¿Howard said.
Cookies also make great Christmas gifts. Howard also recommends dry cookie mix, which can be made with ingredients already found in most pantries, like sugar and flour. Use wide-mouth canning jars, then layer dry ingredients and attach a recipe so people will know how to prepare the mix. The mixes can be tailored to virtually any holiday with simple additions like M&Ms.
Savory mixes, like lentils and noodles for turkey soup also can be layered and given as presents. These work particularly well for holidays, Howard said, because many people have leftover turkey.
“That can be used year-round and it’s very inexpensive,” Howard said. “It’s ways you can take simple, ordinary things you’ve already got.”
Country ham is a popular Christmas dish, and Howard said the Clark County Extension Office often receives requests for information about proper cooking techniques. Ham also works well in leftovers, and
Howard suggests freezing holiday foods in smaller portions so they don’t have to be eaten right away, what she calls “planned overs.” Turkey can be frozen after Christmas, then thawed later for a turkey soup or pot pie. That way, leftovers don’t go to waste, but people don’t feel like they have to eat the same meal every day.
Big, traditional family dinners are actually more common at Christmas than Thanksgiving, Howard said, because dining out options are more limited. To make sure food doesn’t spoil, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Mayonnaise or egg-based foods should be kept on ice. Dips and other appetizers cannot be left out for more than two hours if they are not kept at the proper temperature.
There are also plenty of ways to make holiday cooking healthy. Howard recommends using blended cottage cheese as a base for dips and incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables as much as possible. Homemade baked chips make a great appetizer, and can be made using white or sweet potatoes. Slice potatoes thinly, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and bake until crispy.
There are plenty of recipes available online for free at sites like recipes.com and tasteofhome.com. Recipes also are available at clark.ca.uky.edu/FamilyConsumerSciences. Printable recipes and gift tags for cookie and soup mixes also are available, and tips for planning and freezing meals.
The Clark County Extension Agency can be contacted at 744-4682.