How to Host a Stress-Free Holiday Dinner

I have done my share of holiday hosting, and I have learned the secret to having guests over for a large dinner without breaking a sweat. These are my tips, my actual checklist of what I do to have a stress-free holiday dinner. Enjoying a holiday without any of the stress is something we love to talk about at Declutter in Minutes, and I know you will find loads of tips you can use this holiday.

how to host a stress free holiday dinner

Do you have a dinner that you are hosting and are a bit freaked out over? Is your guest list bigger than your kitchen table? Do you wish you could just host a stress-free holiday dinner party this time but seriously don’t know where to start?

Or, maybe you’ve been passed the sacred torch of holiday party hosting because your mom is tired of dealing with it.

No matter what reason brought you here today, don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. 

Woman serving turkey at thanksgiving dinner

So many times, we tend to set a bar for ourselves that is unrealistically high. Maybe it’s all those magazines with elaborately decorated tables we see as we are in the checkout line. Or it’s the ridiculous pictures that folks put on their social media.

I am here to stop the stress, and that all starts with you and your vision for this year’s events.

Your magic is you and your family and your joy. Not the table settings or the centerpiece or the garland of pumpkins that twinkle and glow in the evening light.

If you learn one tip from today’s article, I hope it’s this. Your guests are coming to see you and the decorations, and just icing on the cake.

But I also realize you are here for simple and actionable tips, so let’s get to it!

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How to Host a Stress-Free Holiday Dinner.

First, I am going to let you in on a secret. If you want to turn a big and overwhelming project into just a walk in the park, all you need to do is to break it down into small steps. This is true for a decluttering project, a presentation for work, and yes, a holiday dinner.

Make a list and break it down into small tasks you can just plop down into your weekly to-do list and check things off as you go along. When you do things this way, the hardest part ends up being the “write it all down,” which might just be the best gift you can get.

Make a list, and check it twice beforehand

(2-3 weeks out)

As the big man in red recommends, make a list and check it twice.

There’s no such thing as being too prepared when you are hosting a family dinner party, especially around the busy holiday season. Take time two weeks beforehand to sit down and list out everything you need to do and to have.

Trust me on this; there’s nothing worse than getting to the day of the party and realizing you forgot something. So, you want to make your list as complete and accurate as possible.

Need a bit of help with where to start? Grab your FREE Thanksgiving planner and use the pages found inside to map out a plan you can work with!

Being prepared takes the stress out of hosting any event and is key to enjoying your holiday dinner just as if you were one of the guests.

family holding hands before enjoying thanksgiving dinner

I believe the earlier you write up your to-do list, the better off you will be. I like to shoot for three weeks prior, so I know I have enough time to do all the things without sacrificing days and my sanity to get ready.

This list can include but is not limited to:

Food – What are you making? 

  • Main Meals you are cooking for dinner
  • Contributed food by your guests
  • Side dishes
  • Appetizers and pre-dinner snacks
  • Drinks
    • Alcoholic
    • Non-Alcoholic
    • Kiddie drinks
  • Desserts
  • Candy for dishes in the family room or bathroom

Utensils – What is needed to cook and eat?

  • Silverware
  • Plates
  • Napkins
  • Drinking cups, glasses, or kid-friendly items
  • Cooking utensils
  • Baking utensils 
  • Baking sheets
  • Pots and Pans
  • Casserole dishes
Housewife prepares roast chicken in the oven, view from the inside of the oven. Cooking in the oven.

Decorations – What is needed for the dinner? 

  • Centerpiece for the table and buffet area
  • Tablecloths for adult and kid tables
  • Place settings
  • Extra decorations
  • Candles for the table and other rooms, like the bathroom

Serving – What is needed to serve dinner?

Cleaning – What is needed to prep and clean up?

  • Cleaning sprays or wipes
  • Trash bags
  • Dish detergent
  • Soap
  • Towels for drying
  • Drying rack for fragile items

Misc – What else will you need to have?


Planning ahead, especially when it comes to what you need, is the best way to set up your holiday dinner to be stress-free.

Take Inventory Beforehand

(2 Weeks out)

A few weeks before the main event, go through your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer and take inventory of everything that you have food-wise. 

Taking inventory of what you have allows you to cut back on food costs and not double buy anything, not to mention saving money and cutting down on food waste, which is better for the environment.

According to Bankrate, the average cost of a Christmas dinner is $861. If you’re planning for more than just your nuclear family, that cost has the potential to skyrocket. Our goal with planning is not only to remove the stress of the event but also the stress of spending more than you need to. 

