How to Plan A Meal with Multiple Courses
Wednesday July 27, 2016

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Part of the fun for guests when they learn they are sitting down for a three, four, five or especially an eight course meal is the curiosity of what each course will be. After all, as was mentioned last week regarding the idea of eating in courses, when we do, our attention is given solely and completely to the dish in front of us. And while as a hostess/host, knowing your guests are looking forward to what you have prepared is a wonderful compliment; however, the question initially may arise, how to I select the courses for my meal?

That is exactly what we’re going to talk about today. Below you will discover 7 things to consider to approach, plan and successfully implement a multi-course meal.

1. Timing

Hands down, this will be your saving grace once you’ve taken the time at least the day ahead to plan out how you will get everything cooked, presented and still enjoy your guests. After all, you don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen the majority of the time; however, there will be a course or two that will need some preparing right before it is served.

Depending upon how many courses you are serving, make sure at least half can be prepared ahead of time completely. Often the dessert and sides can be done ahead, and even part of other courses. For example, the mise en place for your appetizers or your main entree can often be prepared and placed in the refrigerator which enables you to simply toss it together and place in the oven or on the stove.

Then, write out a time schedule for the day of the dinner (if it is a large gathering). This way, you will know exactly what you have to do when, and not have to stress that you aren’t doing something when you find yourself with some free time (the gift of planning!).

2. Available Dishes, Glassware & Silverware

Before you hone in on the menu, make sure you have enough dishes, glassware and silverware. Everyone’s courses and the order served will vary, so if you are having appetizers you may not need a dish for everyone, but rather cocktail napkins. However, you cannot be in the kitchen cleaning dishes. You must enjoy the gathering. So perhaps you can only have a three course meal. That is perfectly fine. Make it magnificent and three-course meals will quickly become your forte. (If you are looking for classic white and clear glass dishes that I use and highly recommend, check out TSLL Shop here.)

3. Temperature

Depending upon what time of year you are sitting down to eat, consider which foods/dishes will warm up your guests in the winter and in the summer, provide great refreshment. However, alternate the temperature as well. A cool, crisp salad with a lovely vinaigrette is perfect to pair with a sizzling, hot steak. The key is to strike a balance.

4. Flavors

Once you have planned your dream menu, consider how guests will feel after the last course has been enjoyed. You want them to walk out the door satisfied, not miserable. Give them flavor, not excess. How? Alternate between heavy and light with each course as well as simple and complex courses. Demonstrate a range from one course to the next to provide ease and then intrigue, refreshment and then decadence.

5. Textures

As you become more comfortable in the kitchen, you will learn how to make beautifully paired sauces for your dishes. Adding a lemon cream sauce to poached halibut is a beautiful balance of textures and flavors. What about a simple parmesan chicken with fresh slices of melted mozzarella and homemade marinara sauce? The crunch from the panko and parmesan breading, the creamy mozzarella and the acidic balance with the tomato sauce provide a wonderful mix of textures.

6. Palate Cleansers

According to Rebecca Franklin,‘s resident French food expert, palate cleansers are not only used to ensure you can fully appreciate the next course, but also to aid in digestion, avoid heartburn and stimulate one’s appetite. The traditional palate cleansers served in between courses can be mint, apple, lemon or lime sorbet, and more modern options include sparkling water (add a touch of citrus if you want), lightly brewed green, black, or mint tea, celery sticks, fresh tart apples, a sprig of parsley, or flat water with a twist of citrus.

Choose one or two and keep them readily available so guests can grab at anytime, or make as part of your courses (sorbet anyone?). A simple picture of lemon water is a great way to include a palate cleanser at the table without taking up much space.

7. Become a story teller

Once you have mastered the above approaches to planning a multi-course meal, consider the story you want to tell. Why the first course followed by the second? It might be a story simply tied to the ingredients and flavors you have chosen or it could be a story that involves memories, your recent travel adventures, anything that adds more intrigue, interest and a touch of mystery as diners eagerly wait to see what the next course will be.

Choosing to incorporate courses into your weekly, or even daily meals is a wonderful way to enhance the quality of your everyday routine with those you love. With each time you choose this approach, it will become easier and easier to determine which dish pairs beautifully with the next and which items are easy to prepare so you can enjoy your guests.

As far as the order of dishes, don’t worry about doing it one particular way. Yes, dessert should come toward the end, and yes, the fish or meat dish should be after the appetizer, but so long as you are keeping in mind the balance,  you will be just fine. Your guests want to eat well and enjoy your company, so immerse yourself in the preparation, having fun in the kitchen, and then indulge with your guests in the food that you’ve prepared. Bon Appétit!

~A wonderful cookbook that offers 12 different multi-course meals with the recipes is In a French Kitchen by Susan Hermann Loomis. And to shop all cookbooks recommended and used by Shannon and shared on TSLL blog, shop TSLL Cookbook page here.

~Upcoming post announcement!!! The much anticipated and patiently waited for TSLL Capsule Menu along with all of the details, sample menus, organizational guide, etc. will be released on Wednesday August 3 here on the blog. Be sure to stay tuned for a simple, healthy and delicious approach to eating, shopping and enjoying the food you eat and prepare each and every day. UPDATE: You can now shop the Capsule Menus here in TSLL’s Shop.

4 thoughts on “How to Plan A Meal with Multiple Courses

  1. There’s almost a mathematical graph in which more guests mean less formality, unless you’re working with a caterer.
    Craigslist is a great place to get china on the cheap.
    I try to have everything ready ahead. It might be keeping warm in the oven, or on the lowest setting on the stovetop, but I don’t actively cook once guests arrive. The exception is when we grill.

  2. Hi there. I will be hosting a birthday dinner party at a restaurant. It will be a 3 course meal which will comprise of started, main and dessert . The restaurant event planner has asked me of times when the each course should be served. I have no idea how much time should be between each course. As per invitation, the guests will be expected to arrive at 18h30. Will you kindly help me with time when each course should be served.


    1. B, I think the timing depends upon your guests and the energy in the room. The waitstaff at the restaurant are the professionals here and should be able to gauge it well if they are observant. Advise them to not rush, let your guests enjoy their food and bring the next course out as the majority are finishing the previous. I hope this helps.

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