Thanksgiving is the best. What other holiday do you get to show thanks for your family and friends by celebrating at a table filled with nap-inducing food? While Thanksgiving is meant to be a relaxing holiday to appreciate life’s bounties, many find the food-anchored holiday stressful to host. With dozens of different recipes to cook and serve hot, varying cook times, and limited kitchen space, a stress-free Thanksgiving is hard to master, even for the pros. However, we are here to help and firmly believe that Thanksgiving can be made easy for anyone so long as they follow our tips! Here are some ways that you can make Thanksgiving easy and stress-free!
Plan (and actually plan) Ahead!
Well, duh. Most people plan hosting their festivities, however, many don’t do it well. This is where the stress comes in. Before you even make a guest list, ensure that you have the space, time, and budget to dedicate to the holiday meal.
After you fill your guests in on the plan (1.5-months to 2-weeks out is recommended), create a menu and confirm with guests that there won’t be any allergies or issues with the food you plan on serving. Planning ahead like this also helps ensure that you are not making too much or too little food.
When you have your guests all sorted out, set up a timeline that includes when you plan on shopping, what dishes you need to use, what tools you need, and print out or save any recipes you will need. It’s game-time!
Create A Meticulous Grocery List & Grab Things Early(ish)
Shopping for Thanksgiving dinner is a beast. It might take multiple trips to different grocery stores to find what you need, so prepare for it! If you know one grocery store sells better quality X, but another store sells better quality Y, make sure you have the time to make two stops!
We like to plan out our grocery lists in order of the aisles, saving cold, perishable stuff for last. This is crucial when shopping for your holiday meal, as Thanksgiving items can easily fill up an entire cart. This means that your food is sitting longer, potentially spoiling or being squashed in the cart as you browse, check out, and drive home. Start with dry goods, then produce, then cold items. Going aisle-by-aisle saves you time, keeps you organized, and prevents you from running around like a crazy person. Stress-free shopping equals a stress-free Thanksgiving.
It is also important to start shopping earlier than expected. Not too early where things will spoil, but you should make a trip 4-5 days before Thanksgiving to get important, non-perishable goods that might sell out, and a second trip a day or two before Thanksgiving to buy fresher ingredients or any last-minute buys. While grocery stores over-order on stuffing mix and cranberry sauce, many forget to order extra— or don’t order enough extra— of the other Thanksgiving staples. Chicken stock, fresh sage, and pie dough all sell out quickly and are all a must in most Turkey-Day meals! Ensure that you grab them early to avoid the risk of not having them! Also, if you buy a frozen turkey or make stuffing from scratch, this earlier shopping run will give you the time for your turkey to defrost and fresh bread to get stale (the best stuffing always needs stale bread!).
Pick Out & Label Your Dishes
Labeling dishes sounds unnecessary, but it’s key to having a stress-free Thanksgiving. With so many appetizers, side-dishes, and sauces, Thanksgiving uses a lot of serveware and dishes that it can be hard to keep track of things. First, it’s important to make sure you have enough serveware. Once that’s worked out, line up all of the dishes you plan on using and begin to label what will go in each dish with sticky-notes the day before Thanksgiving.
Trust us, this is key. With a million dishes needing to go on the table at once, labeling each dish will help keep you organized. It will also make it easier for people helping you in the kitchen to figure things out. Make sure that you are using dishware that is safe to use in the oven if you plan on heating before you serve, and of course, remove the sticky note before you put in the food!
Make & Prep Food Ahead
Things like homemade stuffing, baked mac and cheese, and many appetizer dips get better when they have time to absorb their sauces and flavors. Another perk of letting things sit overnight in the fridge is that it will save you time! A big component of a stress-free Thanksgiving is not having to cook everything the day of! If you make everything on Thanksgiving day, you will be spending more time stressing out in the kitchen then enjoying time with your guests. …And you’ll also be serving food that doesn’t taste as flavorful! Reserve the day before Thanksgiving to cook too, not just the day of!
Time Everything Out
Most homes are lucky if they have more than one oven and more than four burners. Even homes with two ovens and a huge range struggle to serve everything hot on Thanksgiving! But serving hot food all at once is not impossible if you time things properly. It might take a little time, but planning things out like this will ensure you have a stress-free Thanksgiving.
Set up a spreadsheet to act as a timesheet that you can follow on the big day. On it, list the cook times and temperature of all things you plan on serving, then organize it in a way that allows everything to be cooked and hot come mealtime. Turkey needs to rest after being cooked, so while the turkey rests, that’s when you should heat up all of your sides in the oven (this is where pre-cooking comes in handy!).
If you pre-cooked some things, they just need to be warmed up, meaning they spend less time in the oven and you can heat even more dishes in a second round. Pair things in groups with the same cook temperature and make sure you’re sticking to time. Also be sure to utilize your stovetop as much as you can and heat things there. By the time things are warm, the turkey should be fully rested and your stress-free Thanksgiving dinner is good to go!
Set Up Early
This is such a small thing, but set your table the night before. It can be quite relaxing (and fun) decorating your table the night before. It will also be one less thing to do come Thanksgiving day.
Part of a stress-free Thanksgiving is asking for help when you need it. We aren’t telling you that you should force your guests to work labor-camp style, but you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a little help! Thanksgiving is expensive when you think about all of the food. So too, it’s hard to cook every dish on your own and have the space for it. Ask guests to bring something, such as pie or an appetizer, and they will be happy to oblige!
Also, we encourage you to ask for a little kitchen help if you need it. Most guests will be likely to ask to help, anyway! Don’t give your guests intensive jobs, but most guests will be happy to help prepare a salad, wash dishes, fill water glasses on the table, and remove corn from the cob. Really, ask for help when you need it! No one likes a stressed-out host.
There is no better feeling than celebrating Thanksgiving day at a table surrounded by your near and dear… and plates full of tasty food. This holiday, we hope that you follow some of our tips and prepare for an easy and stress-free Thanksgiving. Save us a seat and the whole bowl of mashed potatoes! Happy Turkey Day!