Take inventory of what you have, stick to your budget when you shop, and make sure to plan your grocery trip ahead of time. Just these few simple tips can save you big at the store. 

an opened refrigerator filled with food

Clean and Organize Your Space Beforehand

(1 week out)

The weekend before is a great time to give your home a good cleaning and organization. I know that this may be a daunting task, but it is a necessary one. Let’s simplify it just a bit and put your focus on the key rooms you will need.

  • The kitchen – Set up an organized cooking area that you can work in without stressing. 
  • The entryway – Clear off hooks, so they are ready to hold coats. 
  • The guest bath – Stock with supplies and add in a scented candle. TIP: If you have young kids (and a 2nd bathroom), put a sign on the door telling them to keep out. This will ensure your bathroom is guest ready.
  • Guest rooms (if needed) – Fresh linens, fluff pillows, sweep floors.
  • The family room – Vacuum furniture and declutter any open surfaces. 

Divide and conquer is another approach and a great way to get a bit of help in this area. Call in the family troops and do a clean sweep of the high-traffic areas of your house during the holiday dinner. 

a mom holding a baby talking to her family about chores in the kitchen

Make sure your kitchen is organized and clean, you know where everything is, and the space is ready for you to cook up a storm.

Clear out space for tables and chairs in the dining or living areas, and don’t forget to clean your guest bathrooms. Be sure you have plenty of toilet paper, a fresh set of hand towels, and enough hand soap to get through the entire day. 

D/M Pro Tip: One of the biggest stress causes is an organized space. Looking for items that are lost in clutter can freak anyone out, and by just doing a quick clean and sorting of the main areas, you will cut down on the unnecessary stress it can bring. Yes, when your home is organized and clean, you have less stress and can work more easily.

Keep Your Guest List Smaller in Size

(4 weeks out)

The best way to keep any event stress-free, from holiday get-togethers to weddings, is to keep the guest list small. Now, I know that this can be a challenge when you have a large family; however, if you’re on a budget or new to hosting, this may be the best time to cut your list back just a bit. 

D/M Pro Tip: If this is the first time you are hosting dinner, keeping a smaller guest list is a great tip to keep in mind. Once you invite someone one year, they usually expect the invitation the next. Start out small; you can always grow your list later once you get the hang of things.

Remember, a smaller guest list cuts back on the food supplies, decor, utensils, and overall chaos of preparing, hosting, and cleaning up a holiday dinner.

woman making a guest list for a stress-free holiday dinner

Ask for help

(2 weeks out)

There is nothing wrong with asking guests to contribute to the dinner. Most guests prefer to come with something in hand. The key is to know beforehand what you hope to have your guests bring so you can make suggestions if they ask to contribute. This will also keep your menu intact without having more desserts than you can possibly use.

Potlucks are a fun way to take the stress off a typical one-person show. Offer to provide the drinks and the main dish and see what others can contribute to the party!

Use the page in the Thanksgiving Planner to keep track of who is coming and what they are set to bring.

A family sitting down to thanksgiving dinner

Simplicity is the Spice of Life

You don’t have to go all Biltmore Estate or Julia Childs during the holidays. Keeping your holiday dinner simple is the secret to making it a stress-free holiday dinner.

I know you want to impress, but people will remember the laughs and conversations over the centerpieces and tinsel. Trust me on this one.

To help, I have a few easy shortcuts that will help you to cut back on the workload yet still hold an amazing holiday dinner.

Holiday Dinner Shortcuts

  • Use crockpots for dishes such as mashed potatoes. You can make your potatoes the day before and heat them up a few hours before dinner in the crock pot. This is one of my favorite time-saving tips for dinner.
  • Pre-chop any ingredients the day before. This will cut your cooking time in half.
  • Make desserts the day (or two) before. To warm up pies, place them in your oven after it has been turned off. This will heat up the desserts without cooking them. I like to put our pies in our oven before sitting down to dinner with my guests. When it’s time for dessert, the pies are usually perfect and ready to serve.
  • Set up a dessert station off to the side before guests arrive. This way, you can just flow to desserts without setting anything up.
  • Before you begin cooking, fill the sink with soapy water. As you cook, toss in any dishes to soak this will make clean-up much easier.
  • Set up a coffee station as well. Prep the coffee maker and have a selection of seasonal creams, sugar, and cups ready to go.
  • Use the timeline in the FREE Thanksgiving planner to map out a day that you can just follow along stress-free!
hand writing on a paper that says thanksgiving day menu

Try your best to keep your holiday dinner simple. By simple, I mean opting for traditional dishes over extravagant, time-consuming ones.

Keep decorations to a minimum, incorporating what you already use in your household during the holidays. If your family is up for it, ask others to contribute to the holiday dinner. 

The holidays are a prime season to stress and worry about all things family, events, and activities. With this easy, 3-step guide, you can put that anxiety aside and enjoy a stress-free holiday dinner!

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