It often seems that those who love/like Thanksgiving the most have an inverse relationship to how much time they spend preparing the Thanksgiving meal. It’s easy to like a holiday where copious amounts of food magically appear on a table with pie waiting at the end. That’s not quite fair, but it’s up to us cooks and hosts to improve our own Thanksgiving cheer, without forfeiting the oven mitt and the whisk.
7 Ways to Make Your Thanksgiving Easier
Here are the tips I fall back on year after year, for Thanksgiving and other holiday gatherings.
1. Lists, lists, lists
You can’t write things down in too much detail. Make shopping lists, lists defining when you are going to get things done (eg, two days before, make Brussels sprouts, 1 day before set up bar, etc.). lists of who is coming, and who is bringing what, lists of who needs to be picked up when.
2. Divide the shopping into two big trips.
Make sure someone is at home to help you unload.
One Week Ahead:
Get all non perishables, including drinks, canned and boxed items, baking staples, and also sturdier produce like potatoes, apples, squash, and carrots.
A Couple of Days Before:
A couple of days before is when you go back for the turkey, the greens, herbs, breads, flowers, and so on. And also all the other stuff you forgot the first time (bay leaves, extra onions, chicken broth).
3. Create a timeline for the day of.
Write down all of the little things, like putting the mashed potatoes into the oven to reheat, filling the ice bucket, setting out the appetizers.
4. Do everything ahead of time that can possibly be done.
One day, a few days, whatever works. This includes things like:
– setting the table
– putting out all serving platters and serving utensils, and put Post-its on them so you know what will go in each plate and bowl
-locate roasting pans, food processor blades, potato ricers, whatever equipment you’ll need.
– making salad dressing
– cleaning and chopping vegetables
– peeling potatoes and keeping them in cold water to cover
– giving any silver a quick polish (though I firmly believe the slightly tarnished look is in)
-folding/ironing napkins (this is a GREAT job to delegate or do while watching Modern Family)
5. Make as many sides and desserts as possible ahead of time.
Thanksgiving menus are usually full of sturdy dishes that can be reheated on the stovetop, in the microwave, or in the oven. Make use of all of the heat sources and plot out which dish you will reheat in which way, and put together a game plan. Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, roasted butternut squash, apple pie, cranberry sauce, all of these can be made a day or more ahead of time.
6. Let people help (otherwise known as, don’t be a martyr).
As you create your menu and your timeline, think of foods and jobs to delegate to different people. When Aunt Bunny asks what she can bring, tell her “Cheese!” And you can even tell her to bring 3 different kinds, about ½ pound of each, so that you get what you need. And when Uncle Ivan comes into the kitchen asking if he can help you will be able to let him know you saved the job of dressing and tossing the salad just for him.
7. Don’t be afraid of room temperature food.
Hey, by the time everyone serves themselves and finds a seat the food isn’t going to be super hot anyway! Give yourself permission to not stress about getting all of the food to the table piping hot at the same time. When you go back for seconds it’s always room temperature anyway, right? And has that every slowed anyone down? Certainly not Uncle Milty.
And the next day, when you sit down with a bowl of Turkey Posole Soup, and some leftover pinot noir, you can tuck those notes from your super organized, stress free Thanksgiving away in a folder marked “I Kicked Thanksgiving’s Butt”, and be that far ahead of the game this time next year.
What are your tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving?