12/18/2013 10:27 am ET Updated Feb 17, 2014

The Home Stretch: Last-Minute Holiday Entertaining Tips

Planning a holiday party this week, but its not making your spirits bright? Do you fear that jingle as neighbors come knocking? Every year we plan to be the hostess with the mostess, but with all the other holiday to-dos it often falls to the bottom of the list. Well, here is some jolly news, you can host a holiday party and be merry and bright! All it takes is a little planning and you will entertain with ease.

Here is my holiday entertaining handbook which has saved my holidays for decades:

Last-Minute Guests

All you need to be prepped for last minute guests is a well-stocked kitchen. Here are some must-have items that you should always keep in your home during the holiday season in preparation for those last minute guests.

• Extra bottles of wine/champagne (cold in refrigerator)
• Candles and matches
• Bowls and platters
• High-end crackers, good cheese (round goat cheese), tapenade
• Juices boxes
• Apple juice and cinnamon sticks - for that quick apple cider!
• Frozen appetizers! BIG Time saver
• Quality paper goods with different themes -- stock up!
• Cheese papers, doilies, swivel sticks, straws, feathered coasters for martini glasses -- creative touches that add a bit of entertainment to your table settings
• Paper napkins for the bathroom
• Toothpicks with multi-color cellophane
• Equal, sweet-n-low, sugar cubes
• Sangria pitchers for water or drinks

Holiday Party Countdown

When hosting a holiday party the key to entertaining with ease is not leaving it to the day before. Give yourself four days to prep for your party and you will be fa la, la-ing all the way!

Two Days Before the Party

• Set the Mood: Make a list of who you invited and keep in mind the age groups, gender, etc. From there, you can design what kind of party you are going to have. For example, for the kids prepare activities to keep them busy, and for men the football game makes great background noise!

• Menu: Decide on a menu. Will it be a sit down formal event or something more casual? Make sure your menu doesn't have a lot of "last minute stuff" that you can't get to until the night of the party. Also, keep in mind: Potluck is back with a vengeance! And, it helps to eliminate your prep time before the party. But, be specific about what you want and make follow-ups with people beforehand. For example, if Kate always comes late to the party, it's probably best to ask her to bring dessert!

• Set a Time: If you tell your friends you'll eat at 7, eat at 7:30. This will cut down on your late attendants.

• Buy supplies: Make sure you have all the napkins, glassware, etc. that you will need. Don't go overboard when spending money on supplies for your party. You don't have to have the finest china - cheap glassware will do the trick!

• Organize: Clean out a cabinet in your kitchen to keep all the items you buy for the party when you shop. Label "Party food: do not eat." Always buy one more than you need so you don't run out!

A Day Before the Party

• Decorate: Remember that theme you picked a couple days before? Now is the time to get out those decorations.

HINT: Don't try and transform your home into something different, work with what you've got. Take the decorations that are already in your home and give them an "off-the-cuff" feel. For example, put white lights on your favorite plant to help set a festive mood.

Order flowers and make sure to utilize your florist. They'll do the work for you! Their expertise will help you create the look you want, saving you some precious time. And as an added bonus, ask them to deliver the flowers to your home.

• Set the Table

• Shop: Go to the food store to get all your needs for your menu.

• It's Okay to be Semi-Homemade: Substitute some of your homemade dishes for store-bought. Pick-up unique and tasteful appetizers at Whole Foods, Trader Joes or other stores.

• Make Space: Be sure your guests will be comfortable and will be able to move around your home freely. Consider moving out some of your furniture. Storage doesn't have to be permanent and pricey! Hire a mover just for the day to move out some furniture to make more room for the party. Also, ask if your mover offers "photo-perfect" packing where they actually come into your home, pack up the room, store your items for the day, and then transform your room back to its original condition.

The Day of the Party

• Make a List for the Day: Say to yourself, at 7a.m. I'm going to aim to get this appetizer complete, etc. Not only does this keep you on task, but it keeps you sane!

• Be Clean & Prepped: Start the party with an empty dishwasher and empty trash can. Have your glassware set up in the cupboard so that guests can go directly there to get it. This saves space and time!

• Defrost: Take those store bought appetizers out of the freezer, heat them up and you've got a seemingly gourmet spread in minutes! It's a real time saver.

• Don't forget to enjoy the party!