The holidays can come with a lot of excitement, but also a lot of pressure. If you're hosting friends or family in the coming weeks, you know there are a lot of moving pieces that come with holiday feasts and food.

Elizabeth Kerr, a Waterloo alum and chef, joined Alumni Know to share advice on the topic. For years, Elizabeth was a passionate home cook, exploring different cultures and flavours on her own time. But in 2020, she decided to go professional and entered a culinary program. Today, she works in professional kitchens — at local top restaurants and a culinary school — while maintaining her home cooking passion. Watch the video for tips to make your holiday food more special and less stressful.

Takeaways from Elizabeth

Take stock of your resources

Before you start planning your menu, Elizabeth suggests that you understand the resources you have on hand, mainly your time and budget. As the host of a gathering, you deserve to be happy and enjoy yourself with your guests, and that requires a menu that is reasonable and achievable. (1:15) Another way you can reduce stress is to stay organized — plan your menu and don't leave all the work to the last minute. (3:20)

How to plan a menu

Elizabeth prefers to plan a gathering menu in 3-4 courses, and excludes appetizers from her plans. She begins with an anchor for the meal. What do you absolutely want to serve? Perhaps it's a turkey, or the family's favourite rice dish. Then, you can build around it using flavours or a theme. Elizabeth uses an upcoming family dinner as an example. It began with a bolognese sauce and follows an Italian theme. (5:00)

Often, the anchor dish will be part of your main course. For a 3-course meal, you'll want to add an opener (like a salad or soup), as well as dessert. To pick your remaining dishes, Elizabeth offers a few different considerations. Think about the people who will sit around the table and add dishes that they love. For more inspiration, do a search for recipes that fit your theme. For dessert, consider serving a board of cookies, fruit, nuts and other favourite sweets. (7:40)

Easy additions that will impress

When you want to up your plating game, Elizabeth encourages you to search for the dish you're making, along with the words "elegant plated." It's a great way to find restaurant-style plating examples that you can mimic at home. She also suggests sprinkling or placing fresh herbs to finish your plate, managing the proportions you serve, and warming your plates before serving. (14:00)

How to manage a potluck dinner

When others are bringing dishes for the meal, Elizabeth encourages hosts to create a clear plan. You should have some idea of what you want the meal to look like. If you hope to have a green vegetable in the meal, make that clear. She also suggests that the host could take the most complicated or largest piece of the meal. (18:50)