Gathering around a table full of food is a holiday tradition as old as time. If you’re like me, you’re mourning the idea of a “normal” holiday and trying to figure out how you can take back some control. There’s no doubt that the holidays are looking very different this year. While there are restrictions in place about the number of people or households that can gather, there are also ways to host a meal while minimizing the spread of germs—COVID or otherwise—between you and the select few friends or family members that you do choose to gather with. I’m not here to argue how illnesses are or aren’t transmitted, but if you are going to get together with anyone outside of your household to celebrate the holidays, why not take an extra step or two for the safety of everyone there? Here are some fun ideas for hosting a fun, but still safe, meal this holiday season.
Mashed Potato Bar
Yes, mashed potatoes can be a meal. Prepare your mashed potatoes and package them in individual bowls with lids, then put together your toppings. Grab some small containers (like these) and fill them with your favorite toppings: bacon bits, shredded cheese, sour cream, butter, chives, onion. Step it up with some protein options like ham, ground beef, pulled pork, or chili. Create enough packaged toppings so that every guest gets one of each, plus a few extras. Then, they can grab their potatoes and toppings and customize their bowl however they’d like.
Personal Charcuterie Boards
Charcuterie is all the rage and one of my favorite things about this pandemic is the evolution of personal charcuterie boards—because who wants to share anyway? If you haven’t heard of them, you can read more here. You can keep the board traditional with meats, cheeses, nuts, and fruit, or, switch it up and create a dessert board filled with candies, hot chocolate toppings, bite-sized cookies, and mini pastries. Bonus: mini charcuterie boards can double as a fun party gift. Or, to save on the budget, these disposable food trays are a great economical choice.
Those disposable food trays would work great here, too. Prep sandwiches or wraps and nestle them in some deli paper. Make your sides, such as potato salad, and prep them in individual containers. Or, save even more time and purchase individual-sized bags of chips from the grocery store. Throw in a fruit cup, pickle, maybe some packets of ketchup, and call it a day. Keeping everyone’s meals separate is a safer alternative to family-style dining. Then, finish off the box with a sparkly holiday bow and a gift tag with the guests’ names.
Hot Dog + Hamburger Bar
While these food items are usually reserved for summer barbecues, they are delicious year-round and make for a dish that is easy to pre-portion. The same idea from the mashed potato bar applies here. Individually wrap the main dish along with the different condiments which allow guests to customize their own plate without everyone reaching into the same dish. Get creative with your toppings or stick with a theme, like jalapeno-popper hot dogs or Greek burgers.
Ask people to eat their main meals before they come but you’ll host dessert. While this might have seemed odd in 2019, most people wouldn’t think twice about it in 2020. Weirder things have happened this year. There are so many fun ideas for individual-sized desserts out there, from mini cheesecake bites to portioned trifles, boxes of cookies for each guest, or even individually wrapped slices of pie. The possibilities are endless, thanks to Pinterest.
These ideas may differ drastically from your traditional holiday dinner, and I know firsthand how hard it is to stray from tradition. Last year my father-in-law wasn’t too happy when we decided to switch it up and have a nacho bar on Christmas. I guess it was a sign of the times to come. But, he ended up enjoying himself, just like every other Christmas, and we made some pretty great memories. My point is, it’s more important who you’re with than what you’re eating. I think that rings true this holiday season more than ever.