No matter the size of the group you’re hosting this year for Thanksgiving, hosting this festive feast can come with its own unique set of stressors.
As a holiday that revolves around food, Thanksgiving can place a lot of the work on one room (the kitchen) and one host (you) to get everything done. This can lead to you not enjoying the holiday as much as you’d like because your mind is constantly going a thousand different directions.
Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a one man (or woman) show, and it doesn’t have to leave you feeling like you’d rather take a nap than enjoy the feast you’ve just spent hours creating.
Here are my tips for making your Thanksgiving gathering as stress-free as possible.
1. Keep it simple
Just like simplifying your daily cooking, the first step in not overwhelming yourself is to stop overcommitting by limiting the amount of different foods you’re preparing.
Unless you’re hosting a lot of people and will need more, make only one type of meat. Since meat takes longer to cook than most of the things you’ll be making, you’ll only have to keep track of one kind.
For sides, choose the ones that will give you the most bang for your buck, namely those that are delicious without requiring a ton of effort.
If you want to do one of the more ambitious sides, pick one to do on top of the simpler ones. Don’t try to have 3 complex dishes where you have to keep track of everything that’s going on all at once.
Don’t try to make every side you can think of. I know, they’re all traditional sides. But you know what, your grandma probably had some help with the sides at her Thanksgiving table.
If you’re doing the cooking all by yourself, some things are going to slide. It’s better to choose what those things are now/ahead of time instead of waiting for the decision to be made for you when you run out of time to cook everything.
2. Prep food ahead of time
Speaking of running out of time, one way you can avoid this problem is to do as much as possible before the day of your get together.
Can you make something and store it in the fridge or freezer and then just thaw or reheat it?
What can be done beforehand so all you have to do is dump ingredients together the day of?
Cook the turkey early
Unless you really want to have the ceremonious turkey carving at the table, one easy way to reduce your (and your oven’s) load on Thanksgiving Day is to cook the turkey the day before, or even 2-3 days before.
Then you can carve it and put it and some of its juices in the crockpot. Voila, perfectly moist turkey and one less thing you have to do that day.
Wash and chop produce
While some things will turn brown if you cut them up too early, you can get lots of prepwork done early by at least washing your produce and cutting up what you can.
Wash things like potatoes, apples, and anything else that might turn brown. Cut up (and maybe even cook, depending on the dish) things like squash, carrots, celery, onions, and any fruits or veggies that will be served on relish trays.
Not only will this save you clean cutting boards and knives for things that need to be chopped the day of, it will also give you more time to hang out with your loved ones.
3. Save stove space
While most of the time we put together one- or two-pot meals and call it good, the Thanksgiving meal is an exception. On this one day, stovetop real estate is at a premium, with glazed carrots vying with mashed potatoes not to be edged out by the turkey.
Just like cooking and carving your turkey and warming it in the crockpot, this same logic can be applied to things such as mashed potatoes, sweet corn, and sweet potatoes.
By storing sides and even your main dish in crockpots and roasters, you can save your stovetop and oven for things like gravy and crescent rolls.
If you’ve made enough things ahead of time and only need to keep things warm until serving time, just your oven to warm/the lowest temperature and use it as a holding place for foods in oven-safe dishes.
4. Don’t worry about decorations (if that’s not your thing)
Despite Pinterest being full of fancy tablescapes, they’re not really all that crucial to the Thanksgiving meal.
Now, I know I’ll have some people who will whole-heartedly disagree with me for that statement (my aunt being one of them). I’ll admit, I am the kind of person who would rather leave things simpler than put in the extra effort to make things pretty in addition to cooking the meal.
If fancy decorations are your thing, go for it! I’m not stopping you. But if you’re reading this article because the idea of Thanksgiving dinner is stressing you out, adding in gathering and assembling decorations is not going make you any less stressed.
Anyways, aside from some people who apparently have nothing better to do than complain about your tablecloth (or lack thereof), most people care more about food and family than what the table looks like.
If you want to decorate but don’t have time for something elaborate, even just a simple tablecloth and one centerpiece can transform your table from everyday to elegant.
Alternatively, if you need a way to get your kids involved and out of the kitchen, let them make the decorations. Butcher paper tablecloths and construction paper napkin rings and placemats may not be as pretty as the Pinterest tables, but your kids and your guests will love them.
5. Ask for and accept help
I know you can probably do it all on your own, and I believe in you. But just because you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year does’t mean you have to be Superwoman and do everything on your own.
Let your guests bring sides so you only have to focus on the main dish and those sides that might not travel as well.
Take it a step further and not just “let” them bring food, but actively recruit them to do so. Doing so not only takes the load off your to do list and your grocery budget, it also gives your guests a way to contribute.
Use premade if needed
While I’m a firm believe in homemade being best, if you need to buy some “shortcut” foods such as precut veggies or refrigerated rolls, do so.
It’s a holiday. Don’t ruin it for yourself by biting off more than you can chew and leaving yourself exhausted. If cutting back or buying a shortcut means you get to spend and enjoy valuable time with your family, then it’s worth every penny.