Family & Parenting Family & Parenting Family & Parenting

Family entertaining made easy

Families come together throughout the year for a variety of celebrations. From birthdays to major holidays, the chances for entertaining are numerous. Some people relish the idea of opening their homes to guests. Others feel overwhelmed by the prospect of entertaining. There are different ways to make the process easier and go more smoothly.

Parties and family dinners are meant to be enjoyable, but very often hosts cannot fully participate in the fun. That's because they're often busy serving food, cleaning up minor messes, wrangling with the children, or meeting the needs of their guests. But guests intend to spend time with their hosts, and hosts should remember that when planning a party.

Although all obstacles cannot be avoided, there are many strategies that can be used to make entertaining enjoyable for all involved. Here's how.

* Share the work. Entertaining can not only be time-consuming, but it can also be expensive. Spreading out the responsibilities can relieve some of the pressure. If a particular family member is known for a certain dish or beverage, request he or she bring it to the party to lessen your workload and ensure guests get a dish they love. Not only may guests feel flattered, but chances are they will look forward to opportunities to share culinary classics as well. Pot-luck-style events are an ideal way to cut down on time in the kitchen and enjoy everyone's favorite recipes.

* Cut down on your work. There's no need to have a dozen entrees on the menu. Here's a good rule of thumb: Plan on a higher number of appetizers and one main course. This way guests can fill up on finger foods while you have ample time to complete the cooking or prep work for the main course. Appetizers can be store bought and enhanced with a little touch that makes them take on a homemade feel. For example, serve packaged egg rolls with a homemade spicy dipping sauce.

* Heat and eat. Select foods that can be prepared in advance, stored and then heated the day of the event. This way you can do the cooking when you have time and not feel rushed the day of the party. Baked pasta dishes, stews, casseroles, soups, and many other items can be prepped and cooked, then simply heated up. Also, many dishes taste even better when allowed to sit a day or two and absorb all of the flavors in the seasoning. If you prefer cooking something that is traditionally done the day of, like a roast, use a slow cooker that can be set in the morning and have the food ready and hot when you're set to serve guests.

* Cook foods you know. Now is not the time to experiment with recipes you haven't tried before. Stick to meals that you know how to make. Supplement easy main dishes with store-bought side dishes that can be prepared quickly.

* Set the table the night before. Clear off the dining room table and arrange the place settings the night before you are hosting company. Use this time to also take out the serving dishes you will need, and to clean out the dishwasher so you can easily load your dirty dishes the day of the party.

* Clean wisely. Cleaning up for company is another task that is time-consuming and less than enjoyable. Instead of cleaning the entire house top-to-bottom, clean only those rooms the guests will be in. Keep certain spaces, like the bedrooms, off-limits. Spend extra attention on the bathrooms, where you should hang fresh hand towels, supply extra toilet tissue and wash all countertops and floors. Spend the early morning the day of the party doing a once-over on the bathrooms after the family has showered and washed up. Also, use this time for dusting the living and dining rooms and vacuuming. Don't go overboard because guests likely won't notice and you're probably going to have to do a thorough cleaning after guests leave.

* Hire someone. If your budget allows, cater the event from a favorite restaurant, which will dramatically cut down on the work you need to do. There are also services that will help you set up your party and do the serving and clean-up so you can mingle with guests. This is especially valuable for hosts who really want to enjoy the party with their guests. Catering might just cost the same as if you purchased all of the food and supplies yourself.

Although family entertaining can sometimes induce anxiety, hosts and hostesses can reduce the amount of work and stress by paying attention to the details that matter.