25 Last-Minute Ideas That Will Absolutely Save Your Holidays
These last-minute ideas will make you excited for the (sometimes-stressful) holiday.
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.
The holiday season is a wonderful time of year filled with parties and get-togethers. Because of this, it’s also the busiest time of year. When you’re faced with a million tasks, tiny things—like remembering to chill the wine or to make an appetizer that guest can eat while the turkey is cooking—can easily fall off your plate. Luckily, we’ve rounded up our best time-saving tips, so you won’t have to worry. What’s more, you can get our all-time best last-minute holiday recipes here.
Fake Homemade Tomato Sauce
While Nonna had hours to babysit her famous red sauce, we’re guessing you might not. Stir in a pat of butter or a splash of half-and-half to make canned pasta sauce taste homemade. Try adding minced fresh herbs right before serving. “I also add Better Than Bouillon to make it taste like it’s been simmering forever,” explains reader Angela Lively. Get more tips for how to upgrade a jar of pasta sauce here.
Craft an Easy Turkey Treat
This kid-friendly appetizer might just be the cutest snack of the season. All you need are crackers, cured meats, cheese and a little handiwork to make this cheery gobbler come to life. Get more kid-friendly snack ideas here.
Bake Shortcut Apple Pies
Don’t have time for a whole pie? Here’s the next best thing. Our recipe for Bite-Sized Apple Pies goes from kitchen-to-table in 20 minutes, plus, it’s fun for the kids to help make. Simply wrap strips of pastry around apple wedges and shake on some cinnamon-sugar. Then just bake and watch them disappear.
Dress Up the Table
Is your table feeling a little blah before the party? Break out a box of cookies for this easy (and edible) craft. Simply thread ribbon through each treat, then place loosely on the table as a sweet centerpiece. Here are a few more ideas for how to decorate for Christmas.
When time runs short, do the dip! This Baked Asparagus Dip calls for only three ingredients: asparagus, cheese and mayonnaise. Just place in an ovenproof bowl and bake at 375° until heated through. Serve it warm with pita chips.
Dress Up Frozen Meatballs
This quick appetizer couldn’t be easier to put together. Simply cook frozen meatballs according to the package directions and toss with a homemade sauce. A jar of grape jelly and chili sauce come together for this fantastic Chili and Jelly Meatball Sauce recipe. Or try heating up a jar of orange marmalade, 1/4 cup orange juice, chopped green onions and chopped jalapeno for these delectable Orange-Glaze Meatballs. Guests won’t believe their tastebuds.
Host an Easy Bagel Brunch
When you’ve stressed over dinner for weeks, the last thing you want to do is wake up the next morning and fuss over breakfast. Luckily, this fancy bagel brekky comes together super quick, and can totally be prepped in advance (kind of like these genius 30-minute breakfast recipes). To make your “gourmet” bagel spreads, simply soften cream cheese and add favorite ingredients. Here are a few of our fave combos:
- Raspberry chipotle sauce and honey
- Cinnamon and sliced apples
- Blue cheese crumbles, butter and garlic salt
Garnish with nuts, fruits or olives for an Instagram-worthy look. Have someone pick up bagels and you’re ready to host!
Editor’s Tip: If you want a sauce to stay on top of a block of cream cheese, pull the tines of a fork lengthwise on top. The ridges will keep the jam in place and look oh-so-fancy.
Grab a Bag of Frozen Veg
Remember that bag of frozen peas that’s been sitting in the back of the freezer since who knows when? Turn that bad boy into a stunning last-minute appetizer. Thaw the peas, then give them a whirl in the food processor along with garlic, olive oil, rice vinegar, Parmesan cheese and S&P. Schmear the spread on toast for easy (and healthy!) crostini dish everyone will enjoy. Get the full recipe here.
Enhance a Salad Kit
Salad kits are an excellent starter for your next potluck salad. Simply grab one or two from the produce aisle and add a few ingredients to give it homemade flair. (Think shredded chicken, walnuts, or whatever else you have on hand.) No fussy chopping necessary.
Skip the Homemade Pie Crust
Do we love flaky, buttery homemade pie crust? Absolutely. Do we always have time to make it? Nope! When pressed for time, it’s perfectly OK to reach for the store-bought stuff. In fact, our staffers tried all of the most popular refrigerated pie crust brands and found one that tasted like homemade.
