Plan ahead to avoid holiday stress
By Luann Boyer
Colorado State University Extension Agent
Would you like to spend the holiday visiting with family and friends rather than being harried in the kitchen with last minute preparations? You can if you take a time now to plan ahead.
Start by looking back to last year's event. What went well and what would you change? If what you remember most is being stressed finishing last minute details and exhausted at the end of the day, it's time to try something different this year.
Start by deciding what is really important to you and your family or guests. Is it the food, the decorations, preserving traditions, special activities, or reconnecting with family and friends?
If you haven't made your "to do" list, it's not too early to start. Each person's list will look different. Common things to include will be planning the menu, sprucing up the house, decorations, and maybe attending special activities or events. As you make the list, consider what can be done early and what must be finished the final day.
Cleaning the house ahead can really reduce last minute stress. Don't wait until the day before and wear yourself out. Do deep cleaning weeks ahead. Then, the day before do a little touch-up cleaning while you concentrate on more important things. Most guests won't notice whether the windows were newly washed because they came to see you.
As you plan menus, think what can be changed or which foods might be prepared a different way. For example, if you traditionally always have four kinds of pie on the menu, figure out which one(s) you really must serve. A fruit pie can be made several weeks ahead, frozen, and baked the day before the holiday while you do other chores. Other types of pies you might usually serve, like custard or cream pies, don't freeze well and can't be made more than the day before because of food safety.
Other examples of foods which can be prepared ahead are most gelatin-based salads and desserts. You can prepare foods for relish plates a day or two ahead. The dressing/stuffing can be assembled the day before and refrigerated to bake just before serving. You can even peel potatoes the day before and cover with water to prevent discoloring, or wash potatoes for baking and store in a covered container or plastic bag.
As you plan the menu and food preparation, take inventory of staple items to purchase ahead (flour, sugar, pastas, gelatins) and items that can be frozen until needed (fruit, vegetables, breads or pastries). By having these items on hand early, you also won't risk the store being sold out of something you need.
Don't wait until the day before to do final shopping. Perishable foods like milk, cream, eggs, fresh vegetables, etc. can easily be kept up to a week in the refrigerator. Pick a day and time when the store isn't busy and go several days ahead to avoid the mob of last minute shoppers.
These are only a few examples of what you can do to make the holidays less stressful. Look at your own holiday schedule and figure out what works for you.