HOW TO PLAN, PRIORITIZE, AND NAVIGATE THE BIG DAY WITH FINESSE
BY HAILEY HUDSON NOV 2019
Hosting Thanksgiving for the first time can be intimidating. From cooking a turkey to catching up with extended family to keeping your kids entertained while they’re out of school, there’s a lot that goes into this holiday, and doing it at your home can be extremely stressful—especially for the first time. Here are some tips that will help you pull off Thanksgiving with a bang.
Change Your Mindset
Do you have visions of a perfectly roasted turkey, a table setting that belongs in the pages of Southern Living magazine, and Pinterest-worthy pies topped with autumn leaves made out of extra piecrust? If so, it’s time to switch your mindset. Recognize that not everything is going to be perfect and change your goals accordingly—instead of stressing over little details, simply make sure that everyone who walks in the door feels valued and loved. Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s all about gratefulness, so focus on that instead of worrying about the napkin rings. You’re not lowering your expectations—you’re just changing them.
Figure Out Your Priorities
When it comes to food and decorations, what’s most important to you, and how do your priorities match up with your abilities? Maybe you want your house to be squeaky clean, and simultaneously, you’re not a great baker. In that case, you might choose to spend your time cleaning the house instead of slaving over a pumpkin pie (try a local bakery for your dessert needs instead). Don’t be afraid to cut corners on anything that’s not a must-have. That way, you can invest your limited time into the things that truly matter to you—and when you look around your house on Thanksgiving morning, you’ll feel happy and proud of what you’ve done.
Ask For Tips
Do you have a mother, grandmother, or friend who has been hosting Thanksgiving at their home for years? They’ve probably learned a lot through trial and error. Ask them for their best tips as you begin preparing to host at your own home.
Do everything you can ahead of time so you’re not still rushing around on Thanksgiving Day (or whenever your meal is held). You can do just about everything in advance: clean the house, go shopping, make centerpieces or other decorations, and set up tables and chairs if needed.
Try to do as much cooking as possible in advance, too. Examples of foods that work well for this include cranberry sauce and sweet potato casserole (add the marshmallows just before the meal and pop the casserole back in the oven for five more minutes). Desserts are also ideal to make ahead, as most pies can sit in the refrigerator for days and still taste fresh and delicious.
Plan The Menu
Less is more: Keep your Thanksgiving menu as simple as possible, focusing on quality over quantity. Ask extended relatives to bring sides if you have a bigger group visiting, or if it’s just your immediate family, make one side that each person really likes.
As you plan the menu, carefully consider who’s coming and what dietary restrictions or preferences they have. If your cousin is lactose intolerant, go easy on the cheesy recipes; if an in-law is vegetarian, make multiple non-meat dishes.
You can save yourself some time by choosing to cook casserole-style dishes—something where you throw several ingredients in one pan, bake it, and end up with enough to feed a crowd. These types of recipes are simple to throw together and easy to make in a large quantity if needed.
In addition to planning the big Thursday meal, plan ahead for Wednesday night dinner. Easy ideas might include sandwiches and fruit, a nacho bar, or grabbing some chili from the freezer. That way, you won’t end up spending too much money ordering takeout because you forgot everyone needs to eat on Wednesday too.
Cook What You Know
Reduce stress for yourself by only cooking tried-and-true recipes; Thanksgiving is not the time to go out on a limb and attempt foods you’ve never cooked before. If you’re not familiar with the best way to make a Thanksgiving staple, such as stuffing, ask someone else to bring it so you can pour your energy into making what you do know.
Make A Schedule
There’s only so much space on your stovetop and in the oven, so before you start cooking, make a schedule that details what you’ll cook when. Remember, many things can be cooked in advance—the day before, or even a few days before. For the dishes that need to happen Thanksgiving morning, like the turkey and any last-minute sides, consider cooking the turkey first and then reheating any pre-made sides.
Don’t wait until the last minute to do your Thanksgiving shopping — not only do grocery stores get more and more crowded as the holiday approaches, but the stores tend to jack up prices for desperate shoppers, too. Weeks before Thanksgiving, make an extensive grocery list and then let it sit for a few days in case any other needed items come to mind; in addition to food, think about whether you need any items such as a roasting pan for the turkey or pie tins.
Once you’ve finalized your list, do whatever you have to do to get to the store well before the holiday, even if that means shopping on your lunch break from work or dropping the kids off at a friend’s house so you can pick out your ingredients in peace.
Yes, you’ll want to clean your house before the guests start coming—but don’t feel like you have to deep clean every square foot of your home. Instead, think about the high-trafficked areas (such as the bathroom) and focus on those. This will save you time that you can invest into cooking instead. Many cleaning tasks can also be outsourced to your children if they’re bored during their break from school. Remember to build in time to clean after the holiday, too; besides the mountain of dishes in the sink, you may need to vacuum up dirt that was tracked in or change the sheets in the guest bedroom.
Don’t be afraid to delegate—you won’t survive unless you do. Ahead of time, ask your extended family what side dishes they’d like to bring so you don’t have to worry about cooking everything. If you have people in town ahead of the holiday, ask for their help cleaning and setting up tables and centerpieces; working side-by-side can be a good chance to catch up with family you haven’t seen all year. And the day of the meal, put any energetic kids who are around to work setting the table before you eat or washing the dishes after. Normally, people are more than happy to help out—you just have to ask.
Start A New Tradition
Hosting Thanksgiving for the first time can be a scary prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. To add an element of fun to your preparation, consider starting a new Thanksgiving tradition for your family—perhaps this could be eating pie for breakfast, going for a hike after the meal, or writing letters to each other with the things you’re thankful for about the other person. Focus on making sure everyone who enters your home feels loved and your first Thanksgiving will go off without a hitch. #