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A FRESH Point of View: Last-Minute Holiday Guide

Stressing about your holiday dinner already? Join the club.  Few among us, except the compulsively organized, ever feel we’re really ready for the holidays.

But now that the countdown is officially on, it is time to get serious about your plans. Five steps to take now:

Shop today. I mean it: The crowds are only going to get worse.  So if you haven’t already, sit down right now and make a list of what you will need from the grocery, and get there as soon as you can.

Simplify the menu: Yes, over-eating is part of the holiday tradition, but honestly, will people really notice if there are a couple fewer dishes on the buffet than usual? It’s easier to make larger batches of fewer dishes, than smaller batches of many recipes. Think about those dishes that typically produce lots of leftovers; those are the first to forgo.

Similarly, if you typically set out appetizers for guests to graze on before a late-afternoon dinner, choose snacks that do not require cooking or last-minute prep – a variety of seasoned and sugared nuts, cheese and crackers, a prepared fruit tray, or a selection of olives with interesting stuffings like garlic, blue cheese and jalapenos.

Get cooking help:  The pressure to make everything from scratch is probably self-imposed. Think about the two or three dishes that really signify the holiday to you  – or that you most enjoy making – and go ahead and prepare those yourself. For the rest? Pick up prepared versions. Purchasing desserts, side dishes, or even the main course or some extra gravy and stuffing, will take a lot of the stress off the cook.

If you’re comfortable asking, now is the time to ask for help from guests. But be thoughtful; make sure it’s something they can easily pick up, like beverages, a vegetable tray, or desserts or rolls from a bakery, so that you’re not simply passing your cooking stress on to someone else.

Delegate: If your children are old enough to help, put them in charge of specific tasks: Washing  little-used holiday dinnerware before use, creating a centerpiece, setting the table, loading and unloading the dishwasher while you cook. If you don’t have children around, ask a close family member or friend to come over a few hours before the other guests arrive, to help.

Distract with something fabulous: If you’re feeling anxious about your menu, especially if you’ve streamlined it, add something new and festive to make your guests feel special. This might be a special holiday cocktail (a cranberry mimosa or a peppermint hot chocolate);  an after-dinner coffee “bar” with flavored syrups and creamers and imported chocolates to serve alongside; or a dessert buffet, with a variety of pies and pastries, cut into smaller portions so that everyone can try three or four.