The holidays are quickly approaching and those who are hosting in-town and out-of-town guests are busy making preparations for tasty meals and enjoyable, entertaining time together. Keeping everyone happy and engaged is no small job.

Keep it simple

From time-saving meal options to ideas that encourage everybody to take part in the festivities, consider these tips to help make it easy to keep guests of all ages entertained.

Simply catch up. Once the whole crew gets together, make a game out of giving everyone the chance to catch up. Put topics in a hat and draw to determine which category you’ll hear about. Go around the room and give each guest a turn to share.

Go out for a change. Rather than trying to cook at home, save time by finding a restaurant or take-out option that suits everyone’s tastes. Several restaurants offer special deals, such as the 10 percent discount available at select eateries for AARP members or rewards program discounts.

Catch the newest release. When you feel like getting out of the house, heading to a movie theater can provide a chance to relax, especially for family members who have traveled long distances to join the group.

Deck the halls. Adding a touch of festive flair can make guests feel welcome and ready to celebrate the occasion. But you don’t have to spend hours dragging out boxes of decorations to get your home holiday-ready. Colorful flower arrangements can add instant seasonal character and cheer to a room.

Head to the mall. Shopping is another option for those looking to leave cramped quarters behind, and finding last-minute holiday deals could appeal to the procrastination-inclined gift givers.

Entertainment hacks

The holidays are a jam-packed time, Fortunately, hosts can find some shortcuts when welcoming guests that offer plenty of festive style while also helping to avoid stressing over every detail.

Repurpose with purpose. There’s no need to make time for a trip to the store or to spend a bundle on party supplies. When it comes to decor, you can cover any old box with some of last year’s leftover holiday paper to add some colorful touches around the home.

Keep it simple for clean up. Use disposable tableware. (Photo Credit: Chinet)

Make easy attractive. Most holiday celebrations center on the food, but it’s still an area where hosts can shave some time. For example, using attractive products like Chinet Classic White, or for a more elegant affair the Chinet Cut Crystal collection which is a fully coordinated line of disposable plates, cups, cutlery and wineglasses, make for a practical option.

Fill the freezer. Whether your holiday entertaining is more impromptu in nature or you host a single sizable shindig, keeping a well-stocked freezer can help make hosting a cinch. Dedicate an afternoon to preparing items you can easily defrost and serve later, like casseroles, appetizers, side dishes and desserts.

Forgo fussy food. An elegant sit-down meal isn’t the only way to enjoy a holiday gathering. Guests may even appreciate a break from traditional heavier fare. Simple food stations, finger foods and even store-bought meals are all time-saving alternatives.

Keep cleanup simple. For a festive, yet deceptively easy table, consider using kraft paper as tablecloths, and let some of that leftover wrapping paper do double-duty as table runners. Match the DIY table coverings with a coordinated line of disposable tableware to make cleaning up a cinch.

Easy hosting and toasting

Take the overwhelm out of the picture this season and serve up a successful holiday celebration.

Entertainment: Ensure guests enjoy a good time by offering entertainment that is suitable for their personality types.

Beverages: Stock up on refreshments all ages can enjoy. Put a special holiday touch on your drink menu with a recipe like Holiday Hot Tea featuring Milo’s Famous Sweet Tea.

(Photo Credit: Milos Tea Company)

Holiday Hot Tea
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Servings: 12
12 cups Milo’s Famous Sweet Tea
2 cans (12 ounces each) frozen limeade juice concentrate
1 orange, thinly sliced, plus additional for garnish (optional)
12 whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup ginger ale
raw sugar, for garnish (optional)
In large slow-cooker, combine sweet tea, limeade concentrate, orange slices, cloves, cinnamon sticks, vanilla, cranberries and ginger ale; stir.
Heat on high 30 minutes then reduce heat to low for 2 hours, or heat on low 2 hours then reduce setting to warm overnight.
Invert moistened glass rims in sugar then fit orange slice over rim, if desired.
Note: For easier serving, place cloves in tea ball or double layer of coffee filters sealed with kitchen twine.

If you are looking to host an unforgettable holiday cocktail party, punch can make a memorable impression on your guests and bring your get-together to the next level.

Punch reached the height of its popularity during the Victorian Age. Originally made with alcohol, it ultimately became a non-alcoholic drink largely due to the preference of Queen Victoria. Over the following decades, it faded in popularity, briefly regaining favor in the 1920s when champagne punch was a hallmark of parties and celebrations.

Now, as new generations are reinvigorating old favorites and enjoying the art of mixology, punch is trending again.

Start by making punch a visual centerpiece at your holiday party. Consider a charming drink dispenser, an unusual punch bowl or an elegant glass pitcher. Let your personal and unique style shine through with your choice of glassware and table decorations and offer a variety of garnish selections for your guests to further personalize their glasses.

Typically, punches start with a blend of sweet and tangy, and you can get that “swangy” taste with an option like Tree Top’s 100% Pure Pressed Sweet & Tart Apple Cider as a base. For inspiration, take a mixologist’s approach to creating a memorable punch. Lemon, cinnamon and cloves not only spice up the flavor but can also double as decorations. Try ginger beer for a nice fizzle, and for an adult-only punch, consider adding vodka or rum.

