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Planning Tips for a Stress-Free Party

Many of us like to throw parties – regardless of the time of year – but often shy away from doing so because of all the extra stress it adds to our already busy lifestyle. We have our hands full with kids, jobs, and much more, so adding a party to the mix only creates more opportunity to feel overwhelmed.

But consider, for a moment, how you feel in the midst of the party – surrounded by friends and family who enjoy each other’s company as well as the food and drink you’ve provided. Planning and carrying out a successful party can be quite rewarding and doesn’t necessary need to be stressful if you follow some simple rules.

Start early – No matter what the size of your party, you must give yourself ample time to get organized. If you’re throwing a huge New Year’s Eve party, for example, there’s no reason you can’t organize a menu back in November, before the holiday rush sets in and other things take precedence. Even if you’re only hosting a small together, you’ll still want to think about the essentials at least a week or two in advance of the date.

Stick with the familiar – When it comes time to create a menu for your party, consider sticking with recipes and foods that are familiar to you, ones that you make quite often. Trying a bunch of new recipes creates undue stress and may result in some embarrassing party failures. Also, making new recipes generally takes more time because you’re not familiar with the process of assembling or cooking that particular dish, so time is wasted.

Choose dishes that can be cooked in advance – The last thing you want to do is spend the entire day of your party cooking or be stuck at the stove when your guests arrive. To avoid that, choose recipes that can be made in advance and simply cooked or heated up before the party. This will significantly cut your stress level and allow time to do other last minute things, like arranging fresh flowers for your table.

Keep a list – As you prepare menus and decide on decorations, write everything down on a list or two. Keep one list for each store you’ll need to visit, such as a food list for the grocery store and a list of decorations for the party store. Keep these in plain sight – maybe on the refrigerator – where you can add to them when something comes to mind. And don’t forget to take the lists to the stores when shopping! They do no good at home on the kitchen table!

Take stock of your kitchen – While most people remember to purchase all the food they need for a party, where they usually fall short is taking count of dishes, silverware, and other essentials for the party. One of the most common errors party-givers cite is a shortage of serving dishes and utensils for the foods they’ve planned. Don’t wait until the last minute to check on these. As you decide on the menu, look through your kitchenware and determine whether you have the right serving bowl, plate, spoon, etc. for each recipe.

Make a time chart - There’s no such thing as being TOO organized when it comes to party planning, especially on the day of the party. Make a time chart that tells you when to do each task. For example, list when particular foods must go in the oven or on the stovetop, set aside a particular time for setting the table, and allow yourself a slot of time to take a breather and dress for your guests so you’re not scrambling at the last minute. Use specific times on your chart (i.e. 2:30 – put roast in oven). You can also make charts for the days preceding the party. For example, two days prior, you may want to do things like go shopping, clean the house, organize your CDs for background music, and other little things that can be done in advance. List them all on these charts so you don’t forget to do them.

Clean up gradually – Stress can carry over to the post-party clean-up. Remember, you don’t have to do it all at once. Some cleaning can be discreetly accomplished while your guests are still present. Pick up bottles and cans as you sweep through a room, have a basin of hot soapy water available for silverware, and keep cans or garbage bags for paper products and other trash handy so your guests can dispose of their own trash. When everyone is gone, complete the essentials like loading the dishwasher and attending to any spills. Save the vacuuming for the morning, after you’ve had a good night’s sleep.