Planning a Stress-Free Holiday Party How to host a holiday get-together that everyone – including you – will enjoy. By Stacey Stein Houses adorned with colourful decorations, radio stations blasting holiday music, and a festive spirit permeating the air – for many, this is indeed the most wonderful time of year. But if you’re hosting a holiday party, your good cheer may be dampened by feelings of stress. Fear not – with a little planning and thought, you can be the picture of serenity at your holiday party. Here are some tips. Start smartly Grab a pen and some paper: according to party planner Kathy Russell, you first need to make a few important decisions. “I always say to people sit down and write a list,” says Russell, the owner of Butler Girl Services, an event planning company. Aside from a guest list, you’ll need a shopping list and a list of things you need to do and make. But first, you need to figure out what kind of party you’ll be hosting. “Do you want to have a dinner party, a cocktail party, a buffet party or a potluck party? Decide on the type of party,” says Russell. If you’re looking to reduce stress, you might want to opt for a potluck style party. Fuss-free food Gluten-free, lactose-free, meatless – these days, many people follow a restricted diet. This is another reason why a potluck style party makes sense. “Ask your guests to bring a dish that they can enjoy and everyone else can too, and that way you know for sure that they at least have something they can eat,” says registered dietitian Shannon Crocker. If a potluck party isn’t your thing, there are many other ways you can make meal planning less stressful, while ensuring you accommodate guests with dietary restrictions. The very first thing you should do is talk to your guests beforehand. “They can even brainstorm the menu with you, helping with recipe ideas,” says Crocker. Many recipes can be modified to accommodate different diets – that way there’s no need to cook several different dishes. If you have lactose intolerant guests, a hearty salad is something everyone can eat, and cheese can be added for those guests who enjoy dairy. Mashed potatoes – a universally popular side dish – can be made with lactose-free sour cream. This is also a dish that can be made ahead of time, something that will help relieve stress so there’s less to do the day of the party. You can make several appetizers and side dishes in advance, including spinach dip (this can be made up to three days ahead of time and veggies can be prepped the night before), grilled crostini, and roasted veggies. For something different, try making a skillet corn and potatoes side dish – the potatoes can be cooked the day before and stored in the fridge. Little party guests If your guest list includes some children, a little advance planning will ensure kids have fun at your party (allowing their parents to have fun too.) Russell suggests creating a designated kids’ area where you set up holiday-themed videos, board games, colouring books and crayons. Also make sure to include kid-friendly snacks, like crackers with cheese or grilled fruit kabobs with a sour cream honey dip. Decorating gingerbread cookies is a fun activity for kids of different ages. Make the cookies in advance, and let kids get creative with icing, candies and sprinkles. You can also give wee guests a gift bag filled with small toys, like a Slinky or Rubik’s cube. Kids will love this and the toys will keep them busy. All it takes is a little organization, a bit of planning and some creativity and you’ll have guests admiring your brilliant party and the relaxed host who put it together. Here are a few more tips for a stress-free holiday get-together: Involve kids in pre-holiday party preparations by baking with them – baked goods can be made in advance and stored in the freezer. Try gluten-free vanilla bean shortbread – perfect for all guests, including those who are sensitive to gluten. If you have guests following a restricted diet, make things easier on yourself and order a dish from a vegetarian restaurant or pick up a gluten-free dessert from a bakery. “Just know you don’t have to do it all,” says Crocker. Keep dessert simple and healthy. Create a plate with fresh fruits, nuts, some dried fruit and a few pieces of high-quality dark chocolate. If guests ask to bring something, let them. “Don’t say ‘just bring yourself,’ encourage them to bring something,” advises Russell. Hosting a large party? Consider renting dishes, wine glasses and utensils and perhaps even hiring servers. You’ll be able to enjoy yourself without having to worry about serving and clean-up.