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Thank you for signing up to receive this special email, featuring advice on hosting a budget friendly holiday party. Gluten-Free Holiday How-Tos are brought to you by NFCA and Crunchmaster.

How to Keep Your Gluten-Free Holiday Low Fuss and Low Cost
By Carol Kicinski of Simply...Gluten-Free

Read Part 1: Gluten-Free Cranberry Brie and Holiday Tips

For years, I was a professional event planner. I did million dollar weddings for 100 guests and $1,500 weddings for 400! I did social functions for corporations and birthday parties for kids. With the variety of events and budgets, I learned a thing or two about throwing a party! The best way to keep holiday entertaining stress-free and fabulous, while maintaining your health and your gluten-free diet, is to plan like the pros do.

Here are my top 10 favorite tips:

1. Budget - Regardless of how much you have to spend, you should set a budget and stick to it.  Part of setting a budget is allocating where and how you want to spend the money. Do this by what’s most important to you. Is it food?  Decorations? The best way to do this is set your dollar amount, then figure out what percentage of that you will spend on food, drinks, decorations, favors, entertainment and such. Then STICK TO IT!

2. Organize - As a professional, I always did a timeline for events, and I do them for my own parties as well. Spreading the work over a period of a week is so much easier that trying to get it all done in one day. Figure out what can be done ahead and work it into the schedule. Decorating, shopping, gift wrapping favors, setting up tables and even making a lot of the food can all be done ahead of time.  I even set up the bar, put out my buckets that will hold drinks and put the drinks it them. Then a couple hours before, I just add ice. Easy!

3. Allocate an hour or so of time before the party for you to relax and get ready. You should enjoy the party, too!

4. Think about cocktail parties instead of sit down dinners; they are friendlier and so much less work. And they are usually way less expensive. Make your cocktail party later in the evening, after dinner. Put out appetizers and a few desserts. It will stretch your budget much further.

5. Instead of buying costly bottles of water, put out pitchers with lemon or lime slices. Pretty and economical.

6. Make a signature cocktail. Stocking a bar with all types of liquors, mixers and garnishes is expensive, and there is a lot of waste. Make one festive alcoholic drink and one non-alcoholic, then add waters. If the budget allows, add some sodas, wine and gluten-free beer. You also won’t spend tons of time during the party making drinks.  Have the glasses, ice and drinks all set up and let people serve themselves. Here’s a good one!

7. When buying liquor and wine, always buy it from a place that will let you return unopened bottles. This way, if you don’t use it, you don’t pay for it!

8. If space is an issue, think outside the box. One house I lived was very limited in space. Fortunately, there was an open floor plan, so I used the kitchen sink as my drink station. I filled it with wine, gluten-free beer, waters and ice, and put out glasses on the kitchen counter. The best part was at the end of the night, I just pulled the plug and the water drained away!  You can set food out all over the place, on side tables, coffee tables, even chairs if they are stable enough. Make little food stations. It is a lot of fun and encourages mingling around.

9. Don’t be afraid of potlucks. One of the most successful holiday parties I hosted was an International Potluck. Each of my guests brought something from their own heritage. It was so fun! Assign people what to bring (main dishes, salads, desserts, drinks and appetizers) and ask them to bring their own serving utensils to avoid cross contamination if their food has gluten. I made a main dish and a dessert so I knew I would have something to eat even if all the other food had gluten. If you assign someone else to bring drinks, ask them to come early so you can get them on ice.

10. The supermarket is your friend! You don’t have to cook everything from scratch. Take help where you can. Scope out the deli section for gluten-free meats and cheese, frozen precooked shrimp (thaw, serve with cocktail sauce – how easy!), fruits, veggies and nuts. Make one or two really great things, and then arrange the rest on platters. Supermarket flowers are inexpensive, but may not be the prettiest. Buy a couple arrangements, then separate the flowers by type or color, put into small vases, and it looks super chic! And there is nothing wrong with paper plates and napkins if they are pretty.

Most of all, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Relax, have fun, crank up the music and spend time with your guests. Everyone will enjoy themselves, including you!

© National Foundation for Celiac Awareness 2011

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