So You’re The Holiday Chef This Year: Here’s How To Make Easy, Delicious Dishes

Tips and tricks from culinary experts to help you master your holiday dishes.

You’d normally be readying yourself for holiday travel at this time of year, but the holidays are shaping up to be completely different in 2020. That means gathering with a smaller group of family members and friends and shifting roles. Where once you might have just contributed a dish, now you might be the holiday chef for the first time ever.

So, how can you make the holiday hosting process easy and low effort, while still impressing and satisfying all your guests? Both food blogger Jessica Evans of Jessie Eats and Spring Place Executive Chef Fabio Bano recommend the French culinary method mis en place. “Meaning ‘everything in its place’, using this mindset is a gift you are giving yourself to save time and alleviate stress so that you can fully enjoy the process and your guests,” Evans says. And the approach is a game changer for Bano because it aids in the process of organization. “It is important to have a detailed checklist for the preparation of each dish,” he states.

To help check off all the items on your list, we’ve teamed up with Walmart+ to make your shopping process effortless. With a Walmart+ membership, which includes free unlimited delivery* from stores, mobile scan & go and member prices on fuel, not a precious minute is wasted. Read on for more expert tips and tricks to help you ace your role as a first-time holiday chef.

A clean canvas is the best way to begin your holiday hosting journey. “Tidy up the kitchen, sanitize all surfaces, wash napkins and tablecloths, and clean any tableware that hasn’t been used recently,” Erin Hendrickson, RDN of No Waste Nutrition suggests. “It’s just as important to clean as you prep food and cook dishes. A cluttered kitchen can subconsciously add extra stress to the process.” Keeping your hands and clothes clean and washed throughout your cooking process is also essential this year. To comply with public health best practices, Hendrickson proposes changing into a fresh set of clothes before cooking.

“Start making sauces, cutting vegetables, making stocks, and prepping at least a day before,” author and food blogger Evi Aki advises. “Doing this at least a day before will make the actual cooking so much easier and a breeze. You can store stocks and sauces in the freezer until you are ready to use them.”

Though mastering new dishes can fill your heart with joy no matter the season, don’t feel pressured to try something you’ve never made before, recommends Allison Tkachenko of @youshouldbedrinkingthis. “Since it’s your first time hosting, stick to a meal you’re comfortable making and know your guests will enjoy,” she says. That might mean your favorite pasta dish or a dessert you’re known for amongst friends and family.

“Bring out that air fryer and slow cooker,” blogger Tisha Salkey of DishItWithTisha instructs. “They will surely save the day. You’re probably going to be cooking so much that you will have limited space on the stove top and oven.” And even if space is no concern, any dishes you can set and forget are helpful. “Especially with the slow cooker, it ends up saving active time because you just put your meat in there that morning and effortlessly end up with a five-star dish.”

Taking an inventory of the tools you’ll need to make, serve and dine is crucial. “Chances are, some items may need to be secured, especially if you’re new to holiday hosting,” Hendrickson says. “Borrow larger casserole dishes or baking pans instead of purchasing new equipment that may see minimal use post-holiday. Single-use aluminum bakeware dishes are an option as well.” You can get them delivered for free* right to your door from a store near you with your Walmart+ membership. These dishes also wash clean easily before you toss them in the recycling bin, so they aren’t harming the environment.

Holiday meals won’t be the grand affair this year that they’ve been in the past. So be unafraid of cooking smaller dishes that work for your new group size. “Swap a 12-pound turkey out with a smaller, faster-cooking turkey breast or Cornish game hens,” culinary editor Angela Carlos encourages. “Trade a holiday ham for a cider-glazed pork tenderloin. Skip bulky casseroles for roasted vegetables that can be dressed up with simple sauces and gravies.” And don’t overdo the appetizers. “Something small to pass like spiced nut mix or a cheese board while you pass out drinks is enough to whet your guests appetites.”

“Salt is the ingredient that you need to have on hand,” says chef and instructor at the International Culinary Center, Jeffrey Butler. “Taste and season incrementally. This is often the one area where people who aren’t comfortable cooking forget to put the most effort.”

If you do want to try a new dish, get out of your comfort zone, or just feel more confident in what you’re making, a cooking class is a great way to boost your morale and make you feel more comfortable in the kitchen. “There are a lot of great virtual options right now given the nature of 2020 that are fun and inexpensive,” Tkachenko points out. She has taken a few with The Chief Leisure Officer and felt much more confident in her abilities after getting some great advice from a professional.

“You do not need to make everything on your menu: planning ahead gives you time to source the best prepared items that you can find,” says Butler. “Not everyone is comfortable baking, but you probably can find an amazing bakery where you can buy a pie within close distance of your home.” You can also ask one of the guests in attendance to bring one of their favorite dishes, which relieves the pressure on you to provide everything.

Once you’ve made your trusty list, Walmart wants to make the shopping process effortless with their Walmart+ membership that was created to help save time on everything from holiday entertaining to spending time with family. Not only do they offer up free unlimited delivery* from stores, so you can order everything from your list and get it in a timely manner, but if you choose to shop in stores, mobile scan & go will ensure a safe and contact-free checkout experience so you can put those precious minutes into preparing and cooking.

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From Walmart:

With free delivery* from your store, mobile scan and go and member prices on fuel, a Walmart+ membership saves you hours each week during the holidays and beyond. From groceries to gifts, it helps get everything delivered right to your door. More savings. More time. More joy in your (holi)day.

This article was paid for by Walmart and co-created by RYOT Studio. HuffPost editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.

*Note: $35 minimum. Restrictions apply.