Thanksgiving Dinner Survival Guide: 10 Steps to a Calmer Feast

The Scramblog

I get the jitters before hosting almost any gathering, but with all the build-up to Thanksgiving, it feels like the stakes are even higher than usual.  To keep it in perspective, I try to remember what’s most important – being with family and friends and appreciating our blessings.  But when we’re hosting the feast, there’s still a lot of work to be done!  I’ve devised some strategies for making the evening easier on us, while still indulging our guests:

  1. Don’t try to do it alone:  Just because you love to cook, doesn’t mean you have to do it all!  If anyone volunteers to bring something, take them up on it. Try to involve the kids with the preparation, either by asking them to make place cards or table decorations, or clean the house.
  2. Make a menu ahead of time:  By the Sunday before the feast, make a list of everything you are serving, from appetizers to coffee.  Note who is making each of them and when you need to start your assignments.
    Thanksgiving might not be a great time to try more than one new recipe.
  3. Grocery shop early:  Just like every week, make a detailed grocery list of all food and non-food items, and buy the groceries by Tuesday, so you can start preparing by Wednesday. Here’s our Thanksgiving Dinner Shopping List to help you get started.
  4. Cook in advance:  Most of the trimmings can be cooked well in advance of dinner, and then warmed before the meal.  Employ your slow cooker and toaster oven to be able to cook more dishes at once. Even the turkey can be finished cooking (we even slice it!) hours before the meal.  (Just put that Norman Rockwell image of the father cutting the bird at the table out of your mind!)
  5. Get the house and table ready the night before:  To avoid exhaustion on the big day, make sure the house looks nice and the table is set before you go to bed on Wednesday.  You can also set out all the serving dishes and label what will go in each.
  6. Keep appetizers easy:  Before dinner, serve simple foods, such as gourmet cheeses, nuts, store-bought spreads for crackers, vegetables and dip, and/or fresh popcorn.
  7. Send the kids out for a picnic and sports before the meal:  This strategy, suggested by my friend and Scramble colleague Jeanne Rossomme, frees the kitchen for the big feast, and calms the kids so there’s a higher probability of civilized behavior when guests arrive.  You might even want to pack them a cooler of snacks and drinks so they don’t mess up your busy kitchen.
  8. Consider serving buffet-style to make dinner logistics easier.
  9. Take the last 30 minutes off:  An experienced hostess once told me that I should try to hold sacred the last half hour before guests arrive.  Use this time to get yourself cleaned up and put your feet up for a few minutes.  That way you won’t be utterly exhausted before the evening begins.
  10. Give thanks and eat slowly:  After sitting down, have each guest share one thing for which they are thankful — this simple tradition really sets the right mood.  Then enjoy the feast you have all helped to prepare, and try to remember to savor the time together after all your hard work.

I hope you have good food, easy travels, and a holiday that’s fuller of gratitude than gripes.

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