The Thanksgiving leftovers are all gone, the centerpiece is relegated to the compost heap, and you’ve finally been able to scrape the caked-on gravy puddles off your stovetop. Now the real holiday fun begins.

For those who already have your shopping finished, your presents wrapped and your tree decorated, I salute you. So far I haven’t done any of those things and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. I’m OK with that. I long ago came to terms with the fact that I will be wrapping presents on Christmas Eve. That doesn’t stress me out.

What can be stressful is the lead-up to the big day. After all, it’s called the holiday season because it lasts for what seems like months, and every year it seems to get longer and longer. I assume the point is to prolong the enjoyment. With that in mind, my goal this year is to do just that — enjoy it. For me, that means getting together with friends and family throughout the season, to share a drink and a bite, catch up on each other’s lives and generally have a good time.

I’m going to try not to worry if the house isn’t perfectly clean or decorated to the hilt. I do want the food to be good, though. Thankfully, that doesn’t have to mean making a million little canapés to share over a complicated craft cocktail. There are lots of ways to entertain without having to spend hours of prep time.

Here are a few tips to make your holiday season a little merrier.

Go potluck. It’s easy to forget, but your friends usually want to see you as much as you want to see them, and not just because they’re looking for a free meal. So if bringing a dish to your house makes getting together easier, they’re more often than not happy to do it. In fact, potlucks give everyone a chance to show off their favorite dishes without making a ton of work for any one person.

Double up. If you’re cooking anyway, why not double the recipe and keep the extra in the freezer for those nights when unexpected guests show up on your doorstep? Dishes such as stews, soups and baked pastas are all handy items to stock in your freezer. Garlic bread or bake-at-home rolls can be frozen right alongside them.

Reach for the slow cooker. I used to have a bit of an attitude when it came to slow cookers, but now I realize what an important role they can play in keeping my sanity during this busy season. Choose slow-cooker dishes that are quick to get started, can be served with simple accompaniments and aren’t too difficult to eat. This is not the time for that slow cooker osso buco recipe you’ve been meaning to try. Hot dips, chili or taco filling all make good choices for the slow cooker. Guests can help themselves; they don’t need to sit down at the dinner table with a fork and knife and, of course, there is the make-ahead benefit.


Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at meredith@ Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.