The best holiday of the year is nearly here. Thanksgiving is the culmination of the fall season. The true start to the holidays, and an all around fulfilling day. Fulfilling in that you will enjoy wonderful food, but also because of time spent with family and friends. Celebrating the true meaning of Thanksgiving means being thankful and giving gratitude.
For some of us it also means hosting a gathering, or at least participating in one. Either way, this can be a big undertaking. All the work and preparation that goes into a holiday celebration can feel like a chore. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to. With the right tools, and plan, you can pull off a successful holiday with ease. This is how to Plan a Stress Free Thanksgiving.
HOW TO PLAN A STRESS FREE THANKSGIVING
I consider myself a Thanksgiving master. Well, maybe not a master, but I have the planning, routine, and execution down. I may be known as the Thanksgiving guru in my inner circles, and have an infamous spreadsheet that is sought after each year.
Why, you may ask? As a planning fanatic, it is in my nature. Plus, this holiday is my JAM. My absolute hands-down-favorite-holiday-ever. Coming from someone who aims to master it every year, I have some good experience. And plenty of lessons to share.
A simple, seemingly obvious statement, that needs to be said. You must plan ahead.
Because Thanksgiving is a major holiday that centers around a big, and maybe even elaborate meal, you need a game plan. Do not leave decisions and preparation to the last minute, or you will end up in a stressful situation.
If you are hosting, you will really need to get your ducks in a row so you aren’t running around like a crazy person the day prior. And if you are a guest providing support to a host, and/or bringing a dish, it would behoove you to prepare in advance as well.
Next we will look at how to be the host or hostess with the most, and how to be the best guest your family or friends have ever seen.
THE BEST HOSTESS
You have agreed to host this year, good for you! Maybe this is your first time, and if so, pay close attention. If this is not your first rodeo, but are looking for ways to improve, we can always make improvements.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
This is the most important part. Before you even begin putting together a plan, identify and accept what you can and cannot handle.
If you have overnight guests, young children to care for, or even only have one oven to work with, understand how this affects what you can manage. Do not bite off more than you can chew. And think through every little detail before you commit.
Enlist help from family and friends, and complete as much as possible in advance. This will free up more time the week of the holiday for key tasks such as cleaning, decorating, and prepping.
WRITE OUT A PLAN
There are a few important steps to ensure your success. First is preparing an actual plan. Non planners don’t freak out, you can do this too.
Hosting a holiday event like Thanksgiving requires organization and preparation. This allows the actual day to run like a well oiled machine. Your plan will include a menu, shopping list, and a cooking schedule.
To create your menu, follow the same process as you would for planning any meal, keeping in mind the number of guests, dietary needs, and any restrictions. This would include knowing your limits as outlined above, as well as any budget or time constraints.
Once you create your menu, write your shopping list right away. When you have your recipes handy, it is super easy to pull those ingredients into a list. Learn how to create the ultimate shopping list.
Lastly, when you are executing multiple dishes in one day, you need an action plan for how and when they will be cooked. Only have one oven? Bear this in mind when selecting your dishes. Use the techniques outlined in the next sections for splitting up cooking, so you aren’t trying to cook everything at once.
Think through what can be reheated in the microwave, or invest in an electric convention oven to cook or reheat dishes. We love ours and really comes in handy when the other ovens are in use.
PRACTICE MISE EN PLACE
In other words, have everything in its place. This is part of getting organized in advance, and will guarantee you can make it through your to-do list with ease.
Organize, then organize some more. Set out all your dishes and serving platters, clean out your refrigerator, and get storage containers and cooking utensils ready.
Pro tip: If you don't already have stackable storage containers, invest in some. When you prep your food in advance, they will make your life, and your refrigerator access, that much easier.
In addition to getting your tools and serving dishes ready, also be sure and prepare food in advance. Some of our key tips are outlined in the next step.
Now that you are prepared, and everything is in its place, it is time to power through your prep work.
First things first, get your shopping done. Please, please, do not wait until the week of the holiday to complete all your shopping. Sure, you may have to pick up the Turkey and last minute items, but you can easily wrap up most of your errands the weeks prior.
Some items you can purchase well in advance include:
- Pantry goods: pumpkin puree, sweeteners, spices, flour, oils.
- Long-life cool items: cheese, milk, cream, butter, eggs, deli meat, frozen items.
- Stable produce: potatoes, winter squash, onions, apples, pears, cranberries.
Once shopping is done, it’s time to start prepping food. Read through each recipe carefully to be sure you understand exactly what needs to be done, and how much prep work is involved with each.
You can cut down day-of commitments by completing tasks in advance. Some ideas include:
- Cleaning and chopping vegetables and herbs
- Par-cooking ingredients (for example the vegetables that mix into stuffing/dressing, or aromatics for other dishes)
- Measuring out dry ingredients and portioning out other mix-ins
There are also entire dishes you can make in advance, up to several days before the holiday. Or, you can be really resourceful and make entire dishes weeks in advance, and freeze them. Good recipes will have notes about what you can prepare in advance.
A few foolproof make ahead dishes include:
- Pies and desserts – generally these can be made up to 3 days ahead of time, and most of them freeze well.
- Vegetable dishes – roasted veggies, mashes, and even salads can be made up to 3 days in advance.
- Bread or rolls – these can be made 3-4 days in advance, many of which can be frozen.
- Casseroles – these actually freeze really well, so you can prepare them in advance, defrost the night before, and bake the day of.
- Dressing and condiments – cranberry sauce, salad dressing, and even gravy can be made 3-4 days ahead.
- Drinks – mixed drinks like punches and sangria get better with flavor, so you can make them 1-2 days in advance.
Personally, I use the 2 weekends prior then several days leading up to the holiday to prepare all of my food. That way, on the day of, I am only reheating dishes, putting finishing touches on things, and cooking the turkey.
THE BEST GUEST
Hosts need a good sidekick, and always appreciate the help. Here are a few tips to help you be a wonderful guest.
SUPPORT YOUR HOST
You know that old saying, never show up empty handed? That defintely applies here.
If you are bringing a dish, fantastic (and reference the next item). And if you aren’t, that is okay too. Instead, bring a bottle of wine, or a nice hostess gift. This can be something simple, but shows respect to the host.
Besides a physical item, try and be attentive to your host. They have a lot on their plate, and rarely have someone else taking care of them. Offer your assistance to give them a break.
SELECT YOUR DISH WISELY
If you are bringing a dish, make sure it is something you have made before. At least test it in advance, a holiday isn’t the best time to experiment.
If you have a signature dish, or are close to your heritage, this is a great way to offer variety at a holiday table.
Ask your host if they need a specific item, and be sure and let them know what you are bringing. This will help them finalize their menu. Appetizers and desserts are always well received, and a good choice if you aren’t given any direction.
ASSIGN YOURSELF A ROLE
The host may be too timid to ask for help, but trust me, they need it. Don’t just offer to help either, actually follow through.
Find out what the host really needs help with, and jump on it. Better yet, ask them in advance what role you can play so there isn’t any confusion when you arrive.
And if you are with a significant other, or a close friend, enlist their help too. You will both be known as the most gracious guests at the party.