holiday kitchen survival guide

It's November. That can only mean one thing: You're behind already.

None of us are ever prepared for the holidays. Things just get too crazy, too fast. You want to strike a happy balance: You want things to flow smoothly, and you want to have a lot of fun.

But you don't want to go to the extreme of wrapping Christmas gifts in July. After all, a little last-minute rush gets the adrenalin pumping.

Since it's too late to wrap your Christmas presents in July, anyway, your adrenalin rush is safe. But you don't want to be frantic, either. Here are some tips to help you create a holiday kitchen so you can still have time for your family. 

Clean Out Cabinets and Cupboards

Give yourself an early present and reorganize your kitchen so that it's functional for the holidays. 

When you've got four pots on the stove, a turkey in the oven, a ham in the microwave, and 18 hungry people in the living room, you'll be glad you did.

First, get rid of everything you are not going to use this holiday season.

To be organized and sane, you need space - and lots of it!

Open up the cupboards, cabinets, drawers, pantry, refrigerator, and freezer and take everything out.

Clean the empty areas, and then - now this is the trick - only put back what you are going to use over the next month. Pack up the rest and store it in the garage. 

Toss out any ancient foods from the fridge and freezer.

  • Cabinets and cupboards: Replace the summer patio ware in your cabinet with your holiday kitchen serving dishes and good china. Find and clean the roasting pan, bread pans, etc. Replace your every day glasses and cups with ones that match.
  • Holiday Kitchen Drawers: Put your silverware in a handy drawer. Find the holiday gadgets (basting thing, candy thermometer, meat thermometer, cheese knives, cheese holders, etc.) Tuck barbecue skewers, forks, etc., in for a nice winter nap in the attic.
  • Pantry: Be ruthless here. Is anyone really going to eat that six-month-old opened bag of Oreos? Toss. What about the cans of soup no one liked? Charity bins. Have the spices been there as long as the house? Trashcan. Make room for foods that people are actually going to eat.
  • Refrigerator and freezer: Nothing says "ick"  like a dirty refrigerator. This is not what you want - especially in your holiday kitchen! Dump everything out. Clean it from top to bottom. Toss the stuff with old expiration dates and any jellies dating back to the last decade. Make room for the goodies you're going to be cooking.

Regroup and Reorganize Your Holiday Kitchen

Use this occasion to rethink your holiday kitchen cabinet and drawer plan. Which cupboard is best for the glasses? Which counter is more convenient for the coffeemaker? What drawer should the corkscrew be in?

A lot of the time, we tend to leave things where we first put them, even if that spot turns out to be inconvenient. Why?

Because once you move the glasses to the cup cabinet, you now have to find a new home for the cups, which displaces another item. It's a round robin-effect.

So take advantage of this opportunity and develop a kitchen plan. 

Mentally divide your kitchen into activity areas so you and your family won't be falling all over each other as you work.

Here are some ideas:

  • Holiday Kitchen Food prep center: Knives, a butcher block, blenders, mixers, food processors, measuring cups, and spoons go here.
  • Cooking center:  Near the stove, store pots, pans, potholders, cooking utensils, oils, etc.
  • Baking center: Even those who despise cooking succumb to a little baking at Christmas time. And if you make it easy for yourself, you may do it more often. Gather your recipes, flours, yeast, baking powder, pans, cookie cutters, mixers, and bread machine in one corner of the kitchen. Bring on the cookie exchange!
  • Kid center: We want the kids to be more self-sufficient - just not underfoot. Set aside a cabinet (in a far corner of the kitchen) that's just for their stuff - kiddie cups, paper plates, napkins, straws, crackers, juices. Then they can get their own snack without bothering you.
  • Guest center: You know how people congregate in the kitchen - usually right in front of the drawer you need to get to. Create a cozy little area at the bar or kitchen table where they can sit and talk to you as you work - but stay out of the way. This can be as simple as setting up an area with various types of tea bags in a pretty basket, a couple of cups, napkins, and scones - all ready to be enjoyed.

Make Your Holiday Kitchen Battle (Menu) Plans

Plan your main holiday meals now. Check what ingredients you have on hand; put the rest on a shopping list.

Find your holiday recipes and put them in one binder in your kitchen. Find serving dishes for each entree and make sure they are clean and ready to roll.

If you're planning a party or a dinner party, carefully schedule the food preparation. What time do you plan to eat?

Then when should the turkey go in the oven? When should the shrimp be sautéed?

Make a schedule for the evening, listing all the preparations you need to do at the time you need to do them. That way, the shrimp will be cooked on time, and you won't find a forgotten tray of appetizers on top of the fridge after the last guest leaves.

When 20 people are in your kitchen chatting and asking questions while you're trying to put a five-course dinner together, that checklist could be a sanity saver.

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