The weather might not be cold enough for a glass of eggnog, but now's a good time to start planning your holiday meals. With food prices on the rise and the seasonal shopping rush forthcoming, you'll toast yourself for thinking ahead.
Where will you be dining? If you're going on a trip, start setting aside money each week, so you'll be prepared to dine out in style. If you'll be dining in someone else's home, consider if you'll be bringing a dish or buying something to supplement the meal, then budget appropriately.
If you're the one preparing the holiday meals, it's time to figure out how many people you're likely to serve. Is it just going to be you and your immediate family, or will you host the in-laws, your parents, and/or siblings? What about other guests?
Once you have the number of diners in mind, start listing the dishes for your menu. Is your stuffing a must-have? What about your desserts? If no one likes the tray of raw veggies, then re-purpose them for another meal. Do you need appetizers? Although some family cooks provide both a turkey and a ham, you might to select just one this year.
Most people love to help. If your cousin's famous for his mashed potatoes, then ask him to haul them in if he lives in your area. Those who aren't inclined to cook can bring the drinks or bakery treats. Have several friends and family members help you prepare some dishes a day early instead of relying on more expensive convenience food.
Now that you know your menu, write up a shopping list. For the groceries, split the list into a perishables section and a non-perishables section. Shop for the non-perishables a bit at a time while you do your regular grocery store trips in the weeks leading up to the holidays. Save the perishables until the week of your holiday meal. Do you need china, crystal, or serving pieces? Try the antique shops, thrift stores, or ask to borrow from a willing relative or friend.
Your holiday table doesn't have to be perfect, and your table doesn't have to resemble your grandmother's incredible feasts. If you don't want the expense of a dozen side dishes, then pick the top three. Don't be afraid to test-drive new holiday meal traditions; you might learn that you prefer brownies to pumpkin pie.
The day after the meal, list what worked, the dishes people avoided, and what you'd like to incorporate for the next holiday meal. Use the leftovers to the best of your abilities instead of letting them turn into a New Year's science experiment in the back of the fridge.
Don't forget that you can swap or share ingredients, techniques, recipes, and dishes with like-minded relatives and friends. For instance, if you bought a twenty-pound bag of potatoes, offer to trade the five pounds you don't need for a dozen of your neighbor's homemade rolls. If you're a wine expert and your coworker makes the greatest chocolate truffles ever, offer your expertise in exchange for a lesson in making candy.
Keep up the networking after the holidays, too. You and your money-saving associates can benefit each other long after the holiday table's been cleared.
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