Thanksgiving can be stress-filled, expensive and exhausting. And that’s just speaking to what happens when your family gets together. Now add a fabulous festive feast while enduring a contentious football game or two, and you begin to realize that Mom and Grandma had to have been sipping on something long before serving those holiday dinners of years past.
Whether planning to host Thanksgiving or “Friendsgiving” for the 1st or 50th time, there’s always room to incorporate a new tip or technique. Any one of the following suggestions will make your feast taste better while sparing you the energy you’ll need to enjoy it along with your guests.
1. Take Control Over Turkey Day
It’s Your Party and You Can Potluck if You Want To –
Since Thanksgiving is the time to be your ultimate gracious self, consider what type of celebration you have the time, energy, space & budget for.
Delegate Away –
Do as much of the work as you wish, but recognize that you really don’t have to do it all. Potlucks are perfectly acceptable for any holiday. In fact, asking guests to bring a favorite appetizer and/or side dish can be one way to ensure everyone’s dietary desires or restrictions are managed well.
2. Planning Makes Perfect
Make a List & Check it Twice –
Careful planning, timing & execution is critical to your event’s success, even if just a simple meal. So, post your timeline & to-do lists where you’ll see them often. Don’t forget to check off what you’ve accomplished – it feels so good!
Do The Math –
With so much inspiration from Pinterest, food blogs, family favorite recipes and such, it’s tough to pin down the perfect menu. But once you do, carefully write out all the ingredients you need and figure out how much you’ll need to buy with this little cheat sheet. Know before you go (to the grocery store). It’s the best sanity saving strategy of the season.
Crack the Catering Codc –
Maintain your cool, calm disposition throughout the holiday by creating what caterers call a “prep sheet”. Click here for an example from Real Simple.
3. Preparation Stations
Set Up In Stages –
- Prevent last minute struggles by gathering all the items you’ll be needing (dishes, glasses, utensils, cookware, equipment, serving bowls, décor, etc.). Place items in a convenient staging area.
- Launder and press any linens you plan use.
- Clean the house – but don’t go crazy. Even your Mom resorted to a little light dimming at times. Turn attention to the warm glow of candles and seasonal décor.
4. Beat The Clock
Get Your Party Started Early –
The single-most important thing you can do for your guests and yourself, is to handle as many details as you can, as far ahead of time as possible.
- Set the table at least a day in advance so you have time to play around with its design.
- Pre-measure, chop, dice, grate, sift. Seal and store a virtual salad bar of prepped ingredients. When cooking begins, it’s like having your very own Sous Chef.
- Speaking of salad bars… you can save hours of time by purchasing pre-cleaned, trimmed, sliced and diced items.
- Casseroles taste better after allowing their flavors to blend for a while, so make them at least a day or two early.
- Freeze your pie crust and even your turkey stock to stay ahead of the game.
5. Dare To Be Different
Go Ahead, Toss Out the Turkey –
- Tired of the turkey & stuffing routine? Who says potatoes have to be mashed? Well, traditionalists do, and there’s bound to be several among family & friends. So, proceed with caution if you decide to shake things up. At the same time, creating a new T-Day trend can be a lot of fun for everyone.
- There’s no end to the possibilities with special themes, colors & music. Give the old standard holiday ingredients a fresh start by adapting them into creative new dishes. Above all else, spread the spirit of thankfulness throughout the celebration.
6. Tabletop Tips
Aim for Comfort, Not Perfection –
- Because being warm, inviting and appreciative is what Thanksgiving is all about. Don’t worry about setting the perfect table. Just see to it that your guests feel welcomed.
- Elements of nature (leaves, branches, pinecones, etc.) are a great addition to layers of interesting textures and materials. Non-scented candles and a little bit of bling can be effective too.
Buffet Building –
- It’s true that you eat with your eyes first, so, be sure to place serving dishes at different levels and in interesting vessels. You can use cake stands or wrapped boxes of varying heights to hold your plates, bowls and platters. This looks great and functions very well.
