When your family delights in the same menu it creates a special experience. Food represents love, it binds us together. When your family eats the same food, you experience the same tastes, bringing you together in an almost magical way. Your body releases endorphins and "happy hormones" like dopamine when you eat delicious food. This makes you feel happy. So, when you eat good food together, you feel happy together. This experience creates a body memory that is linked to love and family.
The ideal family holiday menu is full of dishes the whole family can enjoy together and is homemade to create long-lasting memories. This holiday season, there is no need to plan a separate meal for the kids, order a ham, or buy premade frozen appetizers. Instead, you can make everything fresh with better ingredients and serve a meal everyone will love. This French Menu is surprisingly simple, elegant, exciting, and kid-friendly.
Many French restaurants offer "Menus" where there are two or three choices for your first course, main dish, and dessert. This Classic Holiday Family Dinner Menu is designed in the same manner.
Make your selections and read the notes below for tips on when to cook each dish so you can flow through the holiday meal preparation without stress or feeling overwhelmed with cooking your family holiday meal.
When you serve a big meal, go light on the appetizers. If you offer too much, the kids can lose their appetite for dinner, and the adults can easily overeat. So, as I always say, the appetizer, or apéritif as we say in France, is best-kept light.
Serve something simple like crudités (raw veggies) and pesto. It won't spoil anyone's appetite and provides the kiddies with their vegetables.
Or an assortment of light nibbles.
Then, add one or two heavier appetizers, like bacon-wrapped dates. Keep the preparation of your apéritif simple, so you don’t have much to do, and keep serving sizes small. Just a few bites to whet your appetite, and the drinks are the best part.
Add French syrup to your apéritif. Cassis is very popular with the kids. For the adults, serve the cassis syrup with white wine, called a Kir cocktail, or champagne called a Kir Royal cocktail.
Caesar Salad with Homemade Dressing and Croutons
This Caesar dressing recipe is loaded with nutrients and rivals most restaurants. Kids love this dressing, which goes well with the suggested main dishes.
I feel like lamb is often overlooked. Perhaps it seems like it would be challenging to make, or one may not be sure that family and friends will care for it. If either is true for you, I'll quickly diffuse the first myth by telling you that both a leg of lamb and a rack of lamb takes less than ten minutes to prepare, and there is nothing to it.
As for the second thought that maybe it won't be well received, you won't know until you try. I can share with you that over the past 30 years, I have served lamb to dozens and dozens of guests who told me they never or rarely have lamb, and they flipped over it. Kids too.
If you aren't sure, think of it this way, are you willing to spend a few dollars to try something that may be a new family favorite for years to come? And if you don't care for it, make leftover lamb pasta with rosemary, cream, and a splash of white wine or marsala wine. You'll hardly taste the meat.
For the sides, try potatoes dauphinois, and carrot purée… one or both. They both go handsomely with either lamb dish, and they are convenient to make and won't leave you with a pile of dishes to clean at the end.
All three are divine. Pick one for now and try the rest later. You'll keep these on your family menu for years to come.
When it comes to entertaining, I avoid cooking when the guests have arrived. I want to relax and enjoy being with everyone. So my menus are always planned with items I can make ahead, and for anything that needs to be done last minute, I want it to be very simple.
To enjoy yourself while you are entertaining, plan your menu and write down when you will cook each item. Then, spread it out over two to three days, and preparing your meal will flow seamlessly. For example:
The Caesar dressing lasts three days. Make this the day of so if you have leftover dressing, it can be used for the next two days. It takes about 10 minutes to make, so that's easy to do the morning of.
A bisque soup can be made several days ahead or a week ahead and frozen.
The potato dauphinois is always better the next day, so you can make it the day before or the morning of and warm them before serving. The carrot purée can be made a day or two ahead as well.
All three dessert choices take a few hours to chill so it is ideal to make these the day before or the morning of.
The rack of lamb and leg of lamb takes between 30 and 50 minutes to cook, so they can be the only item you are cooking the day of your holiday meal. The prep time is fast, and the oven does all the work. What's left is tossing the salad and warming the side dishes.
Viola! You will serve a remarkable meal that is elegant and exciting, and convenient for you to prepare.
It's Always a Sweet Ending...
If you want to explore a few more menu ideas, a French raclette dinner is a fun family idea. It is a great idea for New Year's Eve or any holiday celebration. This is also a great idea when you entertain another family.
And you can never go wrong with a French bistro menu of roast chicken, roasted potatoes or fries, and chocolate mousse. A meal so easy to make and yet so impressive you'll want to make this all year long.
Wishing you the best this holiday season. Write to me here if you have any questions about planning your family holiday menu.