Detailing your menu
First, go through your menu. Don’t forget to include any pot-luck affairs and standard meals (breakfast, brunch or lunch and dinner) for guests the day before or after. Write down every single item you’ll need to cook each dish — every ingredient and tool from cookware to serving dishes. Write it down, even if you know you’ve got it.
Strike and organize
After you’ve written down every item, go through and cross off items you have. If it’s something you don’t use often, make sure you know where it is. Then segregate the list into categories: perishable foods, nonperishable foods, cookware, kitchen tools and specialty items (something you may have to order).
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Get down to the details
Now, go through the ingredients and decide how much you really need. If you have three dishes that need a cup of milk each, you probably only need a half-gallon for cooking. Don’t be afraid to buy extra.
Now that you’ve consolidated, go through your specialty items and put together a game plan to get them on time. Do you need to order online or from a specialty shop? If so, find out what the details are (how long it takes to arrive, whether they ship to you or you have to go pick it up, etc.). Set a due date to have them ordered, then stick to it.
Time to buy
Buy all your nonperishable items and tools in a single shopping trip. You may need to make some extra space somewhere in your home to store them temporarily. If you find you need a lot of tools this Christmas, try one-stop-shopping at an online store to take advantage of pre-Christmas pricing and low- or no-cost shipping.
Buy your perishable items a few days before you need them. If any items have special instructions on storage, mark that down so they’ll be as fresh as possible and don’t forget to pick up or check on your specialty items.
Finally, don’t forget the often overlooked items and save-you-in-a-bind staples. These are the ones that will really get you through.
- Cooking spray (buy one of each variety you might need, whether it’s butter flavor, olive oil or baking spray)
- Foil, plastic wrap, wax paper and parchment
- Disposable containers for sending guests home with leftovers
- Food-safe markers to date leftovers (and labels if necessary)
- Napkins, paper plates and plasticware (especially for the kids)
- Powdered milk and eggs, cornstarch, stock cubes, etc. (these can be used in place of the real deal in a pinch or as a thickening or thinning agent if you make a mistake)