4 Mistakes You Don’t Have to Make This Holiday Season

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Classic Apple Tarts

I love the excitement of the holiday season, and I even crave a bit of the chaos that comes with being pulled in a million directions. Still, I like to keep (most of) my sanity, especially in the kitchen, which I like to consider my own little haven. Here are some of the biggest mistakes people make in the holiday kitchen, along with a quick fix for each one.

1. Edible gifts: There’s nothing like getting a tasty homemade gift!

The big mistake: making them at the last minute. One year I decided to make all my neighbors Homemade Apple Tarts (pictured above). Everyone loved them, but they needed to be made and delivered fresh, which meant I was up all night making pie after pie.

The fix: Take a tip from those high-end croissant dough delivery places and give frozen (un)baked goods. My Scones can be whipped up in a flash, flavored according to your preferences, cut into triangles and frozen unbaked. Give them frozen so the recipients can bake them according to their schedule.

2. Houseguests: Family is in town, and won’t it be fun to catch up with Uncle Mort and Aunt Milly?

The big mistake: hosting every single meal for a varied crew.

The fix: Make at least one meal per day a do-it-yourself buffet. Breakfast is a great candidate. Before bed, put out cereals, interesting breads and spreads, a fruit bowl and the like. You can add some thoughtful touches such as my Homemade Granola (or Scones, see above!) so early-bird guests feel loved, even as you catch a few extra Z’s.

3. Entertaining: Holidays are the perfect time to invite family and friends, so a party seems only natural!

The big mistake: planning an ambitious menu requiring a ton of time and money.

The fix: Imagine your ideal menu and then make it about two steps simpler. A simple menu executed well is always a better entertaining strategy. And focus on food that does not need to be served piping hot to be delicious (who needs that kind of pressure?). My Potato Bacon Torte is a holiday entertaining favorite in my house and it costs pennies a serving. ( Get the recipe and video here, plus a fun note: This is my most-popular recipe on FoodNetwork.com.) You could even bake a few now and freeze the rest for later.

4. Sweets galore: The holiday season means many of us loosen the rules on eating, and we allow ourselves to indulge in perhaps more sweets than usual.

The big mistake: giving up entirely on any nutrition. With the hectic holiday schedule, we need all the energy we can get!

The fix: I have a few ideas. Start each meal with a veggie-based soup (the Roasted Tomato Winter Gazpacho in my cookbook is perfect) or sip a veggie-filled smoothie to curb your sweet-tooth (see my Green Morning Smoothie).

Another strategy: Include some protein alongside your sweets. Serve a basket of holiday nuts with small chocolates for dessert, or bake up a batch of my Black Bean Brownies for bit of protein and fiber to go with that treat.

What are some of your tips and tricks to keeping your head during the holidays? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Shopping for holiday gifts? Melissa d’Arabian is wrapping up her helpful tips and family-friendly recipes into one must-read cookbook, Ten Dollar Dinners.

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