I’ll admit that this post is not so much about Thanksgiving dinner as it is about you. After all, what matters more, the meal or your sanity? If you answered “the meal,” then you might want to skip this post and head straight to Martha Stewart’s blog.
Over the next 10 days, those of you who are in charge of Thanksgiving for your households will shop, cook copious amounts of food, set the table for the big dance not to mention all the meals before and after, possibly cope with travel schedules and pick-ups at airports or delays for those who travel by other modes, and even clean up afterwards.
In the midst of all that, you may cope with family members’ melt-downs, recipes that refuse to come out the same as they did last time you tried them, stores that run out of the essential ingredient for the one dish you absolutely must make, and people who snarl at you when you inadvertently bump into them at the check-out line while trying to put a massive turkey on the tiny check-out counter.
Not to worry – you will survive. And even better, you can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, be grateful for the many blessings in your life and smile contently while deciding exactly how that pile of dirty dishes and pots are going to get cleaned. How?
7 Tips for Preparing Thanksgiving Dinner
- Priorities – Decide what really matters and stay focused on those few highlights. I’ll bet you can remember holiday dinners that were especially wonderful. What made them so? Hint – it’s usually not about the food. Do you have kids coming who will light up the room if you can make them feel comfortable? How about dear Uncle So-and-So who is usually crotchety or too politically opinionated, but who can be charmed by the right guest or family member? Even if you are embarrassed to say them out loud, write down your top few priorities, read the note, commit them to memory, and then throw the note away. Maybe no one but you needs to know what they are or maybe you need help carrying them out – either way, let them guide you in how you allocate your time and effort. Of course people like super stuffing and great pie. But when it comes to memories, a child is more likely to care about a trinket present at their plate and an adult is more likely to treasure an extraordinary conversation.
- Lists – If you make lists and follow them, chances are you’ll be able to follow through on a lot of the details that you might otherwise forget in the hustle and bustle. Some of my lists include timetables – when to defrost or put a dish into the oven, and even when I have to leave to pick up a kid at the airport or metro station. A large, whole turkey takes a long time to roast and then it has to rest outside the oven at least 20 minutes before being carved; I decide when the turkey should be ready and count backwards to determine when it should go into the oven, including time for resting and carving. For a great overall Thanksgiving checklist and shopping list, check out this template from the Six O’clock Scramble.
- Be realistic – Don’t get sucked into the vortex of “perfect-everything-for-the-holiday- and-everyday” world. Sure you can try new recipes or do place cards, but really, give yourself a break. If you’re not a professional decorator, an artist, or a craft-wizard, don’t expect your centerpiece to look like it came out of Martha Stewart Living or Food52. And if you’re not used to cooking for crowds, don’t expect to make 4 gorgeous pies lickety split. Not-quite-homemade is fine if it helps get you through the holiday preparation. Good quality pre-made pie crusts or puff pastry dough, prepared hummus to which you add ingredients like fresh roasted red pepper, and canned pumpkin instead of fresh are just of the few of the short cuts that work well and can save you lots of time.
- Accept and ask for help – If someone offers, take them up on it. If no one does or if not enough people do, seek out contributions. Even if you’re a control freak at work, try your hardest to let go. Go beyond guests if necessary. My close friend and neighbor isn’t coming to my Thanksgiving, but gladly takes some of my freezer overflow and I’ve given her room in my oven and refrigerator as we prepare our holiday dinners in parallel.
- Advance prep – From cranberry sauce to stuffing to desserts, there are plenty of Thanksgiving recipes that can be made ahead of time. Your freezer is your friend; fill it up and if you label everything, you’ll have an easy time deciding what to pull out and when to defrost it. Before you start cooking up lots of goodies for a week from now, figure out what containers you’ll use and where it will all go in the refrigerator or freezer.
- The drill – Have you wondered how many people you can squeeze around your table or how many casseroles fit into your oven? The time to find out is now. While it may not be quite as serious as a fire drill or earthquake preparedness, going through the steps by moving chairs or empty casseroles is a whole lot easier than realizing on Thanksgiving morning that your spatial relations skills leave something to be desired.
- Keep yourself sane – Whether it’s a glass of wine, a massage, or a marathon of watching your favorite show after several hours of food preparation, remember to relax. And breathe – deeply and often.