Does meal planning around the holidays have you puzzled? Our Test Kitchen suggests five home cooking menus that are wonderful for both fancy get-togethers and casual gatherings. Each mouth-watering meal features an entertaining entree and sensational side dishes and desserts. You can also find cooking tips for selecting side dishes and dressing up your veggies.

Selecting Successful Side Dishes

Trying to decide which side dishes to serve for your holiday dinner can be overwhelming. Here are some suggestions to help simplify your selection.

  • Variety is key to pleasing all of your guests. So have an assortment of hot and cold foods and offer vegetables along with grains and pasta. For kids and older guests, provide at least one simple, lightly seasoned side dish.
  • The entree and side dishes should complement one another. If your entree has intense flavor, pair it with more mild-flavored side dishes and vice versa. If your entree has lots of garlic, onion or nuts, stay away from a side dish that's loaded with any of those same ingredients.
  • For ease of preparation, look for an oven-baked side dish that cooks at the same temperature as your oven entree.
  • If your oven will be full with the entree and other side dishes, choose another side dish that can be prepared on the stovetop or in a slow cooker. Or for a refreshing break from the hot foods, turn to a tossed salad, an assortment of fresh fruit or a tried-and-true relish tray.
  • Recipes that can be prepared ahead (like gelatin salads and overnight casseroles) are a real boon to busy cooks.

Dressing Up Everyday Vegetables

A side dish doesn't have to be elaborate. In fact, when serving a variety of flavorful foods, it's nice to include a basic vegetable that's been simply seasoned. Try these tasty toppings for hot cooked vegetables.

  • Combine 1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs, 1-1/2 teaspoons melted butter or margarine, 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes and a dash of salt. Sprinkle over cooked vegetables.
  • Melt 1/4 cup butter or margarine over low heat; stir in 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon slivered toasted almonds, 1 tablespoon minced chives or 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese. Drizzle over cooked vegetables.
  • For extra ease, prepare a packaged white, hollandaise or bernaise sauce mix as directed and serve over your vegetable of choice.