Holiday meals are meant to be fun and festive but they can also be intimidating and stressful.

“My biggest tip to anybody is to prepare ahead of time,” says local personal chef Hethyr Pletsch. “Get some items prepared and frozen. I’m a very organized person, and I do a little bit at a time. That allows me to relax and visit with people on Thanksgiving day.”

Hethyr will offer a free holiday cooking class at Ranch Foods Direct on Saturday, Nov. 13 at 11 a.m. She’ll share recipes for party appetizers, including some that require minimal cooking, as well as holiday side dishes ideal for making ahead of time, freezing and reheating when it’s time for the feast.

“I have done an entire frozen Thanksgiving meal before,” she says. “Turkey and gravy can be frozen. Just pull it out and you’re ready to go.”

“I go so far as to have all of my pots and pans ready ahead of time, and I know what I’ll be serving things in, so I’m not scrambling at the last minute,” she adds.

Hethyr says another thing to consider for smaller holiday gatherings is getting a boneless half-turkey or even sliced turkey breast instead of roasting a giant bird. Ranch Foods Direct will have turkeys in a full range of sizes during the holiday season.

And of course a personal chef service is help you can turn to if you need a little extra assistance, don’t want to make the entire holiday banquet yourself or for special occasion entertaining, potlucks, hostess gifts and more. Hethyr works flexibly with clients to address individualized needs. “Everything I do is customized,” she says.

Most of us love tradition at the holidays, and Hethyr is no exception. But she says it’s also fun to add a new twist. For example, she has paired a homemade butternut squash butter with holiday breads or served a carrot soup as a side dish.

One thing she won’t comprise on is the importance of local, fresh, seasonal ingredients. “I do a lot of root vegetables and apples along with squash at this time of year,” she says.

Including a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables is a way to avoid some of the guilt that commonly results from holiday feasting.

“It’s hard for everybody,” she says. “If you’re using good meat, that’s a great start. Also, if you’re using local, seasonal food that’s important too. What I always say is everything in moderation. It’s a special time of year so enjoy it.”

Despite the economic recession, Hethyr’s business is flourishing and she believes it’s because people are becoming more aware of how they fuel their bodies.

“They are being careful with money, but with all of the FDA food recalls, people are getting so much more concerned about where their food comes from,” she notes. “Once people start relying on healthy good food — when they realize that it’s good food that’s good for you — it becomes more of a necessity rather than a luxury.”

With the holiday gift-giving season fast approaching, keep Hethyr’s business in mind. A gift certificate from a personal chef service might just be perfect for someone on your list. And you can be assured that everything she cooks is healthy and made with the finest ingredients. Hethyr is a frequent and faithful shopper at Ranch Foods Direct.

Anyone planning to attend Hethyr’s holiday cooking class on Nov. 13 is encouraged to RSVP by calling the store on or before Nov. 8. (Last minute guests are always invited to drop in without a reservation.) Plan on some easy hands-on activities and bring any holiday meal-planning questions you have. Handouts and food samples will be provided. Also, take advantage of this opportunity to bring your holiday grocery list and start stocking up.