32 Things That Help CR Staffers Reduce Holiday Stress - Consumer Reports (2022)

Oh ho ho, the holiday season is upon us. Or is that, oh no no...? You might be feeling childlike giddiness at the thought or maybe you’re already as stressed as an ornament getting batted around by a house cat. In either case, and every scenario in between, Consumer Reports’ writers, editors, and product testers have invaluable tips and trusty product recommendations to get you through to the new year. Whether you’re traveling, hosting, or cooking up a storm, we hope to help make your life a little easier during this hectic season. And yes, that includes self-care, too.

For Travelers

These products help keep our staffers organized, prepared, and entertained while traveling.

A Shovel and Brush to Keep Moving

The holidays are about seeing people who are important to you, and for me, that means driving around in the Northeast during the winter. Not always knowing what the weather will be like or where I’ll end up parking, I keep a portable car snow shovel and brush in the back of the car. I don’t need to worry about whether Uncle So-and-so or a Hampton Inn will let me borrow a shovel to get my car moving or whether I did a good enough job getting snow off the roof of my car so that it’s safe for other drivers. Never again will I scrape ice off the windshield with my hotel’s room key.—Keith Barry, autos writer

A Tablet for the Road

Its capabilities go far beyond what I use it for. During the holiday season, the Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet is handy to take along when visiting family. It enables me to read books on the road trip, watch movies when on a treadmill, and have entertainment, if needed, in the evenings. This low-cost tablet is a tremendous value—the savings on digital books alone have paid for it—and it’s more conducive to reading in bed. Plus, I can increase the text size as I age.—Jeff Bartlett, autos managing editor

Earplugs for a Good Night’s Sleep

Mack’s foam earplugs are a must for me when it comes to getting peaceful sleep and are doubly important when I travel. Nothing is worse than disrupted sleep during potentially stressful times like the holidays. During a recent trip to my parents’ house (the house I grew up in), I couldn’t sleep for nearly a whole night because I had misplaced my earplugs. Now, I always pack a spare pair. I use foam earplugs because the gel ones get gross after you use them for a while.—Pang-Chieh Ho, Smarter newsletter editor

Puzzles Keep the Kiddos Occupied

We do a lot of traveling around the holidays, and MightyMind puzzles are invaluable for keeping my rowdy preschooler engaged and quiet for long stretches of time during road trips and flights. Kids position the puzzle pieces to build shapes outlined on cards, and each successive card has a shape that’s a little more complex than the last. When I was growing up, I had a version of the same game with wood puzzle pieces, but this modern version is made with magnetic pieces, which makes it so much easier for kids to keep the pieces in place as they play, especially while in a car seat.—Lauren Kirchner, special projects deputy editor

Perfect Pillows at the Parents’ House

I bought these Beckham pillows, which are often on sale, and shipped them to my parents’ home so that I can have the pillows I like when I visit for the holidays (and any time of year, of course). If I didn’t have the pillows, it would be an even more miserable experience sleeping in the living room with one of their spare down pillows that’s lost all its feathers, while listening to my brother snore as the air mattress slowly deflates beneath me.—Mary Beth Quirk, shopping managing editor

Features for a Comfier, More Convenient Ride

“All I need during the holiday season is remote start, heated seats, and a heated steering wheel,” says Joe Veselak, senior auto testing technician. “For many cars, remote start means paying for a monthly subscription so you can use an automaker’s app,” says Alex Knizek, automotive engineer. “As an added bonus you would also get Automatic Collision Notification (ACN) and SOS, which automatically notifies emergency services if your car is involved in an accident.”

Tires That Tackle Wintery Weather

We put the CR Recommended Michelin X-Ice snow tires on my wife’s all-wheel-drive Prius. I no longer worry about her getting up our driveway in the winter.—Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing

For Hosts

Don’t forget about your guests’ tech needs. These gadgets will get them charged up and keep the music flowing.

Battery Boosters to Charge Up Guests

At some point during the holidays, a family member or neighbor will need a jump-start. For that, I keep this Noco booster pack charged up. Inside the house, I also have cell phone external battery packs—this one and this one—which are great to hand out to visiting teenagers who forgot their chargers. And no need to find an outlet or worry if you have the correct cable.—Shawn Sinclair, automotive engineer

Bluetooth Speakers Keep the Tunes Flowing

Holiday music is essential to me. I can tailor Apple Music playlists on my phone and stream them to a Bluetooth speaker when I’m entertaining at home or connect them to my car. Ideally, you’d have CarPlay or Android Auto for the car, and at home, I use a JBL Flip speaker, which is waterproof and comes in fun colors.—Jennifer Stockburger, Auto Test Center director of operations

For Cooks

For many, the food is one of the highlights of the holidays. We’ve got smart tips to help the family cooks both endure and enjoy the process.

