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The holidays are going to look a bit – or very – different this year, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The guest list may be pared down due to Covid concerns, but your holiday dinner can still be merry.

Your party innovations this year may even lead to some new traditions that will stay with your family for years to come. (Just imagine the stories that will pass down to future generations about how the dessert-as-appetizers holiday staple started in the pandemic of 2020, when rules went out the window.)

So, where to start? SJ chefs, home cooks and veteran party planners share their tried-and-true tips for a party that’s low stress, delish and healthy (Virus-wise, at least. Load up on those carbs.)

Never underestimate the power of a toothpick in a pandemic. Taking a few moments to put one in your appetizers means less contamination from many hands reaching onto the same plate.
Laura Reclictz, Cherry Hill

Instead of making one large dessert to share, serve individual-sized desserts. Menu items like parfaits in cups, miniature pies, and tarts will not only make serving easy but help minimize how many people come in contact with that dish. Also, since gatherings are going to be smaller this year, cut down on the size of your recipes. You can either cut all measurements in half or in thirds and make the dishes smaller. Or, instead of altering recipes you already know and love, prepare the whole dish and freeze a portion for another meal. Your future self will enjoy not having to prepare yet another meal.
Kae Lani Palmisano, WHYY Check Please!

On Christmas Eve, my family used to cook an extravagant dinner, which was time consuming, costly and overshadowed by Christmas. One year we instead asked the entire family to bring their favorite hors d’oeuvres instead, and a favorite tradition was started. The plates are a mishmash of finger food favs that pair well with anything from champagne to a glass of homemade mulled wine. The result is a stress-free evening of fun, food and family.
John Gonzalez, Cathedral Kitchen

Our party is going to be an outdoors happy hour in front of the fire pit this year. I’m supplying mugs and making mulled cider with a splash of bourbon optional. I’ve already stocked up on sticks for s’mores and will pack individual bags with marshmallows, Hershey’s minis and graham crackers – kinda like we did for Halloween.
Glenn Karick, Voorhees

Have a chilled dish as guests arrive. Then, continue to present new dishes as guests enjoy the night.
Christopher Weiss, Season52

Get little hands involved. Without your normal crew of friends and family to help get the meal on the table, you may need some extra help. A smaller menu will give you more time to spend teaching kids cooking techniques, and it’s the perfect opportunity to help them get more involved in holiday celebrations moving forward.
Ashley Tillman, Moorestown

Pick an appetizer-style food theme, and make 4-5 finger-food varieties. If it’s tacos, I suggest chicken, pork, tofu and shrimp. For meatballs, try teriyaki, BBQ, sweet and sour and buffalo. This keeps you from making multiple time-consuming dishes that may or may not be eaten, not to mention these types of foods are usually very affordable and easy to clean up.
Aaron McCargo, Jr., “Next Food Network Star,” Season 4 Winner

Stock up on shallow disposable cups for individual portions of dips. That way, not everyone is sticking their food into the same bowl, and you can double-dip to your heart’s content.
David Weis, Atlantic City

We invested in food warmers, which allows us to cook early and keep the food warm. It also takes away all the pressure of watching various foods cooking at different times and temps, and we aren’t stuck in the kitchen all night.
Andrew Cunningham, K&A Bagel

Go with quality over quantity. Get the very best of every ingredient, serve with impeccable presentation, and your guests will always be happy. It’s also wonderful to have a single signature cocktail, that way nobody has to wonder what to drink.
Cheyanne Forgatch, The Artisan Marshmallow Company

Completely debone a turkey. Stuff it, roll it, and wrap it with a savory pork belly. Roast the turkey in a simple mushroom pan sauce, deglazing with wine and stock. This is a great seasonal entrée that will wow your guests and is sure to put everyone in the holiday spirit.
Thomas Vaccaro, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa

My key tip – “mise en place” – having everything prepped before the entertaining begins so time can be better spent enjoying family, friends and a delicious feast.
Robert Bennett, Classic Cake

Making warm apple cider on the stove will make your whole house smell happy, warm, cozy and festive.
Christine Patton, Juice Girl

Since we’re spending more time at home, go all-out with the holiday decor. And if you want to keep them up long after the holidays are over, that’s cool too. Find joy where you can.
Danielle Barazza, Vineland

December 2020
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