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9 tips to take the stress out of preparing your holiday meal

Set your table as early as possible; you don’t need (or want) to do this at the last minute.  |  Steve Sadin~For Sun-Times Media

These days leading up to Christmas are all about lessening the stress.

Here are some suggestions on how those of you in charge of cooking the holiday meal can get the feast done while staying calm:

Get the table set early. Each place setting, everything that’s possible (down to the extra salt and pepper shakers) should be put in place. Butter dishes, the carving knife, cutting board and serving utensils should be grouped together on an extra counter. In the kitchen I put out the serving dishes I will need, each with its serving spoon or fork.  That way everything’s ready for the big meal to begin.

Let others bring it. No reason you should do this all alone. And it doesn’t have to require any cooking on the other person’s part. Getting the soda, which I no longer drink, for a party is a drag for me. So I asked my nieces to bring it. Problem solved!

Post your menu, twice. I do one according to what is part of each course. Then I do another with the dishes as to when they need to be prepared. Really look at your list and figure out what can be done ahead of time. Some dishes can be made only up to a certain point; do those as well. Here’s another reason I have this list: I look at it as I am going along and figure out what I can ditch at the last minute if I run out of time. This has saved me so much anxiety over the years.

Designate a beverage server. That way while you’re doing the last-minute prep you don’t have to stop and hand out glasses or pour drinks.

Ice, ice baby! Send someone out the night before the party for that extra bag of ice.

Schedule the dressing (yours). Carve out a time time when you will be able to break away and get dressed. Cuts down on chances of spilling something on your holiday outfit AND gives you a break from the kitchen.

Remember to breathe. If things get particularly hectic, I take a moment to take three to five really deep breaths. I let them out slowly. It’s amazing how much more relaxed I feel after that.

If sometime goes wrong … so what. Concentrate on what went right. Figure the mishap will be a family tale you can laugh about at future gatherings, even if you can’t quite see the humor in it now.

Enjoy. After all, that’s what this holiday gathering is all about, getting together to enjoy the company of family and friends. Remember that.