Last-minute hurried food preparations can drain any cook's holiday spirit. By planning ahead and sticking to a budget (both time and money) you can take some of the hassle out of your holidays, while keeping food quality, flavor and safety a top priority.
Avoid leaving perishable foods, such as cut fruits and vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, eggs, cooked dry beans and dairy products, at room temperature for more than two hours. This includes the total time for preparation and serving.
Fruits and vegetables
Assemble vegetable casseroles a day in advance, cover and refrigerate. Bake the day of your dinner, planning for 15 to 20 minutes extra heating time. Heat until they're hot and steamy throughout.
Cut washed fruits and vegetables within a day of your meal for salads and relish trays. Keep cut fruits from turning brown by coating them with lemon, orange or pineapple juice, or a commercial anti-darkening preparation. Cover and store in the refrigerator above raw meats and below cooked items.
Purchase fresh raw meat, poultry or seafood no more than one to two days before your holiday meal. Freeze for longer storage.
If you have frozen meat, poultry or seafood, place it on a tray on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator and allow approximately 24 hours for each 5 pounds of weight for it to thaw.
If you cook meat, poultry or seafood the day before your meal, refrigerate it in small portions in shallow pans within two hours after cooking.
You can place loosely covered foods in the refrigerator while they're still warm. Cover them tightly when completely cooled. On the day of your meal, reheat until hot and steaming to 165 F, as measured with a meat thermometer.
Save money and add surprise to the menu by asking guests to bring a dessert. Or try asking one person to bring cut fresh fruit, another homemade pound cake and someone else whipped cream (regular, fat-free or sugar free) or frozen yogurt or ice cream. You can offer healthy choices and have people feel that they contributed to the meal.
Clean up together
Some of the most fun I have had at dinner parties was in the kitchen cleaning up with friends and family. What can become an overwhelming chore can be fun when several people are working together and chatting at the same time.
Think of the hostess or host who has spent hours planning, shopping, preparing and serving a meal. Then after the meal they are faced with an hour or more of cleaning the kitchen and dining room. When guests make an offer to help, let them! Turn on the Christmas music, share holiday memories, recipes and enjoy the fellowship.
Share the holiday spirit with others who may not be as fortunate.
When you have tons of leftovers don't throw them out or put them in the refrigerator to throw away later. Share your bounty with elderly neighbors who may not be able to do very much cooking or the working single mother or father who would appreciate a ready- made meal.
I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas. May your travels be safe (buckle up) and keep warm.
Adapted from University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County
Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family
and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.