Family Times celebrates 20 years!

Getting Into the Spirit: Nine ways to ease your holiday season

notebook surrounded by holiday elements

By Laura Livingston Snyder

Family Times is 20! To celebrate, we will pick one article (or a few) from our archive each month – including this one, which appeared in our December 2016 issue. View our other anniversary content here.

When I think about the perfect holiday, it’s casual and involves fuzzy socks and pajamas, not pantyhose and Spanx. If you’re like me, then an important part of enjoying your season is figuring out how to maximize your fun and minimize your hassle. So, consider these ideas for keeping your spirits high and your sanity intact throughout the month of December.

Plan ahead. Talk to family members and figure out what’s happening, where it’s happening and who’s doing what. Who will host which day? Will there be overnight guests? Organize menus and assign dishes. A potluck prevents one person from taking on all the cooking. It also allows each person to showcase a favorite dish. Planning in advance clears up miscommunication and allows the hostess ample time to coordinate her calendar and prepare her home.

Get comfortable. Now that the calendar is set, it’s time to write out a timeline. Start with the house. For those who will have extra family staying with them, accommodations will need to be decided. Inventory bedding and linen to be sure there’s enough. Laundering now can free up precious time later. Assign duties to everyone and start in on cleaning and tidying, especially spare rooms that are ordinarily used as a catchall for stray items. Offer to help out-of-towners with hotel options. If travel plans are in your future, keep track of what to bring and what to buy once there.

Prep to save time. From this point forward start stocking up each week on ingredients that might be hard to find at the last minute. Keep these in designated bags out of sight to avoid pilfering. Bake and freeze dishes in advance. My friend Lorraine Grassi hosts Christmas Eve for 25 to 30 people and does this. All chopping is done days earlier, and casseroles go right from the freezer to the oven. Even eight pounds of potatoes can be peeled and kept in water the day before cooking so the focus can stay on enjoying company.

Work together. For those families who give cookie trays as gifts, go in with others. Making a couple dozen in an afternoon is fun. Being tied to the kitchen for several dozen more becomes drudgery. Combining and then sharing the varieties also saves money on costly ingredients for several recipes. Or peruse sites like Pinterest to look for a new approach. The site features, for example, ideas for layering dry ingredients in decorated mason jars—a strategy that takes a fraction of the time that baking does.

Clear out the old. This is a great time to remind kids of those less fortunate. We go through our house for toys no longer of interest and bag them up for goodwill. Our children understand these items might go to families who can’t afford new presents. It also creates room for what will be left under our tree.

Get it in the mail. It’s not too late to send cards. I love sending photo cards of the kids, especially to friends and relatives who we don’t see often. These days we can do everything online without having to wait weeks, so be creative. Check out the postal service’s guidelines for sending goodies through the mail ( You can avoid priority-mail charges by sending packages by Dec. 15. Cards mailed before Dec. 19 are likely to arrive by Christmas Day.

Pick and choose. Part of holiday burnout is attempting to do too much. There’s no rule that says every tradition must be followed. Between work functions and school parties, sometimes we barely have time for a breather between events. But limiting ourselves to a couple makes these obligations more manageable, and the novelty of a few helps to keep them enjoyable.
And focus on those traditions that make the season special for your family. Every year, three generations of our family meet at Granger’s Christmas Tree Farm in Mexico with our cameras. After a tractor ride and a hike, we cut and haul our own tree, then warm up with hot cocoa. I look forward to it each year.

Make a budget. Set a price limit per person. No one should still be paying in August for toys their kids have already broken. Tally purchases and record what’s left to buy and which stores to visit. Some teachers offer a classroom “search and find” list for parents to identify an elusive item or offer information on where they’ve seen it. And when the shopping is done, don’t second-guess or go back to the store for “one more thing,” even if it’s on sale.

If funds are low or stress levels high, don’t feel badly about trimming the recipient list to one that is manageable for your budget. Maybe this is the year to offer time instead of spending money.

That’s a wrap. Everyone has their routine of wrapping gifts. Keep it fun. I know someone who does all her wrapping at one time, which turns her day into drudgery and gives her a sore back. I prefer to load a DVD of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or A Charlie Brown Christmas and limit my wrapping to about an hour. With the first chunk of my chore done and memory lane visited, I have a renewed sense of holiday spirit.

