Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away and this year we cannot wait to celebrate! Adding to the excitement is the first Thanksgiving since 2019 that we have gathered with extended family, giving us more reasons than ever to give thanks this year. Although you might not have thought too much about the big day yet, we wanted to share some of our favorite Thanksgiving tips to make the day as fun and easy as possible.
To make the day as enjoyable as possible, with stress levels kept to a minimum, we wanted to share some of favorite tips and strategies to pulling off your best Thanksgiving yet!
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, it’s helpful to start an email chain where people can commit to bringing items off your list such as appetizers, wine, desserts, or rolls.
- A great tool for managing this online is www.signupgenius.com. It’s free, (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 of any kind, I always ask people to bring the appetizers and desserts. I find it much easier and more efficient if the beginning and end of the meal is 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 compliment 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 just say “I am all set” because the mental load of thinking this through is too much, especially if you are in 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. Just doing a few things each day can make all the difference in the world. To give you some ideas of what this could look like, I have shared our timeline and task list below, starting the weekend before.
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 you need 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 today. (and if you have not bought your turkey yet, that should be priority #1!)
- Create your list: create an organized grocery list & do your shopping. You really do not want to be in a grocery store on Wednesday if you can help it
- Make sure your list is complete: Make sure you remember things like non-alcoholic drinks, paper goods, dinner rolls, ice and any staples (ie butter, spices, etc) you may need for your recipes. Doing the “grocery store shuttle” on Wednesday is not fun for anyone.
- 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 find I enjoy it more when I am not in the final countdown of hours before guests arrive. I also have time to adjust and tweak the table decorations when it is done well before Thursday. Having the table set in advance also makes the house feel more festive when the table is set a few days before and brings a sense of excitement to the house. Depending on the ages of your 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 servings 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 (this is usually the most hectic part of the whole day), anyone helping in the kitchen can just follow the notes rather than asking you questions on what is going where. And if you have ever hosted a large gathering, you know how stressful it can be to be searching for your serving dishes with a crowd in the kitchen and everything come out of oven.
- Finish desserts and pies: if you are making your own desserts, plan to have them finished by 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 important 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, its 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 for appetizers
Clear off your counter space:
Move unnecessary counter top appliances such as toasters, blenders etc to other locations before Thursday so you have plenty of room to work and stay organized.
Lastly, 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 the 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 wonderful 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 such an easy way to create wonderful family memories and does not require much effort at all. 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 largely focused on the food. it’s also important to remember its 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 certain ingredient at the store. Just let it go- no one really cares or notices these things nearly as much as the host. I have to remind myself of this every year and I find the more I host, the more I realize it. In fact, buy yourself some flowers as a reminder (what better excuse could there be?), consider preparing the fireplace for a nice 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 then reflect on the day and all that you are thankful for!!!
WISHING YOU ALL A HAPPY AND MEANINGFUL THANKSGIVING!