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24 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. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.

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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.

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Dipped Peanut Butter Sandwich CookiesTaste of Home

Choose Crackers over Cookies

When you don’t have time for your fave slice-and-bake cookies, these chocolate-dipped, peanut butter-stuffed crackers are the next best thing. Add colored sprinkles for a festive touch that comes together in minutes.

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Overhead view of savory marinara, slow cooked all day in an enamel coated cast iron Dutch oven.Aimee M Lee/Shutterstock

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.

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Cute turkey-shaped cheese appetizerTaste of Home

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.

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Taste of Home

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.

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Cookie garlandsTaste of Home

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.

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Taste of Home

Think Three-Ingredient

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.

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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.

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Easy bagel brunchTaste of Home

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.

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Sweet Pea Pesto CrostiniTaste of Home

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.

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Salad kit over empty bowlTaste of Home

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.

Psst! Try these easy salad recipes when you have more time on your hands.

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Taste of Home

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.

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TOHDJ20, dessert boardTaste of Home

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.

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tomato or butternut squash soup shooters on buffet tableJules1601/Shutterstock

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.

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Taste of Home

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.

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Cakes and cookies recipes in a recipe boxShutterstock / Karin Hildebrand Lau

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.

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Antipasto KabobsTaste of Home

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.

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THGKH19, Kitchen Hack Chilling Wine BottleTaste of Home

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.

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Popcorn with Nutritional YeastTaste of Home

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.

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Fruit and Cheese BoardTaste of Home

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.

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party franksTaste of Home

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.

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Mini Caramel RollsTaste of Home

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!

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dipped fruitTaste of Home

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.

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TOHDJ20, charcuterie cheese boardTaste of Home

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!”

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Country Thanksgiving Main BeautyTaste of Home

Outsource Dinner

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. Find more ways to bring joy home this holiday season.

Have reservations about cooking Thanksgiving dinner? Make reservations instead. These restaurants are open on Thanksgiving.

Carolyn Lewis
Carolyn Lewis is a young writer & digital media professional who grew up in Milwaukee. She loves to read graphic novels, write poetry about nature and cook Thai food while listening to podcasts. She has always been a storyteller and animal lover, thus, she has a hamster named Hamlet.
Nicole Doster
Nicole is the Content Director of TMB's Strategy and Performance team. She oversees the brand's shopping and trend editorial teams and assists with content planning across Taste of Home, Family Handyman, Reader's Digest, The Healthy and Birds & Blooms. With over seven years of experience writing and editing in the food and home space, she enjoys sharing cooking tips, recipe picks and product recommendations that make life a little easier. When she's not hunched over her laptop, she's either practicing latte art or fixating on her latest DIY home renovation.