Mary Giuliani—caterer to the likes of the Rolling Stones and Oprah, and pal to our gal Rach—answers your holiday entertaining questions so you can host like a pro, from party-hopping to make-ahead menus.

By Mary Giuliani
December 04, 2020
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holiday meal prep
Enlist family to help with the holiday meal prep!
| Credit: Photography by Paola + Murry

Q: What's the best way to balance cooking and baking for Thanksgiving? —Carla Cesar, Brampton, Ontario, Canada

When I was growing up, the Saturday before Thanksgiving was always reserved for baking. (FYI: Pies and pie dough can be frozen for up to two weeks and still taste delightful when cooked!) It was one of my favorite cooking days with my family. I would spend all day in the kitchen with my mom, kneading, blending, combining, and learning about soft and stiff peaks. So I highly recommend starting this ritual with your family—heck, invite the neighbors' kids over, too. The more help in the kitchen before the "big day," the better!

I love to entertain, but what are good dishes to make ahead so I'm not stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is having fun? —Cathy Whitehurst, Villa Park, IL

Casserole dishes are your best friend for the holidays. Anything that can be reheated in a casserole dish can be made in advance of your guests' arrival. Also, years ago, when I grew sick of missing out on all the merrymaking, I decided to move the bar and hors d'oeuvres from the living room into the kitchen so that I could still enjoy my guests' company while I was finishing up some parts of the meal. Even better, everyone's more likely to lend a hand in the kitchen if they're already there.

What are quick, healthy meals to serve for breakfast and lunch before a main Thanksgiving feast? —Sara Nitzsche, Columbus, OH

Water and carrots. Ha, kidding! Actually, I think a healthy way to start Thanksgiving Day is with a delicious green-juice smoothie. My easy go-to is a handful of kale, a tablespoon of almond butter, some strawberries and blueberries, and almond milk. Throw it all in a blender—instant yum! For lunch, a nice soup buffet is a great way to go, without being too filling before dinner. Make a batch of your favorite soup and serve with all sorts of toppings to beef it up a bit. If you make butternut squash, you could serve it with chopped nuts, bacon bits, sliced basil, and fried onions. Easy, yummy, and it won't upstage the main event.

How do you keep everything hot when it all needs to be served together? Something is always cold! —Diana Mannarino, Bronx, NY

If you can figure this out, let me know how you did it! Home cooking is not a TV show competition. It's an extension of your heart. Be kind to yourself. In addition to being a day of gratitude, this is also a day when disastrous entertaining mistakes are made across the country. If your mashed potatoes are not as airy as you'd hoped, who cares? I find it helpful to have all my sides precooked so all I have to do is warm them while the turkey is resting and waiting to be carved. Also, sitting down the week before Thanksgiving with a good old pad and pencil and writing out the menu—making not only a cooking plan but a plan for what enters the oven when—keeps things a bit more organized. It won't be perfect; nothing is. But it'll help ease your mind a bit, and if you jot down a note about what didn't work, that can go into next year's plan!

What's the best way to host when your adult children have multiple places to go to (e.g., in-laws, etc.)? How do you maximize the time? —Amy McGranaghan, Omaha, NE

Let's not forget that this is a season to be grateful for spending time with the people we love, even if it's just a little time or it has to happen on Zoom. It's about quality around the holidays, not quantity. I was once invited to a friend's house on Thanksgiving for dessert and drinks only, and I thought that was great! She was being honest about not being able to pull together a full dinner, but she wanted to spend the time and that was the best she could do. How nice, right? It was a wonderful way for us to see each other and express our gratitude in a loving yet time-saving manner. The hosts were so laid-back because all they had to do was display the dessert and pour the drinks. Easy as pie!

This article originally appeared in our Holiday 2020 issue. Get the magazine here.