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Holiday dishes are beautiful and worth it to use once for guests but plastic or paper plates save on time and dish washing. (Katie Pinke/Agweek)

7 best practices for holiday cheer that save on dishes and headaches

Do you have guests coming to visit for the holidays? Or, are you going to visit family? Below are my seven best practices to make entertaining easier, with fewer headaches and more laughter, new memories coupled with traditions, and to still love your family when it's over. If you're a guest, the tips will help you not only be tolerable but appreciated.

1. First and foremost, your family is weird. Not so, you say? Wrong. Every family is weird or at least different than yours and has their own habits and traditions. When hosting, be open to a new way of doing something. If you're a guest, follow the lead of the host. As newlyweds, I remember the first time I had to sit and watch my husband and his family open one gift at a time and then they watched me open gifts. I felt it was weird. Nathan thought our ad lib family Christmas program followed by everyone ripping open gifts at once was mass chaos and definitely weird compared to his normal Christmas routine. It's OK to try something different — the holidays will go on.

Holiday dishes are beautiful and worth it to use once for guests but plastic or paper plates save on time and dish washing.

2. If you're hosting, use your "good" dishes, glassware and/or flatware for one meal. It's worth it to pull them out. Guests, help clear the table or wash dishes when the meal is complete. The rest of the time, let your guests eat on disposable plates and flatware. I'm a recovering stoneware, glassware or china-only entertainer. I can finally say: break out the red Solo cups instead of having to wash glassware at midnight. Enjoy visiting with your guests and save your sanity.

Plan your menu and who is bringing what. There’s less stress when there’s a food plan.

3. Plan your menu and who is bringing what. You don't have to do it all yourself. If you're a guest, be specific about what you're willing to bring, especially when it comes to salads, I've learned. In the upper Midwest, Jell-O is a salad. If you want a lettuce salad, ask for it. I know what my sister is serving for Christmas when we gather in her home. I know what I'm making when it's my evening to cook when we're with my husband's family over the New Year holiday. There's less stress when there's a food plan.

4. Turn off devices and electronics for a few hours ... or even a few days. Playing music in the background is approved, and of course, there are must-watch football games. Less time playing video games and checking social media gives you more time to interact with your loved ones.

Katie Pinke's son, brothers and cousins play the board game Catan at Christmas together.

5. Play board or card games. If you're a guest, bring your favorite along or a new game as a hostess gift. My family has countless memories playing board games together at the holidays. It creates laughter, and multiple generations can participate. Monopoly remains our most-played game. Balderdash gives us the most laughs. Catan is the most intense game. Ticket to Ride is 10-year-old Elizabeth's game of choice. My brothers and dad have played Cribbage and Chinese checkers hundreds of times together.

6. Get outside. Of course, it all depends on the weather, but fresh air and exercise after holiday feasting is beneficial, plus it clears out the house a bit for your hosts. Go on a walk with your uncle you haven't seen in a year. Play catch or shoot hoops with cousins. Cross-country skiing, ice skating and snowmobiling are favorites if we have a white Christmas. Whatever the weather allows, get outside.

7. Appreciate who is there. I've been known to dwell on who is NOT at a family gathering. Loss is especially difficult during the holidays. Strained relationships can make a gathering awkward. Shift work keeps people from being able to join you. Some people simply don't show up. Thankfully, technology makes holidays easier to connect and share time with our loved ones through Skype or Facetime.

I learned my best practices for hosting and being a guest from a wonderful example — my mother. While I enjoy entertaining and have hosted hundreds of family members and friends in our home, this year we will create new memories in new places, with my sister's family in Colorado and in Minnesota at our lake home with my husband's family. I'm looking forward to being a helpful guest who helps create a stress-free, fun environment and a hostess who doesn't stress too much about the details to create new holiday memories.

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