8 Steps to Sunday Dinner

Jathan, Heather and David

Jathan and Heather with one of their favorite and most frequent guests, David Pirozzolo.

Everyone has a busy schedule these days. Whether working long hours getting a company off the ground, chauffeuring kids to soccer practice and piano lessons, or catching up on household chores, we all have an increasing number of reasons that is seems nearly impossible to sit down with family and friends for a delicious home-cooked meal. But as we always say, with a little organization, some advanced planning and a few favorite recipes, gathering loved ones around the dinner table is possible.

This weekend, we extended a bit of hospitality to a number of friends and asked them to join us at our home after we all fueled our spirit at our religious services. Although our public speaker couldn’t join us, we still had a grand time, swapping stories, laughing until our sides ached, and chowing down on tasty grub. But how did we get ready to feed a dozen people, tidy the house and still accomplish other necessary tasks we have to do every weekend? Here’s how, in 8 easy steps.:

Cassie and Samara

Cassie Taylor and her daughter Samara enjoy our Simply Chocolate Cake with Berries.

  1. Decide how many people to invite and make a list. (A week ahead.)Perhaps it seems like a foregone conclusion, but oftentimes the most important part of planning a gathering is realizing your limits. If your home will only fit 10 guests comfortably, don’t invite 20 people and think that you’ll figure out where everyone can sit later or that the food will stretch far enough to feed all those hungry people. As you would with a gift list, write down everyone that will attend, including your own family. Now you’ll have enough chairs and your guests can ask for second helpings if they wish, and you may even have enough leftovers to serve for lunches later in the week.
  2. Plan the menu and make a grocery list. (3 days ahead.)If you are a frequent home cook with plenty of recipes in your arsenal, you may be able to think of several dishes that stretch to feed a crowd right off the top of your head. If you’re a novice in the kitchen however, we suggest you plan a theme first. Mexican or Italian? Comfort foods or appetizers? For this dinner, we chose Italian foods because many dishes can be stretched simply by making more pasta. Lasagnas also go a long way and frequently make about 12 servings. Consider making two main dishes, a big salad, and sides of bread to feed the crowd. And don’t forget about dessert! Each dish should give every guest at least one serving. Once you have your menu planned, make a list of all the ingredients needed for each dish.
  3. Leslie and Alanna

    Leslie Croley and Alanna Langston shared jokes at Sunday dinner.

  4. Shop your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. (2 days ahead.)One of the biggest concerns people have about hosting a gathering is cost, particularly in our current economy. But once you have prepared your grocery list as directed in step two, visit your current inventory. Dig into the back of your freezer and fridge, pull out cans from the pantry and seeing what you already have on hand. (If you keep these storage areas organized, you’ll make this step so much easier. But that is another post altogether.) You’ll be surprised how many items you already have and can check off your grocery list, thereby reducing the number of items you actually have to purchase.
  5. Visit shopping destinations in order. (2 days ahead.)We always know the best places to shop to get a good deal. But if you’re not sure, ask a friend or look through the week’s grocery store circulars to find sales on the items you’ll need to prepare your feast. Once you know which stores you need to visit, plan to visit the stores on a circuitous route from your home. For example, first we head east to Kroger, north to Costco, west to IKEA, then go south toward home. By planning accordingly, we don’t backtrack and spend less time in busy weekend traffic.
  6. Linnea and Charles

    Linnea Konnagan and Charles Evans loved our Creamy Veggie Lasagna.

  7. Prepare baked goods and dishes with the longest cook time first. (1 day ahead.) Look at your menu again, checking the prep and cook times of each recipe. If one item has to cook and cool, like a cake, for example, prepare that dish first. Then prepare items like casseroles, lasagnas and meatballs, basically anything that will take an hour or more to prep and cook. If the menu item can be stored overnight in the refrigerator, make it. All fresh items like salads and boiled pasta should be prepared on the day of your event.
  8. Tidy the house. (1 day ahead.) If all menu items are prepared and something is cooking for a long time in the oven, set the timer (so you don’t forget about that food cooking in the oven) and start tidying each room of the house that guests will visit. Vacuum the rugs, dust the furniture, and sweep away any cobwebs. Also, be sure to clean the bathroom and stock it with toilet paper, soaps and clean hand towels. Sweep and clean the kitchen after you’re done cooking for the day.
  9. Set up tables, chairs, and buffet. (4 hours before serving time.) On the morning of the event, set the tables and chairs up and arrange the buffet. If you’re hosting a brunch, do this the evening before. Be sure to put out enough eating utensils, servings utensils, glasses, cups, plates, bowls and napkins. For an extra nice touch, light candles and arrange flowers to make the event even more special.
  10. Warm the food and prepare last minute menu items. (1 hour before serving time.) Heat any items you prepared in advance such as breads, casseroles, etc. Items that can’t be prepared ahead of time should be assembled or cooked now as well, such as salads and pasta. When everything is ready, invite your guests to take their seats, serve, and enjoy!
  11. Sandra and Jathan

    Sandra Evans and Jathan always find something delicious to dish about.

    These are the steps we take for nearly any gathering. However, here are some additional things to keep in mind. If you’re planning a large gathering, plan as far in advance as possible, particularly if you will need to send invitations, rent tables and chairs, move furniture to other rooms, set up a dance floor, etc. Also, many hands make the load light, so recruit as much help as possible and delegate chores to family members and friends. Finally, music always sets the mood for a party, so prepare a playlist on your iPod or burn CDs with music suitable to the party you’re planning, then play the music at an ambient level so it is loud enough to hear, but not so loud that it interrupts conversation during mealtime.

    Using these 8 steps, you too can plan a gathering that will be boisterous and fun, making a special memory for all your guests, and easing the stress you would otherwise experience as a host. Advance preparation makes all the difference in the world, and if you do as much as possible in the days preceding your event, you’ll be able to enjoy your own party and can avoid being stuck in the kitchen.

    © 2011 Jadeworks Entertainment. All rights reserved.

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About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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