Every year, Thanksgiving creeps up, bringing thoughts of the family seated around an elegantly festooned table and the aromas of home-cooking. Or maybe you’re recalling nightmares of Thanksgivings past. The turkey fryer that seemed like a clever idea at the time but started a fire that almost burned down your garage. The inevitable family squabbles that arise every year. You somehow once neglected to get the right kind of cranberry sauce and your uncle reminds you every year. The dog ate the pies, and they didn’t sit well with him.
Thanksgiving brings people together, and that’s a good thing. It won’t always go smoothly, but some basic preparation can guide you toward greater success. So, for your holiday planning, here’s how to give thanks without getting stressed—well, not TOO stressed.
Do as much ahead of time as you can. Pace yourself. Don’t leave five days’ worth of preparation to the day before everyone is coming!
- Don’t guess who’s coming to dinner. Write a guest list. You’ll need an accurate tally to buy the right amount of food.
- Send the Thanksgiving invitation. Some people are happy with a casual invitation, but if you want your holiday to be an event, send a more formal one, either a card in the mail or an evite. Here are some invitation writing tips.
- Confirm the head count. Since you’ll likely buy the turkey at least five days in advance, contact every guest and confirm if they’re coming and how many people will be joining them.
- Create your Thanksgiving menu a month in advance. From appetizers and drinks through dessert and coffee, keep a grocery list on your phone. As you see items on sale, buy them. Put the perishables away and freeze the others.
- Delegate food assignments. Many of your guests will want to bring something. Let them. It makes for a wonderful blend when the meal is prepared by more than one person.
- Cook and freeze what you can. Many side dishes, including mashed potatoes and soup, can be prepared and frozen.
- Use hands-free cooking. A slow cooker is a great way to “set it and forget it”. Prepare the ingredients the night before and use the crock pot for mashed potatoes, side dishes, stuffing, hot cider, warm dip, and even pudding cake for dessert..
- Remind people not to forget. At least three days before Thanksgiving, contact everyone who has offered to bring a dish to confirm that they are still doing so.
- Get ready to serve. The day before Thanksgiving, set out the serving dish and utensil for every item on the menu, including appetizers. Mark each one with what will fill it. This way, you can be sure you have all the pieces you need, and others can help transfer the food to these dishes at serving time.
- Prepare your leftover containers. Invest in some storage containers for guests to leave with leftovers so you’re not scurrying to find something to give away that you don’t want to lose forever.
The fun stuff.
- Plan your holiday décor. Like your menu, plan in advance. Decide where you want to add accents. Make a list of what you need to buy, like fresh flowers, a wreath for the door, candles, and gourds. As you gather your bounty, stash the décor in one place, so you can pull them from a box when it’s time to decorate.
- Inventory your dinnerware. Make sure you have enough dishes, silverware, and glasses for the number of Thanksgiving guests. If you want something different, consider going “eclectic” and purchase plates in different patterns that complement each other (thrift shops are great for this). Whatever you choose, check for chips and cracks. Then wash and set them aside two days ahead.
- Clean and press the linens. Check your tablecloth and napkins (if you’re using cloth) for stains and tears. Wash, iron, and place them in a clean plastic bin until the night before Thanksgiving.
- Set the table ahead of time. Don’t leave this job to Thanksgiving day, when you have plenty of other things to do. The evening before, take your time and set the table and the bar as you like. Cover it with a clean sheet.
The un-fun stuff.
- Make a playlist. Review your music library and build a playlist of songs. Blend different genres, giving everyone something to enjoy.
- Plan activities. Certainly, this is optional, but if you have kids coming, come up with ways to entertain them. Visit Pinterest to find creative yet simple games.
- Make a Thankful Jar. Before dinner, invite every guest to write down at least one thing they’re thankful for and put it in a jar on the table. When you sit down to eat, start by passing the jar around and letting each person pick out one piece of paper and read it.
- Create a cleaning list. From dusting the ceiling fans to sweeping the front walk, do an inventory of the household chores. Then delegate them by making a list and assigning family members, with deadlines.
- Set up trash cans. You’re going to have more garbage than usual. Make it easy by placing a few extra trash cans. They don’t have to be the unsightly 20-gallon variety either. Use smaller ones here and there.
Happy holidays! May you have a stress-free Thanksgiving with the people who matter most to you.