Growing up, Thanksgiving dinner was one of my favorite things. My grandmother always hosted the most wonderful gatherings.
I loved seeing everyone together, talking and laughing…and the food was divine.
It was Thanksgiving Dinner without the stress!
I had such high hopes when I volunteered to host my first Thanksgiving dinner.
But I quickly learned that I was not my grandmother. She made it look so fun and easy.
I always knew she was an amazing woman but looking back now, I realize just how true that was.
My First Thanksgiving Dinner Was Not Stress Free
To say my first Thanksgiving dinner was a disaster is understatement. The turkey was undercooked.
The few sides I had were burnt and I got caught trying to pass off a store bought pie as my own☹
To top it off, two of my family members bickered the entire time making the whole atmosphere uncomfortable for everyone.
But that was many years ago, and I’ve learned a few things since then.
Below are some of the strategies I now use to pull off a killer Thanksgiving dinner while avoiding stress and under-cooked meat!
Make Your Home a Stress-Free Zone
Thankfully, a lot of preparation can be done in advance. If you like to decorate for Fall or Thanksgiving, it’s best to do this several weeks ahead of time.
This way you can take your time and do it right while still enjoying the process.
Clean What You Need to and Leave the Rest
Everyone wants a spotless home when guests come over, especially when you don’t get to see some of them very often.
But maintaining an immaculate home with family, pets and life happening is next to impossible.
Your best bet is to clean the areas where your guests will hang out and leave the rest for later.
It’s not likely you’ll have guests in your bedroom, master bath, laundry room, garage, or attic, so they don’t have to be spotless on Thanksgiving Day.
While you’re concentrating on your kitchen, dining room and living room, it’s easy to overlook the guest bathroom. Don’t.
This can lead to some major embarrassment if you have younger children and they forget to flush. Doing a quick check before guests arrive can eliminate this.
Make Your Home Pleasing in Another Way
While cooking should certainly fill your kitchen with the smell of Thanksgiving, it’s also nice to infuse sitting areas with a pleasant scent, too.
Adding a pleasing aroma is a subtle touch that always makes a good impression on guests. Seasonal fragrances like apple cinnamon, pumpkin pie, or cranberry will make the area seem comfortable and inviting.
You can use scented candles, plug-in air fresheners or essential oil diffusers to achieve this.
Planning for the Big Day
To ensure things run as smoothly as possible, plan your meal with as much detail as you can along with your shopping list.
It’s best to do this no later than the weekend before Thanksgiving.
Doing your shopping early in the week will relieve stress since you won’t be standing in long lines in a packed supermarket at the last minute.
You’ll also find a better selection of turkeys when you shop ahead of time.
Before heading out to buy your groceries, check the weekly specials and watch for any coupons.
Often, stores will run promotions on the very things you’ll need for your Thanksgiving meal. The sale items may also remind you of sides or fixings you may not have thought about.
When you’re planning your meal, keep in mind any guests that may have food allergies or special eating requirements and try to have healthy options that will accommodate them.
If you’re looking for a few sides to round out the meal, want to spice things up this year or just need a little inspiration, check out these Thanksgiving recipes and menu ideas from Cooks Illustrated. Everything I’ve tried from them has been amazing.
You Don’t Have to Save Everything for Thursday
Just because you’ll be eating it all in one day doesn’t mean you have to cook it then too.
There are plenty of dishes and desserts you can make days in advance and either freeze them or refrigerate until time.
The turkey obviously needs to be prepared the day of but everything else is optional.
By considering prep time when you’re planning your meal, you can choose options that turn out well when made the day before.
Also think about which foods can be microwaved, which will need to go in the oven, and how long it will take for them to be ready to serve.
This way, you can plan the time for your meal and have a list of each item and when and how it needs to be warmed. Also remember to allow time to thaw any frozen dishes as well.
Consider a Potluck
Why not ask each person to bring a dish or dessert? If you’re hosting Thanksgiving you should probably cook the turkey but there’s nothing wrong with guests pitching in too.