Planning and paring down expectations are ways to stay in control and reduce stress, helping to keep the holiday season jolly and bright.

Mindful Merrymaking: Eat, drink and move healthy over the holidays

By Molly Morgan
This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue.

The holiday season is filled with traditions, fun memories and lots of food and drinks. Then right around the corner is the New Year, along with resolutions, which are often tied to eating healthier and losing weight. The good news is that there is no need to give up all of your holiday favorites. Rather than depriving yourself, use these tips to adjust your menu, stay mindful and get active throughout the holiday season.


If you are planning a holiday get-together, mix up your menu. Start by ensuring that it includes a variety of foods. Say yes to your favorite holiday splurges, but also incorporate plenty of lighter and healthier items.

Go beyond the basic fruit-and-veggie platter, and offer some creative options. Try things like fresh fruit kebabs, colorful layered fruit salads or sliced apples with caramel dip. And how about a roasted vegetable platter, a leafy green, wreath-shaped Caprese salad or a tree-shaped vegetable platter with a yogurt-based dip? For appetizers, opt for vegetable-based dips like black bean and veggie dip, hummus and whole wheat pita or spinach artichoke dip.

Include sources of healthier fats like salmon, tuna, olive oil, nuts and seeds. Put out dishes of mixed nuts, pistachios, almonds or cashews. Or try serving an appetizer that centers on salmon or tuna. In recipes choose olive or canola oil, and look for infused oils to flavor recipes.

Add whole grains to enhance your foods’ nutritional value. Consider substituting whole wheat pastry flour, quinoa, brown rice, whole grain bread crumbs, oats or whole wheat pasta for more processed flours and grains called for in recipes. Serve dips and spreads with whole grain crackers, multigrain pita chips or whole wheat pita bread.

A swap that works for quick breads and baked foods is using whole wheat pastry flour. This flour has a smooth texture and light wheat taste, with all the nutritional power of a whole grain flour. To substitute whole wheat pastry flour in a recipe, it is a one-to-one substitution.

Lighten up a cheese platter with foods that are lighter in calories. Great options include slices of roasted vegetables (such as roasted red peppers), a variety of olives, fresh sliced vegetables, grapes, berries or pickled vegetables.


Think less about depriving yourself and more about being mindful about your food and beverage selections.

Avoid mindless eating at parties by moving away from the food spread and socializing with guests! If you are the hostess, check on the food periodically but otherwise spend your time talking, not eating.

Decide in advance how you want to spend your calories. For example, at a party, go light on the snacks and appetizers and save some room for a dessert. If you love savory dips and appetizers, enjoy the appetizers and then skimp on the desserts. Budget your calories the way you would budget your money on a shopping trip.

Pay special attention to what you are drinking, and focus on limiting the sugary drinks. You can help your guests cut down on sugar intake by serving a variety of naturally flavored seltzer waters, infused waters or unsweetened teas. Instead of sugary holiday punch, try a fresh fruit and seltzer punch with lime seltzer, slices of limes and sliced strawberries. Turn this into the base for an adult punch by adding vodka.

To help lessen some of the focus on food at gatherings, plan non-food activities for you and your guests: play games, assemble a puzzle, take a walk, have fun outside, build a snowman or make simple crafts.


Don’t forget to stay active, even during the frenzy of the holidays. You always have options, from swimming at community indoor pools to walking at the mall, exercising at home or heading to the gym. Of course, bundle up and enjoy outdoor activities as well: shoveling, snowshoeing, skiing, ice skating or cross-country skiing.

If you are traveling over the holidays, seek out ways to stay active wherever you are going, such as yoga classes, trails, roller skating, ice skating, skiing and more! Plus remember the holiday to-do list: shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning and baking all burn calories.

If you will be going to a party, plan to use these ideas to bring healthier choices with you to the gathering. The day of a party, rather than skipping meals, squeeze in a few extra minutes at the gym, on a walk, or exercising to offset the party food and drinks.

I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season!


Take a look back at some of our other December issues below (and check out Chris Xaver’s recipe for Sugar-Free Chocolate Wreath Cookies):

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