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(BPT) - Americans have a love-hate relationship with the holiday season. You may love the festive spirit and the opportunity to share time with friends and family, but dread all the work — and stress — involved in seasonal tasks, including meal preparation. However, it is possible to make it through the holidays with more happiness than humbugs. All it takes is a little planning and a few smart shortcuts.
Here are tips to help ensure your holiday season is as bright and stress-free as possible:
Budget your way to peace
Budgeting is a great way to not only ensure you don’t end up with big bills after the holidays, but also to help you feel more in control throughout the season. Knowing exactly how much you have to spend will help you stay focused and on track. You can create multiple budgets to address different holiday spending needs, such as a gift budget, food budget and an entertainment budget. And if you go a little over in one area, like gifts, don’t stress – just recalibrate in another!
Get the guest list in advance
Of course, everyone loves the unexpected pop in, and it’s always smart around the holiday season to have snacks and small gifts on hand for unannounced guests. But when it comes to bigger gatherings, such as Thanksgiving dinner, a Hanukkah gathering or a Christmas or New Year’s party, it’s important to know who’s coming ahead of time.
Getting your guest list in order well in advance can help you plan for how much food and drink to buy, and to accommodate any special dietary needs such as low-fat or gluten free.
Online invitation tools make it easy (and free) to send out invitations. Guests can RSVP online, and you can track who’s responded, who you’ve yet to hear from, and who’ll be coming.
Consider ready-made meals
Seasonal foods like turkey with all the trimmings are as much a part of the holiday season as decorations and gifts. However, there’s no rule that says food will taste great only if you spent hours cooking it. Meal preparation can be a huge stressor — and time drain — during an already busy season. Relieve the stress by preparing a few items in your own kitchen and relying on high-quality, prepped-to-heat-and-serve food from a holiday-friendly restaurant, like Boston Market, to complete the meal.
Ready-made meals allow you to spend less time in the kitchen and more time with loved ones, while ensuring your guests enjoy a delicious holiday feast. A holiday dinner for 12 from Boston Market, for instance, includes a roasted turkey or ham, creamy mashed potatoes with gravy and all the fixings like sides, rolls and apple or pumpkin pies for just around $110 or so – all you have to do is pick it up, take it home, heat and serve. And, some locations will even deliver larger catering orders straight to your door! Visit bostonmarket.com/holiday or call 866-977-9090 to get those holiday meal plans made in no time (and add some time back to your day).
It’s OK to ask for help
When you’re hosting a holiday event, there’s just too much for one person to do alone. If you don’t want to find yourself deflating under the stress of trying to do everything, delegate tasks. Often, friends and family are happy to pitch in, and their teamwork can help ensure everyone enjoys your celebration.
When you delegate a task, be specific about what you need and the timeline. For example, you can ask a friend to pick up holiday decorations, a festive tablecloth and seasonal paper ware, and have it all to your house the afternoon before the event. Plus, it’s a-okay to suggest favorite designs, colors or even stores at which to pick up those must-have holiday add ons!
Breathe new life into that holiday menu
Did you know 50 percent of holiday revelers serve prepared foods for their feast? Keeping your Thanksgiving menu exciting and unique can be tough if cooking is not your strong suit (or even if it is). It may seem like you need special, otherworldly ingredients to give your meal that “wow” factor we’re all hoping to achieve these days. However, sometimes the best strategy is just bringing together the appropriate combination of simple ingredients and saving some time along the way.
Taking mashed potatoes and mixing Gouda cheese, minced garlic, freshly chopped chives and a little olive oil can really bring a ho-hum, staple side dish to life, for instance. Or, even something as simple as pumpkin pie can become vibrant with just a touch of sugar and some heat – a few minutes in the broiler and you’ve got yourself a Pumpkin Pie Brulee that’s sure to wow your guests. All these holiday staples can be found at your nearest Boston Market, just waiting to be gussied up in time for that holiday feast.
During the holidays, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that everything has to be “perfect.” Doing everything and creating stress for yourself doesn’t equal “perfection.” Finding ways to make your life easier and more enjoyable during the holidays allows you to focus on what really makes the season special — time with those you love.