My daughter-in-law is hosting her first Thanksgiving this year, and there will be between 15 and 20 family members and friends there. I am excited to welcome her to the club. Since this is her gig I am aware that she might want to start some traditions of her own, and I am totally on board with that. I have offered to be the head chef or the sous chef – whichever role she wants me to do. If she wants me to cook the whole meal, I’ll do it. If she wants me to fill in as needed, I’ll do that, too. I just want her to know that I have her back.
I have been thinking lately about some things that I have done over the years to ease the stress of entertaining at Thanksgiving. Whatever I have done, it has worked because I now mentally approach it as if it is just another meal but I might have to peel a few more potatoes. (Wink, wink!) That being said, these are some things that might help make your day go more smoothly.
1. HAVE A PLAN – I always prepare the menu and shopping list early so there is time to tweak things as the holiday gets nearer. I write down exactly what will be cooked and served and every single ingredient that will be needed. I also pull out the recipes that I need so there isn’t a last minutes scramble to find Grandma’s cranberry relish recipe.
2. SHOP EARLY – Since everyone and their uncles will be shopping on the day before Thanksgiving, I always do my shopping on the Tuesday before. And even more, I arrive at the grocery early so it can be more relaxing when the aisles aren’t packed with carts.
3. DECIDE ON A FRESH OR FROZEN TURKEY AND PROCEED ACCORDINGLY – If I am buying a frozen turkey, then it needs to be purchased in time to thaw properly in the fridge. If the turkey will be a fresh one, then I can’t purchase it too soon or it might spoil.
4. PLAN A TIMETABLE – We usually eat our Thanksgiving meal in the afternoon between 2:00 and 3:00. Then we have time to do other things like take a walk and play games. It also means we aren’t going to bed with an overstuffed belly. Since I know what time the meal will be served, then I work backwards from there. I make a list of when the dressings and casseroles go into the oven. I also decide what can be baked together with the same oven temperature, and when the potatoes can be mashed, etc. This might seem like overkill, but when there are a zillion things to think about, it’s nice to be able to refer to the timetable.
5. PLAN YOUR TABLE IN ADVANCE – I always decide in advance which dishes, table cloth, napkins, napkin rings etc. I will be using and make sure they are ready to be used. If I need extra seating, like a card table or a folding table, then I clean them and make sure they are nearby. I also polish any silver that might need it, and I decide what kind of centerpiece will be used. I also prep the place cards. I like to pull out the serving dishes and platters that I will be using, and I actually label them so I know which food goes where. If someone is helping you at the last minute, then they will appreciate this extra effort.
6. GO TO THE WINE SHOP – Once I have fine-tuned the menu, buying wine that will complement the food is something that can be done a week or more in advance. Just like the grocery store, the wine shop will be crowded at the last minute.
7. MAKE DESSERTS EARLY – If I can prepare any foods the day before, then I do it. This is usually limited to the desserts and cranberry salad. By baking these things early, the oven will be free for the turkey, dressing, and casseroles on the big day. Don’t make these things any earlier because they need to be as fresh as possible.
8. PREPARE A BEVERAGE STATION – This little step will save you a ton of time and distractions. Your family and guests might want a beverage or glass of water while you are busy cooking. If you set aside a spot in your home ahead of time with soft drinks, water, tea, coffee, beer, mixed drinks, and hot mulled cider, then they won’t have to bother you in the kitchen for these things. We are lucky enough to have a wet bar in our hallway. I put all of these things there. I even put plastic cups and a Sharpie so everyone can identify their own glass. Then they won’t dirty a new glass every time they are thirsty. And by all means, be sure to have plenty of ice.
9. INVOLVE OTHERS – You know how those last minutes before you sit down to eat are really crazy? Well, I came up with a plan a few years ago, and it has been a life saver. I make a basket full of chores that need to be done, and let everyone who wants to help pick one. This helps people relax because they know that they are contributing to the day. Some of the tasks are put ice and water in the glasses on the table, carry food to the table, say grace, carve the turkey, take dessert orders after the meal, take coffee/tea orders after the meal, help clear the table, etc. You can read about it here. I can tell you from experience that my family loves this idea.
10. SAY YES – If someone offers to bring one of their special desserts, salads, casseroles, etc., then I definitely say, “Yes!” Also, I say yes to having a plan for after the meal is over and the kitchen has been cleaned up. We often go to the movies as a group or do an outside activity like take a walk. We also love to play a good game of Cranium or Celebrity.