5 Tips for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner

Stress-Free Thanksgiving DinnerWhether you’re an experienced Thanksgiving dinner host, or it’s your first time having the family over to your home, this meal can take intense preparation and planning to make it truly great. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of cooking and decorating, then feel too overwhelmed to truly enjoy the time of thanks after your hard work with family and friends.

We believe Thanksgiving dinner can be robust, delicious and stress-free, no matter how many you have at your table. Here are five great tips for a truly thankful and restful Thanksgiving season.

1.  Forget the Dishes

Sometimes, one of the most daunting tasks of Thanksgiving dinner is not just making sure you have enough place settings...it’s cleaning everything up after the meal! This year, take the stress out of cleanup by ordering truly lovely and eco-friendly disposable dishes for your gathering. It may not be traditional, but you might just like those extra sleepily happy moments with your family afterwards enough to start a whole new ritual.

If Grandma wouldn’t be able to stand the thought of not using her good china, compromise by using disposable pans or cookware for dishes like potatoes or roasted vegetables. The bonus? It’s easy to send home leftovers with guests without worrying whether you will get your good Tupperware back.

2.  Ask for Volunteers

It’s tempting to prepare the perfect Thanksgiving meal all by yourself. You not only want it done right, you really do want to show your family how much you love and are grateful for them this holiday season. But trust us...this dinner can overwhelm even the heartiest of party planners, so asking for (or just plain old assigning!) volunteers can save you time, money and hours in the kitchen.

Keep it simple by assigning women to meal prep and men to cleanup (or vice versa!), or plan in more detail with a handy app like Perfect Potluck. Quickly assign dishes to guests, or allow them to sign up for their specialty side. Maybe you are simply responsible for making sure the turkey turns out perfectly, while parents, cousins and siblings deck out the rest of the table.

Either way, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You never know who might step up to the plate!

3.  Prepare Ahead

Just about everyone knows you can’t start the turkey just an hour ahead of dinner time (pssst, you can’t start the turkey an hour ahead of dinner time). But lots of other dishes and tasks can be prepared ahead, sometimes even the day or week before your gathering.

Dishes and desserts like mac and cheese, pumpkin pie or cookies can all be made or baked ahead of time, then frozen. A turkey can be brined for nearly twenty-four hours before roasting. Tables can even be set the night before or the morning of your meal.

If you can prepare it or make it ahead of time, do it! It’s one less thing to think about the day of the big dinner.

4.  Go Unconventional

Turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole and cranberry sauce are all part of a traditional Thanksgiving, sure...but does your family really like this yearly meal? If not, try starting a new tradition by doing something unconventional, like hosting a big Italian meal, or having a Thanksgiving fiesta, complete with nachos, margaritas and fried icecream. Or maybe trek out to a local restaurant to taste their spin on the holiday meal. 

If you want to keep the traditional meal fixings, but want a little different feel, try adding a twist to staple ingredients. Maybe this is the year you add an exotic flair to your turkey with Five Spice or curry powder. Spice up your stuffing with some tasty chorizo. Or, swap out those green beans for roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and a balsamic vinaigrette drizzle.

No matter what twist you put on tradition, make it something that feels new, fun and exciting.

5.  Plan for Details (but Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff)

Make a checklist for your meal a few weeks ahead of time. Do you have enough serving spoons? Do you have a general idea of head count? Do you know which family members have dietary restrictions? Do you have enough storage ware for leftovers?

Review your list several days before the meal, and purchase extra of important items like milk, butter, salt and napkins. Review again the day of the meal, and send trusted family members on quick last minute errands if need be.

At the end of the day, however, try not to sweat the small stuff. It sounds like counter-intuitive advice, but sometimes no amount of planning can prepare you for bad weather, broken ovens or rolls that are just a tad too “done.” Shrug off stress by remembering that this time of year is one of reflection and thankfulness, and sometimes, it’s enough that everyone is together, burnt rolls and all.

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Published: Monday, November 3, 2014