She was freaking out. Her boyfriend just dropped the bomb on her that not only would “they” (meaning of course “she”) be preparing Easter Dinner, but his entire family would be coming over “to stop by”. Oh and by the way, she should invite hers as well. She quickly whipped out her trusty dusty super math calculator (aka her fingers) and scientifically tabulated that in just one week’s time she was going to have to feed 10 adults, 5 children, 1 potential mother-in-law and her own mother (she might have whipped out her toes for back up counting assistance). To make matter worse, she hadn’t met half of them and she had to figure out how she was going to accomplish all of this while still going to work. Grandma sure made this look easy…
She seriously contemplated if she ran for it how long it would take for her boyfriend to catch her. (No dice. He ran track in college.)
- Option A) Order from Boston Market (No, she had nothing else if not her pride)
- Option B) Make it a potluck (No, because her boyfriend had spread the word about how her cooking skills had recently blossomed thanks to Culinary Princess Catering. Just wouldn’t seem right if she didn’t cook)
- Option C) Hire a caterer (Yes… No, Culinary Princess Catering is booked)
- Option D) Just make the best of it and make sure everyone is fed (Yes/No… Type A personalities can’t do anything half way)
- ** Removed: Irrational Options E-O **
- Option P) Make this the best Easter Dinner EVER! (Yup, that’s the winner)
After a brief moment of hysteria and a series of non-PG words with her boyfriend, she had mostly returned to her normal self when a new, worry-induced minor panic slipped in caused by one question: “What if they don’t like it?”
Realizing how daunting it was to please every guest, she knew that a successful Easter Dinner would require artistic finesse coupled with war-like strategy. Good thing someone sought fit to write a book just for this exact circumstance and she happened to have a copy. (Bet you didn’t know The Art of War was really in reference to family meals, did you?)
The War Plan for Family Meal Gatherings:
- Laying Plans – The best large family meals are well organized and have contingency strategies for any potential mishaps. Taking the time to make a written, well thought out plan in advance will save you from last minute scurrying, unfortunate nail biting and closet brandy swigging. Use the information you have about your guests (she is a vegetarian, the little one doesn’t eat anything red, he is allergic to garlic) to make sure that everyone will be comfortable. (More dinner party logistics details in the post Party.)
- Waging War/The Challenge – You want to make an impression, but you don’t want to go broke doing it. Start with a realistic budget, which includes food and supplies. Remember that the 99¢ Store is your friend for Easter Basket goodies and decorations. While lobster and filet mignon might be your favorite, chicken and sirloin roast are cost effective options that can still wow the pants off your diners.
- The Plan of Attack – Write a production schedule that includes all preparation participants. Start with the day you plan to go grocery shopping and include when you will be decorating, the time you need to wake up, what supplies are needed at what times, and when items will be prepared for service. Give approximate times when you need to put dishes in the oven and determine which items you can cook simultaneously. Allow enough time to cook and get yourself ready (yes the food has to taste good and you have to look fabulous. Welcome to your own 1950s tv show.) Be sure to have tasks for helpers laid out in advance so that you do not have to stop your stride in order to create a bogus way for them to feel needed. Take all the help you can get and don’t forget to remind people that dish washing is highly appreciated.
- Tactical Positioning – Get to the high ground and stay there. Family gatherings can be quite overwhelming, but your attitude towards the undertaking will make or break you. Do not sink into “below the line thinking” (love The Oz Principle). Self-pity, premature feelings of defeat and falling into the victim cycle will sink your meal faster than the Titanic. Smile on and remember to enjoy yourself.
- Energy/Directing – Set yourself up for success and build positive momentum as the preparations continue. Be sure to congratulate yourself for accomplished tasks and don’t allow the negative thinking of others to hinder your progress. Remember to politely ask others to help and do not bark orders as if you were the reincarnation of Francisco Franco. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
- Illusion & Reality – You can’t do it all, but you can fake it. Don’t have time to make Easter baskets and cook? They sell pre-made baskets ready to go. Can’t decide how you are going to make everything in your limited space? Discover the power of cooking the day before and refrigerating. You want filet mignon on a chicken budget? Roast different flavors of whole chickens and allow the variety to please your guests. There is a work-around for every problem.
- Engaging the Force – Remember the Bambi Rule: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” After slaving away to make the perfect meal, you may be slightly irritable. Keep your emotions in check when interacting with family to avoid potential conflict. Instead of getting to the point where you are overwhelmed and grumpy, ask for help and keep the chef-zilla at bay.
- Variation in Tactics – “The best laid schemes of mice and men go often awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy!” (To a Mouse by Robert Burns). Remain flexible. Although having a sturdy plan will make your family gathering run more smoothly, life happens. Don’t become so attached to your plan that you forget your purpose. The meals is important, but the quality family time is the reason for the gathering in the first place.
- Attack by Fire – Take criticism well. Despite the fact that his cousin’s friend that decided to tag along complained loudly that your mashed potatoes were not as good as his mother’s (who doesn’t cook), have confidence in your own abilities. Take constructive criticism in stride and let the haters hate on. Do not fear failure and do not let the promise of a critical audience prevent you from sharing your cooking gift.
- Situational Positioning – Know the interpersonal terrain you are dealing with. Let the yumminess of your food melt familial political barriers. If all else fails, provide fun distractions with decorations, music, games and libations. Ensure that there is at least one thing that each guest will leave talking about. Easter baskets for the kids, Easter eggs, his sister’s favorite bubbly and fresh tulips for the table are thoughtful details that round off a complete meal.