Centerpiece Trends –
- Buy beautiful floral arrangements, or, make your own centerpieces inexpensively using twigs, leaves, small squash, nuts and citrus fruit studded with cloves. Pomegranate, persimmons and artichokes are a colorful treat on the table as well.
- Fashion forward tables are filled with gourdgeous Gourds this season and there’s no end to the inspiring images found on Instagram and Pinterest. Other popular trends are gilded autumn leaves, rustic candle centerpieces, copper utensils, chalkboard menus & painted pumpkins.
7. Too Much Food – Too Little Fridge & Oven
Keep Your Cool –
- Chilled Servers. Make your own chillers by putting crushed ice into a bowl, then nestling a smaller bowl inside. Freeze both before using at dinner time.
- Coolers. Store all kinds of cold dishes as if they were going to a picnic. Use ice packs as needed.
- Ice Packs. Cover them with cloth napkins or placemats and place food containers on top.
Hot Spots –
- Chafing Dishes. Keep food warm and look great on display.
- Microwaves. While not the best for cooking your dinner, they are insulated and can keep your hot pots warm for up to 20 minutes. Just keep the door closed and don’t push any buttons!
- Coolers. Yep, coolers are cold AND hot insulators. Great for covered pots and stacked dishes covered in foil.
- Thermos’. Not just for coffee. Use a thermos for keeping your gravy perfectly hot.
- Slow Cookers. Set the crock-pot on low to keep mashed potatoes, creamy veggies, gravy, stuffing and other dishes warm for a long period of time.
8. Trash Talk
Garbage Happens –
Keep things clean and simple by pre-lining your trash can with several bags. When full, just remove and you’re immediately back in business with a fresh bag.
Hide The Evidence –
You can procrastinate as long as you like AND conceal all those dirty dishes:
- Before the party, arrange a breakdown station just like a catering pro. A laundry room or garage works well and keeps your kitchen looking great.
- Set up a few garbage bins so you can sort trash quickly (food scraps, recycling, etc.).
- Create soaking stations. Big pots & pans filled with soapy water are good for soaking utensils and small items. Use a cooler to soak dishes and bigger items.
- No place to stash the stuff? Not so quick… you can stack your rinsed pots, pans, plates, etc. in a plastic laundry basket and hide the evidence in the bathtub. Just be sure to close the curtain!
Eventually, dished will need to be washed. But, it’s up to you to choose when.
10. Troubleshoot Thanksgiving
Keep it Simple –
It can’t be stressed enough… do as much as your able, well ahead of the holiday. Then figure out how much cooking time will be needed on Thanksgiving day and what dishes can go into the oven together.
Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen –
Nothing creates cranky chaos more than guests arriving with their own cooking and dish preparation to do. They need supplies, utensils, oven and counter space. Keep the peace and your cool, calm disposition by clearly asking for “pre-prepared” appetizers and side-dishes only. It’s perfectly acceptable etiquette, far preferable to a mid-day meltdown.
Turkey Timing –
Don’t use the pop-up timers that come pre-installed in your turkey. These little buttons are turkeys themselves, set to go off when your bird’s well past cooked.
Turkey tutorials are everywhere it seems, so we won’t cross that path here, but we will give you this important number to call if you need some help: 1-800-BUTTERBALL. Don’t be intimidated, these folks have heard it all.
Q: So I’m looking at a turkey from 1969 sitting here in my father’s freezer… any tips on the best way to cook a 30-year-old bird?
A: There is no saving such aged meat. Butterball suggested the man “throw out the old turkey and buy a new one.”
Safety First –
Food poisoning can really put a damper on the day. Take precautions to prevent this possibility with these 5 Food Safety Tips for the Holidays.
11. Take Some Time To Smell the Turkey
“Gratitude can transform common days into Thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy,
and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”
— William Arthur Ward
Blog Post Written by: Jodie Fry