Build the Sweetest Dessert Board
This sugar bomb dessert board will add instant fun to your next get together, and it requires almost zero prep. Raid the candy aisle and load it onto your favorite platter or cheese board. Fill small dipping bowls with caramel dipping sauce, chocolate sprinkles or hazelnut spread. Use it as a sugary centerpiece for your holiday party. Stay up to date on the lastest candies (and other fun treats) worth buying.
Fill Flavorful Tartlets
If your freezer isn’t stocked with a couple of boxes of frozen pastry shells ($4) it’s time to get some ASAP. This pre-cut puff pastry is our secret weapon for whipping up last-minute finger foods. There are infinite options for the filling, but we prefer to top these cuties with melted brie, jam and fresh fruit.
Pour Elegant Soup Shooters
Soup shooters may look elegant but come together in a moment’s notice. To make: Thin a carton of tomato soup with vegetable broth and top with crème Fraiche. Add a sprig of fresh dill for garnish. Get more easy appetizer recipes here.
Prep Easy Party Sandwiches
Roundup a few deli salads and slider buns from the store, and cocktail sandwiches will be ready in no time at all. Draw menu inspiration from this list of stunning small-bite sandwich recipes.
Make a Meaningful Hostess Gift
You made a dish to pass but totally forgot about getting something special for the host. Before you walk out the door, grab an unused recipe card from your box and jot down the recipe you’re bringing or a holiday recipe you know your host loves. Here are 50 of Grandma’s secret holiday recipes to get you started.
Assemble Quick Antipasto Skewers
This mini antipasto kabob recipe can be made using items you pluck right from the deli counter. All you need is olives, pepperoni, salami, cheese tortellini and some Italian dressing. Skip the marinade step to serve up in a flash.
Chill the Bubbly Quickly
You can chill a bottled beverage in a mere 20 minutes by filling a pitcher with ice water and a handful of salt. Fully immerse the bottle, turning it 2-3 times. This tip works well with wine or soda. Here are more kitchen hacks you’ll wish you knew sooner.
Don’t Count Out Popcorn
You might think of these tiny kernels for movie night, but popcorn (especially our Test Kitchen’s favorite brand) is a great snack to have handy when surprise guests pop over this holiday season. Add cinnamon sugar, smoked paprika, Parmesan—or nutritional yeast for your DF friends—to step up the flavor. Find more of our favorite flavored popcorn ideas here.
Assemble a Fruit Platter
A fruit platter makes a healthy addition to any holiday spread. Be sure to use in-season ingredients like pomegranates and tangerines for best flavor. Learn more with this guide to what fruits and vegetables are in season when.
Help Little Smokies Shine
Cocktail sausages are great on their own, but during the holidays make sure they go above and beyond. Dress ’em up with barbecue sauce, or try these other cocktail weenie ideas for your next celebration.
Save the Day with Crescent Rolls
Crescent roll dough is magical in a last-minute situation. Skip all the kneading and try these Mini Caramel Rolls that come together in a flash—perfect for holiday brunch!
Dip It Good
Chocolate dipped fruit may sound time-consuming, but it’s way quicker than baking that decadent layer cake. Pop a bowl of melting chocolate chips in the microwave for 20 seconds and stir until smooth. Dip fruit (we love apples, but strawberries, pears and pineapples work) and garnish with odds and ends you can find in the pantry. Hello, crushed pretzels! These delish treats will be ready by dessert.
Put Together a Classic Cheese Board
Don’t have time to cook but have an upcoming celebration to attend? Pick up some cheese, meats, and crackers from the store and check out how to assemble a beautiful cheese board that’ll make your friends and family say, “Wow!”
If you love hosting but are trying to avoid Turkey duty this season, there’s no shame in ordering out! Companies like Cracker Barrel ($100), Boston Market ($120), Whole Foods ($80, $120) and more offer delicious Thanksgiving meal orders. Less stress means more time enjoying what’s most important: the family and friends you’re with.
Have reservations about cooking Thanksgiving dinner? Make reservations instead. These restaurants are open on Thanksgiving.