Many of us entertain more during the holiday season. No matter whether you entertain all the time or just occasionally, it is not uncommon to get a little nervous when planning for the big day.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is decide what type of party you want to have. Do you want dinner or something else? The most common get-together for me is probably dinner. I tend to do sit-down dinners for groups of fewer than 20. If I’m going to have more people than that, I like to serve a buffet-style meal. It is just easier for me.

Lunch and afternoon teas are also a great way to entertain. It’s early enough in the day that you can serve a lighter menu.

Brunch is my favorite way to get a group of people together. There are many great make-ahead recipes that allow you to mingle with your guests rather than spend the entire time in the kitchen. Brunches can be extremely casual or very formal. For casual brunches, I like to prepare casseroles. For a fancier brunch, items such as blintzes and spiral hams set the mood. 

I also like holding cocktail parties. I refer to these as “appetizer-only” parties. I love to make finger food and try out lots of new recipes. While I love to prepare everything for my parties myself, sometimes it just is not feasible. It is easy to find interesting pre-made appetizers at the grocery store around holiday time. So, I look at what I can purchase to supplement my homemade items. For example, buy pre-cooked shrimp and place it on ice with sauce and a few lemons. Or, purchase a beautifully decorated dessert rather than make one yourself. You can add simple touches to pre-made food that make it taste as wonderful as your own homemade dishes.  

I am the worst when it comes to asking people to bring something, but I’ve recently realized that most people really want to bring something, so do not hesitate to let your friends bring a dish to the party. 

Whatever type of gathering you choose to hold, there is one important thing to remember: Do not let your party stress you out. Your guests will not care if everything isn’t perfect. Take time to enjoy your party. 

• Judy A. Toth is the owner of Simply Impressive Cooking School in Mesa. Her column appears the second Wednesday of the month. Reach her at (480) 654-1981 or

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