Apps for Stress-Free Menu Planning

Yummly has served me well for holiday food options. The app has an easy interface, and you don’t have to be a member or pay to use it. One drawback is the ads, but the search is easy to use, there are always dozens of recipes, and it’s easy to cut and paste or export from the app to create a shopping list.—Jon Linkov, autos deputy editor

Even if I have the time to go grocery shopping for holiday entertaining, I find that one store might not have everything I need. So instead of making multiple trips, I look to Instacart to fill the gaps. Stores like Bath & Body Works, the Body Shop, Sephora, and Target are all on there, too, if I need a last-minute gift. Yes, it’s an app. But, for me, it’s also a form of self-care.—Tanya Christian, home and appliance writer

I use Google Docs to stay organized when planning big meals. I make a doc with all my menus, grocery lists, and a day-by-day schedule (e.g., Tuesday: Pie crust, Wednesday: Bake pies, make stuffing, etc.). It’s great to be able to access all my lists from my phone, and I love looking back at previous years’ menus and shopping lists.—Amanda Lecky, print deputy editor

Slow but Stalwart Cooker

My wife has a big family, and our house tends to be the gathering spot on Thanksgiving. Between her family and mine, we’ve had 25 guests on some holidays. That means a lot of food cooks at once, and it means ovens and stovetops are 110 percent utilized. The good, old-fashioned slow cooker lets you cook a dish in the background of the main-event dishes without having to check on it frequently. It also allows you to set up an all-day, serve-yourself, prefeast snack for your guests that gets them away from the furious prep work.—Glenn Derene, senior content director

Essential Turkey Day Tools

I used to brine my turkeys in a gallon of saline solution to increase flavor and add moisture, but safely disposing of the liquid afterward was a concern because of the foodborne pathogens swimming in it. About 4 years ago, I started filling a Traegar stainless steel meat injector with flavored solutions to inject into my birds. It has worked out so much better, and I no longer have to worry about a bacterial soup contaminating my kitchen.—James E. Rogers, PhD, director of food safety research and testing

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My family loves mashed potatoes, and my potato ricer makes it super-easy to get the smooth, creamy texture my children crave without overworking the mash (which results in a glutinous texture). —Diane Umansky, print deputy editor

My essentials are a Taylor digital instant-read thermometer to avoid over- or undercooking turkey, ham, beef rib roast, stuffing, etc.) and a knife sharpener. (I like the top-rated guy from this story.) I do a really thorough round of sharpening before I start holiday meal prep so that everything is sharp and ready to go when I need it. —Paul Hope, senior home writer

Big Pots for Big Batches

This caldero is just like the one my mom had when I was growing up. I use it anytime I need to cook curries and stews in large quantities. I also use it for cornbread stuffing because I always make too much. Since it’s wide and not too deep, it’s easy to stir foods as they simmer, and I find that my meat curries cook more evenly and don’t get as broken up as when I use a tall pot.—Emily Thomas, auto safety manager

Toaster Ovens As Trusty Sidekicks

During the holidays, this Cuisinart convection oven is a great second helper to the main oven. Before I got this spacious and versatile toaster oven, I spent a lot of time planning around oven temperatures and timing.—Melanie Pinola, senior electronics writer

I use my Breville toaster oven to keep bread or other items warm since I’m usually roasting in the main oven. I’ve had this thing for more than 10 years and in five houses; it’s always been perfect.—Paul Hope, senior home writer

I aspire to own a Breville toaster oven, but until I get one, I can’t live without my Black+Decker toaster oven. It’s my go-to appliance year-round, but during the holidays, I use it to make side dishes, such as cheesy garlic bread and roasted baby potatoes or sweet potatoes.—Althea Chang-Cook, associate content director

Ina Garten (aka Holiday Hosting Fairy Godmother)

I know she’s a person and not a product, but I couldn’t do without Ina Garten. Her recipes are easy, foolproof, and amazing. The ones for entertaining are all great, and her special drinks are very special. —Ellen Kunes, print editorial director

