14 Tips for Prepping a Big Holiday Meal in a Tiny Kitchen

updated Nov 17, 2023
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Part of the fun of the holidays is gathering with family and friends to eat a delicious, often nostalgia-inducing meal. From Thanksgiving turkey with classic sides to holiday cookies and spiced drinks, this season centers around food and gatherings — all of which adds up to spending time in the kitchen. But if you have a particularly petite kitchen, it doesn’t mean you have to skimp on preparing the perfect annual meal.

If you’re ready to go big when working in a tiny kitchen space, remember, “It’s the quirks and constraints that make your kitchen fun and uniquely yours,” says home-entertaining expert Jeannine M. Rose, creator of Sweet Humble Home. “After all, good things, like a big holiday meal, sometimes come in small packages.”

From small purchases to significant changes, here are some tips for prepping a large holiday meal when you have a not-at-all-large kitchen. 

1. Plan your menu.

You need a game plan to know what pans, appliances, ingredients, and serving tools you’ll need for your meal. Before you do anything else, Rose suggests you “take a moment to breathe and plan your meal ahead, from appetizers to desserts.”

With a small kitchen, it’s best to keep things simple and spread out your cooking duties as much as possible. “Opt for a few make-ahead dishes,” says Rose, as this can “save you time, space, and sanity.” Along the same lines, she points out, “One-pot recipes can deliver delicious flavor while saving precious cooking space and reducing cleanup time.”

2. Station-ize your kitchen.

Once you’ve planned out what to cook, think about how to do it. Rose recommends allocating distinct kitchen zones for specific tasks if you have the space. “Think a chopping station, mixing station, and assembly station,” she explains. Preparing food this way can help you save space, cook more efficiently, and allow more than one person to work without constantly bumping into one another.

3. Clean while you cook.

A pile of dirty dishes is one of the biggest space wasters in any kitchen. “Just like you’d wash your hands between tasks, make a habit of tidying up your workspace too,” says Rose. “You’ll be amazed at how a simple wipe-down can make a small kitchen feel roomier.”

Whether you have a small dishwasher or need to hand-wash items, tidy up your kitchen as you prep and cook. Do dishes, wipe countertops, and put away spices right away, so you don’t have to deal with one colossal mess later that evening.

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

4. Use a space-saving dish rack.

Even if you do have a dishwasher, it may not be able to keep up with all of the bowls, pans, and whisks you’ll use throughout the day. Plus, of course, some items may be hand wash-only. A dish drying rack that saves space by having two tiers, therefore elevating your dishes, frees up counter space until you can put dry items away. 

Alternatively, Rose suggests investing in a roll-up dish rack. “It fits over your sink, creating vital space for drying dishes, and rolls up effortlessly when not in use,” she says.

5. Install temporary hooks.

Whether you need to keep practical items within reach or you simply need to free up your counters, add a few Command bins and hooks to your kitchen to take advantage of vertical space. “Temporary hooks can turn every nook into a practical space in a snap,” says Rose. These temporary organizing aids are perfect to place on the back of cabinet and pantry doors to hold utensils and measuring cups. You can spray-paint the hooks to match your existing decor if you’d like.

6. Pare down existing items.

Maybe you have items in your drawers and cupboards that you don’t use and don’t even realize it. Go through your entire kitchen and search for duplicates or items you no longer need. Donate or give away anything you don’t think you really need. Then reorganize your space so you can easily access all of your prep items.

7. Remove unnecessary kitchen items (temporarily).

So what about all those things you want to keep but don’t need for your upcoming meal? “Under-bed storage boxes are not only for seasonal clothes!” says Rose. “Never underestimate the power of temporary storage.”

She recommends packing away as many non-essential kitchen tools, decorations, dishware, etc. as possible. Pop them in a closet, store them in a box under your bed or couch, or even leave them in plain view in an unused guest room. “Trust me,” she says, “your mandolin won’t mind having a short vacation.”

8. Remove your upper cabinet doors.

Replacing all of your kitchen cabinets may not be practical financially, and it may not even be feasible if you’re in a rental. However, nothing stops you from taking off your cabinet doors and safely storing them and their accompanying hardware. “Consider this a mini home makeover,” says Rose. “Open shelving not only gives the illusion of a larger space but also allows you to locate your stuff easily.”

If you go this route, Rose reminds you to “keep things looking neat, since everything is on display now!”

9. Rethink your spice storage.

From cinnamon and cloves to sage and thyme, tiny containers of spices are a mess to organize and find during any season, but especially as you make the once-a-year dig for a single bay leaf to put into your homemade stuffing. Instead, turn spices into decor — for example, set up a system of mason jars with their lids attached to the underside of your cabinets. Not only will it save counter and cabinet space, it will look super cute.

10. Rework your counter space.

This tip takes a bit of pre-planning — and your landlord’s permission if you’re renting — but consider extending your countertops for a bar area. Having more square feet of counter could allow for both bar seating and a bigger prep area, both of which are lifesavers around the holidays.

11. Introduce an additional cutting area.

If you’ve already relegated countertops for cooling baked goods and basting your turkey, consider using your stove to dice veggies by purchasing a stovetop cutting board. “This isn’t only a serious space-saver,” notes Rose, “but it also offers easy clean up as you can slide the scraps right into the sink and voila, it’s gone!”

Plan to chop everything before you need to turn on the heat, or you could also move the board to a different work area once you need to use the stove.

12. Have a stackable cooling rack.

When your holiday includes lots of sweets — cookies, pies, and other treats — you need space to make them and for them to cool off. Invest in a multilevel cooling rack to elevate your baked goods after their trip into the oven. “When your oven’s working overtime for that holiday meal, these stackable cooling racks can be a lifesaver,” Rose says. “They’re like life-size Legos for your kitchen!”

In a pinch, you can even use it as a drying rack for smaller items, such as spatulas and flatware. “They’re like having a vertical kitchen!” says Rose.

13. Think beyond the kitchen.

You don’t have to do — or keep — everything inside the tiny confines of your kitchen. Decorate your dining (or general living) area with your best glasses, dishes, and serving pieces. There’s no need to hide these lovely items in cabinets if they can do double-duty as interior decor in another room.

14. Get creative with serving.

“Small kitchens mean less space, but why not use that as an opportunity to get inventive with your serving style?” says Rose. “Opt for a buffet-style meal or utilize your largest table for a family-style feast.” Allowing guests to serve themselves frees up kitchen space and makes it easier for everyone to pick and choose their favorite foods.