Smart Tips for Planning Menus and Hosting Holiday Meals During the Coronavirus Pandemic
With this not-your-average holiday season approaching, hosts and attendees are considering how to balance festivities and holiday cheer with quite the opposite force: COVID-19. For the cooks of the family, the impact is really felt at the heart of the meal: menu planning. While nothing is foolproof—though wearing a mask, social distancing, and spending time with just your quarantine pod are CDC-recommended steps you can take to mitigate your risk all the time—there are certain precautions you can take to help protect our friends and family should you choose to entertain this holiday season.
To start, consider these creative solutions and smart tips while planning this year's feasts. Remember to always reference the CDC or local government advice in addition to considering what works for you and your guests needs. Most importantly, stay safe and enjoy.
Adjust the Menu
Set a menu appropriate for this year's guest count. To keep everyone safe, less people will be traveling and gathering in person this holiday season. Smaller crowds mean smaller menus. Scale back classic recipes to serve the right number of people or look for new recipes that are better-suited to your smaller get together. For inspiration start with our small Thanksgiving dinner menu, hitting all the notes of the holiday with the right amount of leftovers. Another option? Look to our winter dinner menu for six with beef tenderloin.
Lean on Make-Ahead Dishes
Holiday cooking stress is real, and it's the last thing you want on top of COVID-related stress. Having food ready to go also keeps tempted guests, who might wonder what you are up to or if they can help, out of the kitchen. This minimizes the amount of people standing over the food or touching utensils. Choose a menu like our make-ahead holiday menu that takes the pressure off you and select smart recipes like our best make-ahead holiday dishes.
Rethink Grocery Shopping
Minimize your exposure to COVID-19 before hosting by checking off the grocery list virtually. Skip going into overcrowded stores; instead, buy as many grocery and pantry items as possible online or by phone with local stores that deliver. Not only is this a great safety precaution, but it can also help save you precious time. Our guide to safe grocery shopping this Thanksgiving should help you cover all of your bases.
Add To-Go Boxes to the List
Spread the holiday cheer with to-go holiday meals for guests who may choose not to attend your gathering due to virus concerns—this is a particularly kind gesture for elderly family members or those with compromised immune systems. Include them in your guest count, then pack their portions in recyclable dishes and deliver it to their home. The CDC is currently recommending that you deliver the food in a way that does not involve contact. While it won't replace spending time together, it goes a long way to keep spirits up.
Keep It Cleaner Than Ever
Get ready to wash your hands, sanitize, and maintain a cleaner than usual environment. The CDC currently recommends that anyone preparing food washes their hands for 20 seconds before and after preparing, serving, and eating food. Include soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, and tissues on your grocery list and keep bottles and boxes in the kitchen, bathrooms, and areas where guests gather.
Skip the Buffet
Minimize the number of people handling the food and serving utensils in order to prevent any spread. While there is no current evidence that COVID-19 is passed through food, there is risk associated with having multiple guest handle the same serving utensils. Designate one person to serve the meal and consider a plating strategy during menu planning.
Part of meal planning this year is also communicating. Keep it light and informative, but be sure to let guests know in advance of the precautions you are taking to protect everyone against COVID-19; if there are any precautions you would like them to follow, be sure to share that information ahead of the gathering.