1.Plan a menu as far ahead as possible. You'll want time to get the shopping done, make adjustments if you can't find things, need advice, have to pick up cooking equipment, or have second thoughts. You'll want to plan portions based on the number of people eating. Remember any special food for kids. And if you need to thaw a turkey, keep in mind it can take a couple days.
2.Do a dinner you want to eat yourself. We always do a better job cooking something we like. And whether traditional or something interesting, it's a good rule not to get too experimental when you have guests coming. It's extra stress, and if you're sweating to pull it off, you're not going to have much slack if you suddenly need to go to plan B.
3.Decide what you'll prepare and cook yourself, and what you're going to pick up. Do you really want to do pies from scratch? Pick a main dish or two to make your own, and fill in or mix with convenient or ready made. No need to tell anyone. And they'd prefer to see you anyway.
4.If someone offers to bring something, why not say yes. It's more variety at the table, and everyone feels good contributing. And if you're less comfortable making a dish, salad or dessert, get someone else to do it.
5.To figure out when prep and cooking steps need to be started and done,
work backwards from serving time. For example, if you want to put a roast turkey on the table at 5, you'll need 10 minutes to carve, 20 minutes rest time out of the oven, cooking time in the oven, 20 minutes to stuff, and a couple days prior to thaw. Put the times on a schedule, with the other major tasks for dinner, and you won't have to guess when you should be doing what. Or, forget any.
6.Check your stores and equipment. Have enough plates, glasses, silverware? What about serving bowls and utensils for every dish? And dessert? Foil? Imagine going through the day, and what you'll need.
7.Plan a menu that will allow you to prepare some dishes, or components, ahead of time, a day or two before. That way you won't have all the work to do at the same time. This is also critically important if you're doing a lot of things in the oven – you may need to stagger some dishes, cook some ahead and just reheat, or load them in together.
8.Let family and friends help. Kids love to pitch in if they feel their job's important. Chances are one or more of your guests is going to offer to help out, too. Think ahead of time, what tasks could someone take off your hands?
9.When you're making preparations, don't forget to plan for leftovers. Have enough large food storage bags or containers on hand for what you'll keep, and what you'll send home with your guests too.
10. Don't make making dinner a reason to stop being your cheery, happy self. The best part of friends and family is they'll be happy whether you flub the potatoes or gravy or not. They're there to enjoy you as much as the food. Give them Christmas with Dad. Sit down and have a good time.