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Tips for a Less-Stress Holiday

Now that the holidays are basically almost here, I thought I’d post an article I’ve been meaning to write for a while now! I wish I had a guide full of tips for a stress-free holiday the year I hosted my first Thanksgiving party!

Every single year, I look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas. How could I not? There’s a reason people and families come together for the holidays, and it’s not just because of the presents and food. As much as I love this time of year, though, the pressure is on you from the get-go when you’re asked to host your family’s Thanksgiving or Christmas party. You will often find yourself swarmed with tasks and hyper-focused on every last detail, which makes it easy to lose sight of what makes this time of year so special.

Tips for a Less-Stress Holiday

Realistic Expectations

First, try to keep a few things in perspective. The more idealistic your idea of the perfect holiday party is, the harder it will be to meet that standard. Lower your expectations, and try to control what you can. Maybe try having no expectations at all—let come whatever may. By keeping yourself grounded, you will be better equipped to deal with unforeseen circumstances getting out of hand. Your holiday party will be great, even if it doesn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting.

Get the “Shoulds” Out of Your System. Keep It Simple.

There are no real rules to Thanksgiving. No one will be grading you on your selection of dishes, making sure you’ve prepared every dish that’s ever been served during the holidays. Consider plating the plates for guests, or at least only making what would fit on a plate, as well as only making dishes that would complement each other.

Prep Ahead of Time

This is really a no-brainer. Shop for your ingredients a few weeks ahead so that you can be preparing the meal a little at a time. If everything is made ahead of time, all you’ll have to do is pull things out of the freezer and cook. There will be no messes to clean up in the kitchen and you can concentrate on your guests.

Buy already-chopped vegetables and pre-made crusts, or even pre-made desserts, if it will make your life easier. Another easy trick is to label your covered dishes and trays with sticky notes so you can keep them covered while knowing what’s in them. You can hide the sticky notes in places where it won’t be so obvious to your guests if you don’t want to ruin the surprise.

Ask Guests to Bring Sides and Desserts

If you are hosting the holiday at your home, it is perfectly fine to ask people to bring the sides and desserts. You can provide the protein and the location. If you don’t feel comfortable asking (though most people want to bring something), keep it simple.

Cook Ahead and Freeze

If you have time, make dishes throughout the week and freeze them. Things like dressing, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, and pies freeze really well, and your kitchen will be clean the day everyone arrives. Even making them during the week and keeping them in the refrigerator until it’s “game time” will work.

Prepare a Breakfast Bar for Out-of-Town Guests

If you are hosting guests who have traveled in from out of town, put together a little breakfast bar for them, similar to the continental breakfasts they serve at hotels. Keep it simple and light with some bagels, raisin toast, cream cheese, various jellies, milk, granola, and muffins. You don’t have to cook a royal breakfast. Your guests will probably like this better, and you can enjoy it with the guests as well. If you want to provide homemade breakfasts, make-ahead and freeze pumpkin donuts, cinnamon rolls, and biscuits. Pull them out of the freezer and warm them in a 250 degree oven.

Make Kid Zones

Try to set up several different areas where the kids can play. One area can be set up with colored pencils (their stains are more removable than crayons or markers), coloring books, and lots of sizes of paper. Other areas can have games, while another can be set up with short movies and cartoons. If you have room, set up a table in the kitchen and provide sugar cookies with icing and let them decorate the cookies. It might be a good idea to have a big kid supervise these activities, in case the kids end up making a ton of messes and getting themselves into trouble!

Make the Turkey Before Guests Arrive

My friend, Scott Leysath, has an amazing trick for keeping the turkey hot, moist, and delicious. You won’t get that crunchy exterior, but the meat is amazing. Brine and cook your turkey to 165 degrees. Remove the turkey from the roasting pan, wrap it in foil, and place in the smallest cooler it will fit into. If there is any space in-between the top of the cooler and the turkey, place towels over the foil wrapped turkey. This will be piping hot for the next 2 to 5 hours. Remove and carve. Place the turkey in a beautiful arrangement on a serving platter.

And that’s about it! Trust me, each holiday party will be easier than the last. You learn to take each small crisis in stride, and the results get better and better. People will be talking about your parties for years to come, I believe in you! Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas from the Harris family to yours!

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