I admit math has never been my best subject, but it appears that we are 10 days away from Thanksgiving. Are you ready? Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays because it’s all about giving thanks while surrounded by good food, friends and family. There is no pressure to buy the perfect gift, which is really nice. Instead, you can focus on preparing a sumptuous feast that everyone gobbles up and raves about for weeks. I love the gratitude, the gluttony and the stretchy yoga pants.
How To Have a Fabulous, Stress-Free Thanksgiving
It still takes a lot of work to put together a fabulous Thanksgiving celebration, so I’m sharing a few tips to help make it a bit easier on you, while still impressing your guests.
1. Plan Your Menu in Advance
Thanksgiving is fast approaching and do you have your menu planned? Doing so helps alleviate pressure and also allows you to take advantage of early-bird sales to help lower costs. Don’t be afraid to stock-up beyond what you need for Thanksgiving, especially if you find a great price on something with a decent shelf-life. Items to be on the lookout for include butter, flour and sugar for baking now and for Christmas (and after too). I also find great prices on broth, stuffing, cream of chicken soup, canned green beans — items that are part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. If you regularly use those items or plan to serve turkey at Christmas, pick up extras now, because you probably won’t find them as discounted at Christmas.
Bonus Tip: If you want to try a new dish for Thanksgiving, that’s fine. Variety is the spice of life! However, I strongly encourage you to make the dish in advance to make sure you like it, because sometimes new dishes don’t turn out the first time and require a few tweaks. Ask me how I know this. 🙂
2. Identify Items You Can Make Ahead
It is a bit of dance coordinating all your dishes so they are ready at the same time. This is why I recommend serving a few dishes that you can make in advance. Some dishes reheat surprisingly well, like mashed potatoes. You can reheat them in the microwave (typically add more milk and butter), then transfer them to a large crockpot (do this about 30-60 minutes prior to guests arriving). Dinner rolls are another item that you can make in advance and freeze. Some dishes, like my crab and artichoke dip, you can prepare the night before and bake when needed.
3. Ask Guests to Bring a Dish
Don’t feel obligated to do everything yourself; it’s okay to ask for help. Truth be told, most guests are more than happy to bring a dish or beverage to share. You know your guests, so assign them a dish that is in their wheelhouse. Those who know their way around a kitchen can bring side dishes, while bakers can show off their favorite desserts. Those who don’t know a pressure cooker from a crockpot can bring beverages, relish trays, chips and dip or other snacks.
4. Have a Game Plan
To keep your sanity and get everything completed, put together a game plan with daily to-do’s from now until the big day. Include everything from your cleaning schedule to your grocery list to the cooking schedule on the big day and who is responsible for each item. Again, it’s more than okay to expect your family to help you out with some of the chores! Now every item is completed in a timely fashion, and you won’t find yourself freaking out because you forgot to do something important, like defrost the turkey. 🙂
5. Make Recipe Kits
This brilliant idea comes from Food Network and is a huge time-saver. Not every dish can be made in advance, but in most instances, you can still do some prep work and make recipe kits. For example, you can chop veggies in advance and store in a labeled ziploc bag. Pre-measure spices and store in a small airtight container and do the same with any dry ingredients. I store the dry ingredients and spice mix, along with the recipe and any additional canned ingredients, in its baking/cooking dish. When it’s time to prepare the recipe, I grab the prepped veggies from the fridge, my dish with all the dry and canned ingredients and assemble.
6. Be Prepared for Leftovers
Maybe it’s the Minnesotan in me, but I have nightmares about running out of food. This means I overcook, which is good and bad. I don’t want any food to go to waste, but an endless repeat of Thanksgiving dinners does get old too. To help minimize food boredom and the risk of food spoiling (not everything has a great shelf-life, like stuffing), have plenty of plastic containers available so guests who want leftovers can help themselves. Don’t make it mandatory because some people don’t like leftovers and will just toss the food once they get home. Let those who would appreciate and eat the leftovers take some. Next Monday, I’m sharing a delicious soup you can make with your leftovers that won’t feel like a replay of Thanksgiving.
7. Take Advantage of the Dollar Store for Decorations
You don’t have to spend a fortune to make your home look festive if you take some time to scour your Dollar Stores. They have a decent selection to fill in any gaps you have from kitschy items to silk flowers to center pieces. You can also find Thanksgiving-themed paper plates and napkins at a great price but always do a price comparison first. You typically get fewer items per package at Dollar Stores, so you want to make sure that you’re truly coming out ahead.
Bonus Tip: Be wary on food items, like canned vegetables, because you will likely find name-brand counterparts cheaper at grocery stores and big box retailers during the holidays. During a recent trip, the Dollar Store had a big Thanksgiving display with canned vegetables for 99 cents. Both my local grocery story and Walmart sold name-brand canned veggies at a lower price.
8. Have Kid-Friendly Activities Planned
It’s likely you’ll have kids of all-ages in your home if you’re hosting a big gathering. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to keep them entertained so they don’t inadvertently destroy your home. For those with tweens and teens, you might want to set them up in your family room or a bedroom (if the adults are using the family room) with a big-screen TV to play video games and/or watch movies. For younger kids, have some age-appropriate board games and toys available. You may even want to consider bribing (i.e. paying) one of the tweens or teens to watch the younger kids too.
Most Importantly — Have Fun
Listen, we all want the food and decorations to be perfect, but it’s okay if there are a few hiccups along the way. That’s life and what actually makes the holiday memorable. Who cares if dinner was served 30 minutes late or the gravy was a little lumpy? Don’t stress over it because the laughter, love and camaraderie of being with your friends and family is what makes Thanksgiving special.
What are your best tips to making Thanksgiving stress-free?