Ina Garten can do no wrong. Her cookbook, “Make It Ahead,” is comprised entirely of make-ahead recipes and it’s a saving grace. Seriously, one year I missed 45 minutes of Thanksgiving dinner because I was attempting to make gravy from scratch. Now I have a handful of dishes I can make the night before (even two days before the main meal), and it takes so much stress out of prepping the day of.—Anna Kocharian, shopping editor

Marathon Baking Must Haves

During the holidays, I make about 10 different kinds of cookies, plus pies, stollen, Buche de Noel, etc. Parchment paper is a must (it prevents so much stuck-cookie heartbreak) but I’d also especially hate to be without my decades-old KitchenAid stand mixer this time of year. I only wish I had room for a model with a larger bowl and a pouring shield.—Amanda Lecky, print deputy editor

I would say that my chocolate chip cookies and gingersnaps have achieved pretty much perfection at this point with the help of these Nordic Ware sheet pans, which are also super-convenient because they come in a quarter size that fits my tiny Brooklyn stove. Cookies come out chewy in the middle, with just enough of a snap and chew on the bottom.—Mary Beth Quirk, shopping managing editor

Table-Ready Cookware

A dish that can seamlessly transition from the oven to the table is a no-brainer for entertaining. I love the versatility of my Staub baking dishes because they’re prime for the sweet, savory, and in-between (like my meringue-topped sweet potato soufflé). The 12-inch dish is perfect for large serving recipes, and I find the oval shape aesthetically pleasing, not to mention easier to clean. (Scrubbing caramelized sugar off the corners of a square dish is never a good time.) I rely on them to help keep my loaded cornbread stuffing crisp on the outside and indulgently buttery on the inside. Having that pop of color against a white tablecloth doesn’t hurt, either.—Anna Kocharian, shopping editor

Enameled Dutch ovens can go from fridge to stovetop to oven to table, which makes them great for prepping ahead. You also don’t need to dirty more dishes because you don’t need separate cookware and platters. I have many, but I love this red monster by Le Creuset.—Paul Hope, senior home writer

For Self-Care

Blankets, frothers, and more right this way.

Milk Frothers for Morning Me Time

The Secura is the best milk frother of all the ones I’ve gone through (this one has lasted a record... year). It is seriously the best, and for less. I don’t use it for entertaining. I use it for morning sanity and as a money saver: My foam is better than Starbucks’. —Ellen Kunes, print editorial director

Last year for my birthday, which falls during the holidays, a friend bought me an Aerolatte milk frother. It felt like such a luxury to warm my milk up every morning and have the comfort of a coffee shop latte at home. I decided it was the perfect way to treat myself and start the day every day. But like every product that comes into my home, my teenage sons got a hold of the frother and in a fury of hot chocolate frothing, managed to defroth my frother. I now need to buy a new one.—Jen Shecter, acting head of content

A Smartwatch to Help Track Holiday Indulgences

My Apple Watch SE makes me more thoughtful about my actions during the day, whether that’s needing to exercise for a few more minutes to complete my rings (yes, I care about the rings) or, in the other direction, should I really have that second slice of apple pie given that it’s 200 calories (or whatever)? It’s like a personal trainer that’s always with me. Before I had it, I was flying blind with respect to minutes exercised or calories burned.—Nicholas De Leon, senior electronics writer

Lighted Vests for Walks in the Dark

The holidays can be stressful, and daily dog walks along the backroads by our house allow me and my family to destress. As the sunsets get earlier and earlier, our walks happen in the dark, so we got Noxgear Tracer2 lighted vests for us and a Noxgear Lighthound vest for our dog. The LED vests allow us to walk safely. Several drivers have stopped to thank us for being so visible.—Jason Holmes, associate director of lab operations

Snuggle Worthy Blankets

My faux fur blanket from L.L.Bean is heavy, warm, and beautiful. It doesn’t shed, it somehow rejects odors, and it’s the perfect size for someone on the small side. I use it constantly from October until April and don’t know how I’d survive winter without it.—Angela Lashbrook, audience growth writer

32 Things That Help CR Staffers Reduce Holiday Stress - Consumer Reports (1)

Perry Santanachote

I cover the intersection of people, products, and sustainability, and try to provide humorous but useful advice for everyday living. I love to dive deep into how things work, and debunking myths might be my favorite pastime. But what I aim to be above all else is a guiding voice while you're shopping, telling you what's a value, what's a rip-off, and what's just right for you and your family.

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