For all its associations with feasting and family togetherness and football, Thanksgiving can be a day of stress and frustration — especially for the hosts.
We’ve already given you some pro tips about your turkey (packaged conveniently in the Ultimate Thanksgiving Turkey Guide, a free download). Today, let’s talk about how to let some of the steam out of the big day, to make this a stress-free Thanksgiving, something special for everyone.
1. Make a Plan
Sam Sifton, former New York Times restaurant critic and the author of “Thanksgiving” (Random House, 2012), spent several years as a “one man Thanksgiving helpline,” fielding panicked emails from all over the world.
“One of the most common questions I received in my role as the Thanksgiving help-desk correspondent … is what to do with a frozen turkey,” Sifton wrote in Chapter Two, “The Turkey.” “The answer on a Thanksgiving morning is generally: not much.
“You can’t hurry science. So plan ahead.”
Thanksgiving is a holiday with a lot of moving parts, from cousin Laura’s newly minted vegetarianism and Aunt Kate’s gluten sensitivity, to how many pans you’ll need to get turkey, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and cranberries all on the table at the same time.
Don’t panic. Plan. Lots of websites have checklists; we like this simple, straightforward one from Martha Stewart Living.
2. Get a Head Start
For those of us with busy jobs and full lives, taking the day before Thanksgiving to peel potatoes and chop onions is not an option. Still, there are plenty of things you can crank out in the days ahead.
Start with Better Homes & Garden’s list of “make-ahead holiday side dishes,” like green beans with almonds, glazed carrots with pistachios, mashed potatoes with thyme and blue cheese and pine nut puffs.
Pie can, and should, be made (or purchased) ahead. Stuffing (or dressing) is easy to make ahead and reheat in the oven as the Thanksgiving turkey is finishing up.
3. Clean as You Go
It seems like a small thing, but keeping your work station clean is important for your mental and physical health. Wipe down cutting boards, soak prep utensils and stack hand wash dishes in the dishwasher to get them out of sight and free up counter space.
This site recommends picking up some disinfectant wipes, keeping the trash can close by, avoiding the garbage disposal and having a special bowl dedicated to kitchen scraps that can go straight to the compost.
Then once the meal starts, sit down. Really. You’ve worked for this stress-free Thanksgiving, now enjoy it; plus, it makes guests feel unsettled when the hosts are jumping up and down throughout the meal.
4. Give Guests a Job
As guests arrive on Thanksgiving Day, instead of banishing them to kill time in front of a football game, give them a simple job to do. A good rule of thumb is to ask no more than you’d ask of a middle schooler: set the table, peel the carrots, fill the ice bucket, assemble a cheese plate or crudite platter.
On The Kitchn, readers chimed in with ideas about how to entertain early-arriving guests.
“How you deal with early arriving guests often depends on the particular guest,” the site advises. “Play to their strengths — Are they social? Good in the kitchen? Adept at mixing cocktails? Set them up with a task that fits their personality and helps them feel welcome.”
Suggestions include make them the greeter, let them hang out (if you are comfortable cooking and chatting at the same time), or have them choose the music.
5. Roll with the Punches
It’s Thanksgiving, not a space shuttle launch. If Uncle Dave shows up late (again!) and the kids refuse to eat anything green (or any food touching something green, or anything without marshmallows, and can’t I just have pie?), worry not. It’s one day, one meal out of one day. Thanksgiving is about being with family and friends and being grateful for what you have. So, maybe you’ll burn the sweet potatoes and nobody will touch the cranberries. Oh well! Grab a glass of bubbly and enjoy your guests.
There’s always next year.
To get a head start on a great Thanksgiving game plan, don’t forget to download our FREE Ultimate Turkey Guide (click the link below).
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