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You can't plan your meal too early

By Staff
Michelle Blaylock, Mom's Corner
It's the week before Christmas and all through the house the children are calmly and patiently awaiting the big day while Mom and Dad relax and enjoy the season. The stockings are hung by the fireplace with care and the bright Christmas lights twinkle outside in the snow.
Preparations are ready for a multitude of family and friends to enjoy the enormous Christmas feast. It's such a peaceful and beautiful time. I wish!
This is not the picture at the Blaylock home. My children are anything but calm. In fact, I think they've gone temporarily insane! I can say our stockings are hung (with care is questionable) and most of our lights and such are up (not necessarily twinkling). I have a couple strands of lights that insisted on not working once they were hung up. They worked fine before! Ahhh! Now let's discuss this Christmas feast. The trick to having a successful feast is to plan ahead – like now. Every family is different and some may not have to start planning a week or so ahead. I have to say I started planning our Christmas dinner the week after Thanksgiving. We will have six guests (family, but guests all the same) plus the eight in our own family. That's 14 people, and seven of those are adults (four are men). I knew I had to plan ahead for this one.
Even if you're not feeding this many people, planning ahead has several advantages. The first being you are better able to enjoy your guest's company. For example, at Thanksgiving I had actually written down a simple time chart for when I needed to put dishes in the oven or on the stove. This gave me the freedom from worrying about timing for the dinner.
Also, if you know what you're going to be preparing, you can mentally walk through the steps of preparation. The reason I do this is so that I'm sure that I'm not forgetting something. At Thanksgiving, I was going to do lasagna for the kids. When I was mentally walking through the preparation, I realized I was running very low on parchment paper to cover the lasagna. It had been a while since I had used the paper and I had forgotten to add it to my list. If I had not "mentally walked through the steps " I would probably not realized I even needed the paper until too late.
Something else I like about early planning is watching the sales fliers. If you know several weeks in advance what you're going to be fixing for dinner you can watch the ads to get the most for your money. This also allows you to make changes to your menu if you happen upon a very good sale. Several years ago I had planned on fixing Swiss veggie medley for an Easter dinner. About two weeks before the dinner, name brand canned green beans went on sale. I switched my veggie medley to green bean casserole"to take advantage of the sale. Another thing I do is, as I make my grocery list, I put a check mark or tally mark next to each item showing in how many dishes I plan on using the item. When I go shopping I take along a copy of my menu. This has helped me on numerous occasions. If I have an ingredient on the list and can't remember why, I can look at my menu to refresh my memory. There are some dishes that I can substitute one item for another, then there are others that don't do as well with substitutes.
Planning early also has the advantage of getting some dishes ready a day or two in advance. I'm not a fan of re-heating dishes. Some things I think just taste better when prepared fresh right before serving – turkey, for example. However, you have to be sensible about it. If you have this huge turkey filling your oven there is no way your going to cram in other dishes. You also don't want the turkey sitting forever after it comes out of the oven waiting for the other dishes to be cooked. So here's my compromise. I cook things like the casseroles and such the night before then all they have to do is reheat. I also use microwave safe dishes so I can start them in the microwave and then transfer to the oven when it's free.
There are other foods that are just better when refrigerated overnight anyway. Dishes like a seven layer salad, veggie dip, lasagna and tortilla roll-ups. These all taste better when the flavors have had a chance to blend a bit.
Planning ahead also gives you the opportunity to check all your pots and pans and make sure to have enough of everything or decide how many disposable pans you need to purchase. One thing nice about the disposable pans is that you can send leftovers home with people and you don't have to worry about getting your favorite casserole or cake pan back.
When planning ahead, don't forget things like plates, cutlery, napkins, cups, etc. Also, remember to check your condiments for freshness, refill your salt and pepper shakers, etc. Plan your drinks early, too. Decide what you're going to offer and make sure you have enough of it. I usually like to have a crock pot with apple cider as a hot drink and a variety of several cold drinks. I like lemon in my water so I always check my lemon supply, as well.
Overall, I am looking forward to Christmas and the dinner I will share with my family. If you have a tip, recipe or shortcut to share, please send it to: Mom's Corner; P.O. Box 1496; Hartselle, AL 35640 or you can e-mail me at moms-corner@juno.com. (Don't forget the hyphen.)
Happy Holidays and God Bless,