In theory, inviting all your friends and family over for a night of good food and stellar conversation seems like the definition of #adulting. In reality, it’s a daunting task, filled with tiresome days of preparation, possible sobbing, and the urge to call the whole thing off before realizing it’s too late. Dramatic? Maybe, but hosting a party is definitely not as easy as it looks on TV. Luckily, these meal-prep tips will help you breathe easier and make hosting a party actually (gasp) fun.
1. Take a home inventory.
Throwing a party can put a dent in your wallet, and coming up with a menu is the definition of overwhelming. If you’re not sure where to start, Toby Amidor, MS, RD, and best-selling author of Smart Meal Prep for Beginners, suggests taking a household inventory. “Look at ingredients you already have, including condiments, serving dishes, paper goods, wine glasses, and other accessories, like cute signage,” she says. These extras are what make a successful dinner party.
“The last thing you want to do right before guests arrive is to run to the store to buy extra wine glasses or large serving bowl,” Amidor says. Once you take stock of what’s in your home, you can start planning the menu.
2. Write everything down.
Now that you’ve scoured your pantry, cupboard, and everywhere in-between, it’s time to make a detailed list. Write down everything you have, from the ingredients you plan to use to the utensils that go with each dish. If you’re an organization rockstar, you can break down each dish into ingredients, serving vessel, utensils, and condiments. And don’t forget the drinks and dinnerware. Highlight all the things you already have and create a shopping list with the items that aren’t highlighted.
3. Don’t try to be Julia Child.
You may want to impress your guests with Boeuf Bourguignon, but let’s be honest—no one knows what Boeuf Bourguignon is. “The worst thing that can happen is if a recipe doesn't come out as you expected,” Amidor says. “This can wreak havoc on your meal prep pace and cause you to scramble for dishes at the last minute,” she adds. Amidor suggests opting for a menu with dishes you’ve made at least 2 to 3 times before.
4. Categorize your ingredients.
You took inventory, wrote a menu, and now it’s time to start cooking, but the order in which you prepare dishes matters. Amidor recommends categorizing dishes into three buckets, according to when they can be prepared. “First, determine what can be frozen in advance, like soups, lasagna, or cookies, and start prepping those items a week or two before the party.”
Next, she suggests prepping the refrigerated items, like appetizers and sauces, a few days in advance. Lastly, prep the salads or desserts that might get mushy (like trifles) the day before the party. “Prepping this way also helps decrease much of the stress of making all that food at once,” Amidor says.
5. Freeze as much as possible.
Want to know the secret to being a meal-prepping god? The freezer! That thing on top of your fridge is not just a black hole for fish sticks and frozen pizzas. The freezer is actually really helpful for making things ahead of time, and most dishes can be frozen. If something is supposed to be crispy, it’s best to make it fresh. If it’s softer, it’s probably fine to freeze.
For example, you can freeze sauces, like gravy or marinara; most appetizers, like dumplings, mini quiches, pizza bites, or puff pastries; and even some main dishes, like meatballs, any type of casserole, or most grain-based dishes. Whatever you choose to freeze, make sure you label it so you don’t forget anything on party day.
6. Call upon your friend T Joe (Trader Joe’s, that is).
You could throw an entire party from the Trader Joe’s frozen section alone (and it would taste really good), but the store has so much more to help with your party needs. The roasted nut medleys make great snacking options, the pre-cut veggies help cut down on prep time, and the boxed and pre-made desserts taste like they come from a bakery. Plus, you can even find fancier items, like shishito peppers, Norwegian crispbreads, and a whole array of gourmet cheeses. In other words, spend some time with T Joe and let him do the work for you.
7. Swallow your pride and ask for help.
No one likes to admit that they need help, but it’s a liberating feeling once you do. Many of us have friends who are better cooks or mixologists, and it’s important to call said friends in a time of need. Bribe them with free booze or a dinner on you (to be claimed later), and your party prep may just go from tiresome to something you look forward to.
8. Clean as you go.
“When prepping multiple dishes, cleaning as you go—especially while dishes are cooking—will minimize the amount you need to do right before the guests arrive,” Amidor says. Not to mention that having a clean-ish kitchen will keep your stress level down. Nothing is more intimidating than a sink full of dishes.