If this is something you’re interest in and your guests are up for it, don’t assume they’ll know what you need.
Make a list of what you’d like and let them choose from those options. This way, you don’t end up with 3 green bean casseroles and no desserts.
Be flexible when you’re asking for help though. If you need a bowl of mashed potatoes and someone offers instead to bring creamy cauliflower mash because it’s their specialty, that won’t make or break the meal.
When All Else Fails…
Life happens and sometimes things come up that are truly out of your control. I have attended Thanksgiving dinners where everything served was store bought and it turned out just fine.
If you need to supplement a few homemade dishes with some that are store bought, do it.
Just don’t try to pass them off as your own. Trust me, that can get embarrassing when someone see the wrapper in the trash!
The main thing is that everyone gathers and enjoys each other’s company. The meal is just a good excuse to get together.
Keep Family Drama at Bay
No family is perfect and when you bring them together in a small space, sometimes things get said, feelings get hurt or old issues bubble up.
This is a tricky subject to navigate but there are ways to reduce the impact on your Thanksgiving meal.
Talk It Out
One way is to talk to members individually beforehand who are prone to drama. If you know two people often bicker or fight when they get together, kindly ask them to put it on hold for the day.
Also, if there’s a hot button that always sparks an argument, talk to family members prior to arriving and ask them not to bring it up.
Explain that you want a peaceful, happy Thanksgiving and it would mean a lot to you if they could help you with that.
Out of Sight
Seating arrangements also work well. You can make place cards very easily or enlist the help of your children.
Place family members who don’t always mesh on opposite ends of the table on the same side so it’s difficult for them to see each other.
Out of sight, out of mind sometimes works just as well for adults as it does for children😊
Who’s in Charge of Cleanup?
Ideally, everyone pitches in after dinner and starts clearing the table, wrapping leftover food and washing the dishes.
But often, some will have other family obligations that prevents them from staying for the “fun part”.
For the ones who are left, enlist help and assign everyone a job. John Heywood once said, “Many hands make light work.” And it’s true.
If you have just three people assisting, you can have your kitchen clean in a very short time.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
However, if you find yourself standing alone in the kitchen at the end of the night, put away the food, put water in the pots and pans, throw away the scraps and leave the rest for tomorrow.
It’s a lot to ask of yourself to prepare your home and the meal, entertain your guests, and do all the cleaning alone too.
Give yourself permission to let it go for the night if you’re exhausted. A good night’s rest is more important in the long run than a clean kitchen the morning after Thanksgiving.
Stress Relief on Turkey Day
Mental preparation is the best way of preventing stress. When you’ve got your mind in the right place and have realistic expectations, stress has a much harder time catching up to you.
This works for everything you encounter in life but here are a few ways to mentally prepare for hosting Thanksgiving dinner.
- Acknowledge that it’s not going to be easy. There’s a lot of planning, prep work, clean up, delegating, and refereeing involved in pulling off a great Thanksgiving. If you go into it with that mindset, it won’t sneak up on you and stress you out.
- Not everything will go according to plan. Things will come up and you’ll have to improvise. It’s fine. And it’s OK if things don’t turn out perfectly. To my knowledge there’s never been a perfect Thanksgiving dinner so relax.
- It will be an adventure if you frame it like that. Go into it with an open mind and see what happens. You might just have a little fun along the way.
- Look at it as a gift you’re giving to your family and loved ones because that’s what it is. You’re not just making a meal. You’re making memories that will last a lifetime.
- Remember the reason you’re celebrating Thanksgiving to begin with. It’s a time to give thanks. Thanks for your family and loved ones, your health, your food, and for every good thing you have. Not everyone gets a Thanksgiving dinner so keep in mind how fortunate you are.
Best Wishes This Thanksgiving
I sincerely wish you and your family a truly happy Thanksgiving.
I hope your meal is wonderful, your guests are appreciative and you’re able to use these tips to make your Thanksgiving the best it’s ever been.
If you’re looking for tips on how to enjoy Thanksgiving without feeling stuffed, you’ll love this.
If you get a chance, let me know how it turns out!