Your punch table can be a place to gather and reconnect with loved ones while enjoying a trending holiday beverage..

(Photo Credit: Alamy)

Swangy Cider Punch
Servings: 10 (8 ounces each)
1 bottle (64 ounces) Tree Top 100% Pure Pressed Sweet & Tart Apple Cider
16 ounces ginger beer
2 oranges, juice only
1 lime, juice only
1 lemon, juice only
1 cup vodka or light rum (optional)
1 sliced Granny Smith apple
6 star anise pieces, plus additional for garnish (optional)
6 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
frozen cranberries, for garnish (optional)
colored sugars or ginger crystals, for garnish (optional)
In punch container, combine apple cider, ginger beer, orange juice, lime juice, lemon juice and vodka or rum, if desired, for an alcoholic version.
Decorate container with apple slices, star anise pieces, cloves and cinnamon sticks.
Personalize each serving with additional star anise pieces, frozen cranberries and sugars or ginger crystals, as desired. Serve cold.

Favors: Send guests home with a sweet memory of the event, such as an ornament that connects to the party’s theme or a bag of seasonal treats like homemade cookies or candy to nibble on during the trip back home.

Simple Snacks: Building your menu around simple snacks and finger foods guests can nibble on while they mingle is perfectly acceptable for almost any type of holiday gathering. Include options that can satisfy all the taste buds. You can even combine sweet and sour with a seasonal crowd-pleaser like Lemonade Cranberry Orange Bread, which draws its flavor from a secret ingredient — Milo’s All Natural Lemonade.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Lemonade Cranberry Orange Bread
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Servings: 8
1 can cranberry sauce
3/4 cup Milo’s All Natural Lemonade
1 orange, zest only
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Heat oven to 350 F.
In large bowl, mash cranberry sauce into small pieces. Add lemonade, orange zest, vegetable oil and egg; mix until blended.
In separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Combine wet and dry ingredients; mix until batter is formed.
Pour batter into greased loaf pan. Bake 1 hour. Let cool 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

Remove the stress

The holiday season is meant for spending quality time with friends and family, not stressing out over hosting. Cut down on hectic preparations while creating a memorable holiday full of food and fun guests can savor.

Plan ahead. Heading into your seasonal soiree with a plan in place can help avoid snafus. Make a shopping list of ingredients and decorations. Then put together a schedule a few days prior to the event to cover last-minute preparations.

Elevate holiday classics. Elevating classic appetizers is a simple way to savor the season. A trend on the rise, the Grazing Table starts with the table as the canvas, adds elements of the traditional cheese board then takes it to the next level with an arrangement of appetizers or brunch dishes and seasonal decor. Another way to lift your holiday spread is using ingredients like Real California Milk cheeses.

(Photo Credit: Real California Milk)

Grazing Table
toma cheese, sliced
natural almonds
Real California aged cheddar, sliced
Real California burrata cheese
olive oil
blue cheese
Real California braided marinated string cheese
dry salami, sliced
premade antipasto skewers
yogurt pesto dipping sauce
Real California aged Gouda
brie cheese
Real California cheese log
Real California cheese bundts
dry jack cheese
sweet red piquante peppers
green California olives
premade Real California queso fundido
tortilla chips
dark chocolate sea salt caramels
dried citrus, such as oranges and lemons
artisan bread, sliced
On large board, plate or tray, arrange sliced toma cheese, almonds, prosciutto, salami and aged cheddar. In center, place burrata cheese and top with olive oil and herbs.
On separate small plate, place blue cheese; crumble.
On medium board, arrange braided string cheese and dry salami slices.
On serving platter, arrange antipasto skewers around bowl of yogurt pesto dipping sauce.
On separate small cheese board, place Gouda, brie cheese and cheese log.
On slate, arrange cheese bundts. On separate plate, place dry jack cheese.
In separate bowls, place piquante peppers and green olives.
Arrange boards, plates, bowls and skillet of queso fundido on table, as desired.
Fill blank spaces on table with breadsticks, tortilla chips, dark chocolate sea salt caramels, dried oranges, dried lemons and bread slices. Add floral arrangements and holiday decor for finishing touches. Complete table with cheese knives and spreaders.

Prepare dishes and decorations in advance. Decorating at least a day ahead and setting the table the night before, for example, can help minimize stress. Welcome guests with holiday cheer and trendy decor like a virtual yule log made of melting cheese, complete with holiday music.

(Photo Credit: Real California Milk)

Sweet Citrus and Spice Cheese Board
Real California brie cheese
black olives
green olives
dried oranges, sliced
Real California pepper jack cheese, sliced
Real California burrata cheese
honey, for garnish
fresh herbs, for garnish
To assemble cheese board: On large board, plate or tray, arrange brie cheese, olives, dried orange slices, sliced pepper jack cheese and almonds.
On smaller board, arrange raspberries and blackberries around burrata cheese placed in center of board. Garnish cheese with honey and fresh herbs. Place smaller board into empty space on larger board.

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