Tips for planning a stress-free holiday open house

Christmas PartyMost of us love the idea of mixing and mingling with family and friends in the comfort of our own homes, but hate planning, shopping, straightening the house and, of course, cleaning up. Parties can be stressful! Instead of planning the blowout to end all blowouts, why not plan a simple open house instead?

The concept of an open house is easy: Set start and end times with guests coming and going throughout. Here are a few tips to pull off the perfect holiday open house.

Consider budget when planning. A cheese and dessert party can keep the budget in check by narrowing the focus, as can a mid-afternoon time slot to avoid mealtimes. You can easily provide light snacks and beverages instead of a full meal. If you’re going to provide alcohol, make one simple punch or cocktail. You don’t need a full bar at an open house, so a single “grown-up” beverage will do and will keep your budget in check.

Pay close attention to timing. If the kids have a definite nap time and will be bears if they miss it, consider a morning open house. Breakfast items are easy to set up with little effort (everyone loves a mini muffin!) and the kids will be fresh and ready to roll. Be clear on start and end times so that your guests understand the window.

Have an activity for the little ones. Check out Oriental Trading Company or other companies that provide fun craft kits at low prices. Little hands can easily assemble most items, and the kids will have a little something to take home.

Have a self-guided activity for the adults. Consider having a “Cookie in a Jar” station with Mason jars and all of the fixings for families to make a jar of cookie mix to take home and make together. Have tags ready with assembly/baking instructions.

Evite, Evite, Evite! Thanks to its casual nature, keep your invites simple and don’t be afraid to make them electronic. Though you want a more formal invitation for more formal parties, there’s no shame in picking a cute template and sending it to your busy friends. They may even appreciate the ease of clicking a simple button instead of having to call with an RSVP.

Expecting a ton of kids? Hire a sitter — or three! Hire your local sitter and a few friends to supervise the kids and play games. Be aware though, each sitter should receive their standard hourly rate (consider at least $10 per sitter, per hour), plus a generous tip if they managed the kids well. Make sure their role is well defined too. If they’re playing with the kids, don’t ask them to take coats and serve food. Let them focus on the job at hand.

Click next below for the Cookie in a Jar mix recipe.

Cookie in a Jar mix

Cookie mix jarThis is a tasty “Cookie in a Jar” mix that each family can assemble and take home to prepare at a later date. Provide large bowls of ingredients, the proper measuring cups in each bowl, and clean, new jars, complete with labels ready to go. It will be a huge hit!

Oatmeal Candy Cookies in a Jar
Makes two dozen

To prepare each jar, you will need:

1 quart jar
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces, or chocolate chips
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 cup old-fashioned oats

Layer ingredients into the jar in the order listed, gently tapping the jar on the table or countertop after each addition to tamp each ingredient down. Place lid on jar and seal tightly. The mix will be good for up to two months.

To prepare cookies (information for the tag/label):

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Cream the butter with an electric mixer until smooth.
  3. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until well combined and fluffy – 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add contents of jar mix into the bowl and use a wooden spoon to combine just until all dry ingredients are well incorporated.
  5. Scoop into 24 balls, 12 on each baking sheet, and place in oven.
  6. Bake for 8 minutes, then switch baking sheets and bake for an additional 5-6 minutes, until cookies are puffed and golden around the edges.
  7. Place baking sheets on cooling racks. Cool cookies on baking sheet.

By Christine Van Bloem

See Christine's weekly easy family recipe blog.