How to reduce entertaining stress

As we head into Christmas, many of us will be cooking for others and entertaining. How can you help it all go smoothly?

1. Ask, don’t assume.

I’ve been vegan for more than a decade so I have lots of experience being that person who is difficult to feed. In my case, I actually prefer people don’t try – I can feed myself at home before or after. But, I love being given a task, like passing out hors d’oeuvres, or feeding children, so that I can feel less conspicuous.

If my child is attending, it’s nice if there’s one savoury and one sweet option for her to eat at parties, so she doesn’t feel left out. For example, I’m happy to bring vegan cake to a child’s birthday party. Everyone is different. One vegan won’t mind eating a veggie burger that’s cooked on the same barbecue as meat, but others will.

Humans are fairly good at detecting others’ sentiments. If you’re genuinely being non-judgmental, that will likely come across, without you needing to find the exact right words to ask your guests about their preferences. When people are different, remember they’re not judging you for what you like to eat. No need to feel sensitive around your vegetarian guests if you love your Christmas ham!

2. Catch your “shoulds”.

Sometimes our stress about entertaining is partially self-induced. For example, we think we need to make several varieties of Christmas cookies or make everything from scratch. Make entertaining easier on yourself by buying some pre-made components. You can easily buy frozen mini spring rolls or frozen mini savories you can just heat and serve for hors d’oeuvres. If you’re making a pie, you don’t need to make the pastry yourself. Look for opportunities to combine pre-made and homemade. If you’re thinking “I should do….” or “I have to do it X way”, notice that’s a mental assumption, and often isn’t strictly true.

3. People love to help or give advice.

Recent research has shown that we tend to underestimate how much other people enjoy and benefit from opportunities to help us. If it would make entertaining easier for you, ask your guests to bring something specific. It could be food, or it could be other items that will help reduce your costs. For example, you might ask a guest to bring Christmas crackers or another type of entertainment. Don’t hold back from asking someone who is organised and efficient if they’d like to show up an hour early to help you get your last-minute prep finished. Tap your social networks for specific advice, like how to judge quantities needed for specific numbers of guests.

If you’ve invited any guests who tend to be socially awkward in groups, chances are they’d love to be given a task so they’re not standing around self-consciously. Introverted or sensory-sensitive guests often enjoy opportunities to step away from the crowd. Got a little kid who is going to bed early? Your introvert guest might love to read them a bedtime story, so they get a break from all the social action.

4. Limit the booze.

Excessive drinking can easily sour an event. Problem alcohol use is common enough that many family gatherings will include at least one guest who isn’t nice and well-behaved after a few drinks or tends toward excess. If you want to reduce the chances of someone upsetting someone else, make alcohol a minor feature of the event. If drinking that goes on for hours is a problem, consider telling your guests a start and end time.

You can value hosting but still find it a little stressful, especially if it’s something you don’t do often. Don’t beat yourself up thinking you should be able to do it easily or assume that feeling some stress means you won’t do a good job. Many things we value and that are worth doing involve discomfort.

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