You know that scene at the beginning of Home Alone where the house is total chaos and the entire extended family is grabbing pizza off the counter? There’s something about it that immediately fills me with holiday spirit. Or how about the dinner scene in The Family Stone — as uncomfortable as it is to watch, I still kinda want to spend the holidays with that big, crazy family despite their total disfunction. But any of us who have actually hosted overnight guests knows that it’s no small feat to keep everyone’s needs met around the clock, especially during the holidays.
One of my favorite cookbooks of the year, Every Day Is Saturday (and no I will not stop talking about it) swept in with the EXACT low-key solutions I’ve been needing to feed overnight guests without breaking a sweat. I begged author Sarah Copeland (@edibleliving) to let me spill her hosting secrets in an excerpt from the book here, and in true holiday spirit, she agreed. Read on for Sarah’s genius advice, and pick up your copy of the book right here.
I love a full house. When we first bought a house, after many years of living in the world’s smallest apartment in New York City, we had a table for eight for the first time in my adult life.
That year, I invited friends to stay almost every weekend. I loved all our raucous, late-night dinners, with wine and kids and music and laughter all thrown in the mix. Even more, I loved waking up under the same roof, and gathering again, still in pajamas, for the first meal of the day.
But feeding houseguests isn’t for the meek; it takes planning and grace. Especially if one houseguest in particular isn’t just hungry, he’s staaarving (in his southern Missouri twang). He might be related to me.
My dad is an emphatic man. I love this about him. When my mom makes dinner, he’ll smack and lick his lips wildly, saying, “Honey, honey, honey! This is deli¬cious!” (It took me years to stop expecting everyone else to do the same.) He chips in to set the table, helps with the dishes, is a pro at feeding toddlers. In short: He’s an ideal, jovial houseguest. But when he’s hungry, nothing can curb his zeal for the next meal.
It’s not his fault. My grandmother—his mother—was a legendary host who seemed to be able to do it all: raise six kids, put three hot meals on the table each day, and even go back to college, with her two youngest in tow. Well into her eighties, there were often twenty people under her roof for whole weekends at a time. I’d wake up when the sun was just starting to glow through the attic windows where I slept. Downstairs, I could hear her sausage patties snapping against the fat in a cast-iron pan, the smell of fresh biscuits and gravy wafting up the steep, narrow steps. I’d run down, eager to help, but the table was already laid with rose-patterned china, heaped high with biscuits, homemade jellies, and velvety scrambled eggs. In the kitchen, my grandfather would stand beside her, following orders while she stirred orange juice in her squat glass pitcher, with a pinch of sugar. It’s how she served up all of life.
On my best days, I am like my grandma. Most days, though, I’m just human.
Enthusiasm for food runs in the family. To wit: my son, Mátyás. At three years old, his first words at 5 a.m. are “I’m hunnnnnnngry.” He bursts into tears if he doesn’t deem his portion as large as his father’s. And if I take too long getting down to the kitchen, I might find him in his diaper in front of the refrigerator, raw zucchini in one hand and a fistful of berries in the other, eyeing the shelves for what to eat next.
Once, I had bounding toddler-like energy, too, but since I had kids, I’ve adopted my husband’s groggy, pajama-clad saunter to the kitchen, what I now affectionately call the slow start. Trying to beat a hearty appetite to the punch every time is asking for a fail.
The fact is, feeding people—even people you love dearly—could be a chore. But it doesn’t have to be. You could rise in the wee hours, as my grandmother did. You could get help from take-out or resort to less healthy, more filling foods. Or, like me, you might find the art of baiting your home with DIY offerings a bit more your style. Consider this your host-with-the-most free pass.
How to Feed Your Hungriest Houseguests (Without Lifting a Whisk)
– Always keep fresh bread and butter in the house. Before you go to bed, set the bread (wrapped in a tea towel), a small dish of butter, and a jar of jelly with a spoon out on a tray on the kitchen counter for early risers. Keep a second, tightly wrapped loaf or two of bread in the freezer for emergencies.
– Create a DIY muesli station with jars of muesli, dried fruit, a stack of bowls, and a mug filled with clean spoons. Leave a “Help yourself, milk and yogurt are in the fridge” note nearby to cue self-service.
– Keep ample bowls of grab-and-go fruits like apples, bananas, pears, and clementines on the counter at the ready. Ditto jars of shelled nuts like cashews, pistachios, almonds, or walnuts.
– Create an organized coffee and tea station (as simple as one drawer, fully stocked, with a stack of mugs nearby) in your house and give guests a full round-the-clock invitation to self-serve.
– Stock jars of apple chips or dried fruit in living areas, where people can enjoy a healthy-ish nibble in private.
– Keep clasped jars of chocolate-covered almonds or trail mix on the countertop, with a help-yourself policy. (Kids usually need help with portion control.) Don’t fill the jar with your whole stash, which may disappear; hide half, and refill as needed.
– Keep cookie dough in the refrigerator or freezer for quick baking.
– Serve cheese. (It’s filling.)