Planning A Big Family Holiday Dinner

Q. Every year we have a dilemma during the holidays who will host what dinner and who will go to what dinner. Parents, in laws, brothers and sisters etc… we have lots and lots of family nearby and the count is growing.

This year my sister wants to host Thanksgiving dinner and include everyone at her house this way, she won’t have to decline anyone or have to appear at more than one family function. She has the space, but considering the cost in dollars and time, she suggested a Potluck dinner. We are looking for suggestions on how to invite people and suggest what they should bring (so we don’t have all salad or all dessert). She says she will make the turkey.. We are also looking for suggestions on how to do this with minimal cost. (decorations, invitations etc.) The Frugal Life readers are always so clever, I’m hoping for some good ideas. Thanks, Your loyal reader – Stacy

A. 1. Assign dishes to people (especially family favorites) – that way you get the right mix of salads, sides, desserts. If you are uncomfortable with that, segment by last name (A through H make side dishes, etc.).

2. Make sure the assigned dishes will feed at least 12. If a family of 4 comes and each person takes 3 items (salad or side, main, dessert), then that’s 12 servings taken up from the table. Somehow this number seems to work fine.

3. You can also assign paper goods (1 item per family) - so the people bringing desserts should also bring dessert plates, someone else brings plastic ware, etc.

4. Any singles coming (or those you know can’t cook!) – ask them to bring drinks.

5. We had over 20 guests last year with 12 kids under 9 (actually 11 under 6). We set up a kids table (a 4 ft square play table), and covered it with yellow butcher paper (contributed by a local school :-). We put crayons on the table. When it was time to eat, the moms got the kids their food first, so they were eating while we got our food and sat down. They finished ahead of us and quietly colored on the table, happy as clams. It can be done!

A. I always have Thanksgiving at my house and I make out a list of who is coming. Then I make up a menu of what I want to have and I call everyone and tell them what they are responsible for. It really works great and I’ve been doing it for years this way. We never have doubles of anything and the entire meal is taken care of. I also do the turkey. We have a nephew who is about 28 and single, so I always let him bring the paper plates and napkins!!

A. We’ve had good luck with all potluck dinners if we tell the guests it is a potluck and ask them what they would like to make. Most people willingly bring a dish to showcase their cooking skills. Some potlucks also ask the person to bring the recipe so that others can make it in the future. We have done potlucks as singles groups, family dinners, Law School Graduation parties, and weddings. All have turned out well. When my friends and family are invited for a dinner, they always ask what they can bring. I don’t even have to ask them. – Betty.

A. Having been in your shoes for many years regarding these wonderful get-togethers, here’s our plan. 1.) We alternate Thanksgiving. One year with my husband’s family, the next with mine. 2.) With my husband’s family being the larger, I do the potluck method also. I create my "wish list" of dishes and when family members RSVP, I ask which one they’d like to bring. The exception to this list is one sister-in-law who does not cook well, so she gets to do the chip and dip stuff or she brings sodas, cider, etc. I cook the turkey and mashed potatos; the rest is brought in oven- and microwave-safe containers Everybody pitches in to make the dinner special and also help with the cleaning up. Marianne R.

Editor’s Note: To avoid duplication the following are excerpts of submissions. The original submissions are very similar to above except for what I am including below:

A. Regarding what each guest agrees to bring – But most definitely, she should let them know that their decision is needed by a certain date before the holiday so a well rounded menu could be set without duplicates. – Maria

A. If you have a lot of families you may want two people to bring pies/rolls, or whatever, so that everyone has something to bring. You can also include paper plates etc as an item to bring if you want to avoid dishes.

A. Some ways to divide them all up –
1. One suggestion about how to make sure the dinner isn’t all one kind of thing is to divide all the people up according to the first letter of their last name. Then say what kinds of food groups you want at the table. For example if you are dividing the alphabet into four letters six letters each the first six can bring the breads and crackers, the next six can bring the main course, and so on. If there are letters left over after the dividing
those people can be the wild cards which means they can bring either the napkins, the silverware, or extra food of whatever kind they want.

2. When we do potlucks, we just go by the alphabet. A-G brings a side dish; H-M brings a dessert, etc. That has worked for us. Good luck!

3. O.K. the main course (turkey, I assume) is being cooked by your sister…assign the remaining dishes. This has worked many, many times at Church functions: You assign salads, side dishes, bread,
desserts….alphabetically (i.e. people from A – G do salads, H – N do side dishes, O – U do breads, V – Z do desserts). Whatever order works for you. You can either let people decide what type of dish they want to prepare or you assign a specific item with a specific recipe.

4. I have always found that unless someone actually designates who brings what – chaos reigns! Too many salads, no vegetable…etc. My suggestion is to make a list of all the people, then give them a choice – salad, vegetable, dessert, drinks, salad dressings, napkins, tableware, wine, flowers, etc. Then, when you go down the list, just cross off the choices – we always had so much more assortment when we did it that way. Then, you get more than one veggie, more than one salad, more than one salad dressing, and so on. If someone objects, or is short of money, or doesn’t cook, they could bring a veggie tray, appetizer tray, or even cans/jars of olives, pickles, etc. It all works and noone seems to feel that something is missing! Good Eating! – Chris

A. As far as decorations go for the event, you can have your children collect colorful leaves and pine cones for table decorations….hey, they’re free. Can’t get much cheaper than that. You can also buy the really small pumpkins from a farmer, then you can add the leaves &/or pine cones to the display.  For the invitations here are two different approaches. You can make them yourself (or whoever is willing to do this). Children love to help with this sort of thing……they can draw the "cover" page and then you fill in the details on the inside of the card. Card stock can be purchased fairly inexpensively…you get 100 sheets of 8-1/2" X 11". You can get two cards from a sheet (if you’re doing a card) or you can get 4 "post cards" out of 1 sheet. You can "stamp" an invitation (if you have "stamps"). A really inexpensive method would be to e-mail everyone (hopefully everyone has e-mail). Good luck on your gathering. – Marge

I would suggest printing invitations on your computer, or buying them (I don’t know where you are located, I’m down south) and paper products from a discount store such as Big Lots, Dollar General, Party City, or Garden Ridge. My family and I usually have to travel from out of town and we fix what we are contributing when we get down to my mom’s. We have also contributed paper goods and breads. – Robin

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