Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and if you are hosting, chances are you are starting to think about your to-do list. To help you get ready, we wanted to share some of our favorite Thanksgiving tips to make the day as fun and easy as possible. There really is no way around it -Thanksgiving is a lot of work, and no doubt it can be stressful. But with some planning and doing a few key things in advance, the day can be much less stressful. After all, it is a holiday built around spending time with those we love, and we want to enjoy it.
So here we go with some of our best tips for pulling off a great Thanksgiving!
Tips for a Low-Stress Thanksgiving:
Don’t Do it All Yourself:
- First things first, don’t go it alone. Ask for help and figure out who is bringing what. If you are cooking for a crowd, starting an email chain where people can commit to bringing items on your list, such as appetizers, wine, desserts, or rolls, is helpful.
- An excellent tool for managing this online is www.signupgenius.com. It’s free (it takes about 5 minutes to set up), and everyone can see what each person is bringing, so there are no duplicates. Most people appreciate being able to help in the easiest way possible, and as the hostess, it saves you from having to call everyone on your guest list.
- For a large gathering, I always ask people to bring appetizers and desserts. I find it much easier and more efficient if the beginning and end of the meal are covered by others, leaving me to focus on the main meal only. This way, I can ensure the whole meal flows and the flavors of the various side dishes complement each other.
- Create a “Can I help you with anything?” to-do list. Most guests will ask, “what can I do to help?” but if you do not have specific tasks in mind, it’s often too easy to say, “I am all set” because the mental load of thinking this through is too much, especially if you are in the midst of mashing your potatoes or whisking the gravy. So write out a list of helpful, quick tasks (light the candles, fill the water glasses, cork the wine, warm the rolls in the oven, etc.), so you are ready to take advantage of help when it is offered…no thinking required.
Create a To-Do List and Timeline:
Getting some items off your list well in advance of Thursday goes such a long way in making your day enjoyable. Doing a few things each day leading up to Thursday can make all the difference in the world. I have shared our timeline and task list below, starting the weekend before, to give you some ideas of what this could look like.
Your list might be different depending on how large of a group you are cooking for and what you are serving, but it gives you a sense of how I plan it out in advance:
- Get the turkey organized: If your turkey is frozen, determine when to start the defrosting process. The general guideline is to allow 24 hours for every 4 to 5 lbs. So if you have a 20-pounder, you would need to start defrosting 4 to 5 days in advance. Not bought your turkey yet? Head out this weekend and get that organized.
- Create your list: create an organized grocery list & do your shopping. You do not want to be in a grocery store on Wednesday if you can help it.
- Make sure your list is complete: Remember things like non-alcoholic drinks, paper goods, dinner rolls, ice, and any staples (i.e., butter, spices, etc.) you may need for your recipes. While you are at it, consider asking others to contribute those items. Doing the “grocery store shuttle” on Wednesday is never fun.
- Prep veggies: I always do butternut squash, mashed potatoes, green beans, and creamed onions for Thanksgiving. These are all easy to get prepped in advance. Then, on Thursday morning, the veggies are ready to be cooked with no peeling or prepping required and with less mess to clean up. It is a huge time saver.
- Set your table: this is one of my favorite things to do in the lead-up to the big day. I enjoy it more when I am not in the final countdown the day before or Thursday am. I also have time to adjust and tweak the table decorations leading up to Thursday. Having the table set in advance also makes the house feel more festive. If you have kids, you can also enlist their help with folding napkins, placing the utensils on the table…whatever you think is appropriate.
- Get your serving dishes ready to go: the day before, I pull out my serving dishes and line them up on my dining room table, along with the serving utensils. I then drop a little piece of paper in each one, saying what side dish goes with each dish. During the final moments of getting everything on the table (usually the most hectic part of the whole day), anyone helping in the kitchen can follow the notes rather than ask questions about what is going where. And if you have ever hosted a large gathering, you know how stressful it can be searching for your serving dishes with a crowd in the kitchen, while getting everything out of the oven/off the stove at the same time.
- Finish desserts and pies: if you are making your own desserts, plan to have them finished the day before. Or, consider taking a trip to your local farm stand and picking up some fresh pies. Buying desserts, or asking guests to cover this part of the meal, is a great time saver for the host.
Check your supplies:
Make sure you have all the tools of trade ready BEFORE Thursday am. Since we use some things on Thanksgiving that we don’t use all the time, it’s easy to forget. Here are some of the ones we find essential:
- Turkey baster
- Meat thermometer
- Pan large enough to roast turkey
- Sharpened carving knife
- Gravy boat (an easy thing to borrow if you don’t have one)
- Salt & pepper shakers filled
- Napkins for the table and appetizers
Clear off your counter space:
Move unnecessary countertop appliances, such as toasters, blenders, etc., to other locations before Thursday so you have plenty of room to work and stay organized.
Make it meaningful:
Thanksgiving is about being thankful, after all. It’s meant to be about sharing time with family and friends and being thankful for our blessings. It’s easy to forget that in all the shopping and chopping, Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s meant to be enjoyed.
Here’s a sentimental touch that is easy enough to bring meaning into your holiday: ask your kids (and adults, too) what they are most thankful for and have each person write it on the same piece of paper. Pop it into a frame and display it on your table or in a prominent spot in your kitchen for your guests to enjoy. It then becomes a beautiful keepsake to save and take out each year.
You could also buy a special family journal and have family members write in it each year, and the younger kids could draw pictures. It’s an easy way to create wonderful family memories and does not require much effort. When my son was four, he wrote down “apples, the earth, and his brother”, drew cute little pictures, and I ended up getting it laminated. I take it out every year on Thanksgiving, and it is one of my favorite Thanksgiving keepsakes.
One last Thanksgiving Tip:
Drop the quest for the perfect holiday meal. True, Thanksgiving is a day that is primarily focused on food. It’s also important to remember it’s not all about the food. It is ok if your turkey does not turn out the way you hoped, your mashed potatoes turn out a bit lumpy, or you forgot a particular ingredient at the store. Just let it go- no one really cares or notices these things nearly as much as the host. Personally, I have really struggled with this one but over time and with more holiday experiences, I know this to be true. Buy yourself some flowers as a reminder (what better excuse could there be?), consider preparing the fireplace for a friendly fire after dinner, or get your holiday pj’s out and ready to put on after all the guests have gone. You will have time to reflect on the day and all that you are thankful for!!!
WISHING YOU ALL A HAPPY AND MEANINGFUL THANKSGIVING!