Ahh, Thanksgiving. A time for watching football, relaxing with family and friends and stuffing yourself with turkey and all the trimmings. Unless you're the host. Those who take on the job of putting together the holiday meal typically spend the day sweating over the stove and stressing out over cold mashed potatoes, a turkey that takes forever to thaw and cranberry sauce that refuses to set.
Rather than resigning yourself to the usual pressure-packed Thanksgiving, take the stress out of the holiday with these five tips for avoiding Turkey Day drama.
Divvy Up the Duties
There's nothing worse than slaving away in the kitchen alone while guests lounge in the living room. Rather than turning down offers of assistance in your quest to be the perfect host, transform cooking into a group activity. Allow those with culinary skills to assist with meal preparation, while others can handle tasks such as setting the table or transferring hot dishes to serving trays. Assign children simple jobs like making centerpieces or taking guests' beverage requests in an effort to harness their energy and keep them engaged with the group (and out of trouble).
When it's time to clean up, make it easy for people to pitch in. Most visitors are happy to help but are unsure where to start or what to do in an unfamiliar kitchen. Put trash and recycle bins in a convenient spot, and clear space on your counter for guests to leave their dishes after they finish eating.
Leave the Cooking to the Pros
Let's face it -- not everyone is capable of pulling off a major holiday meal for a house full of guests. If cooking just isn't your thing, avoid starring in a Thanksgiving dinner disaster story by purchasing precooked meals at your favorite local market. Most grocery stores, gourmet shops and even some restaurants sell complete Thanksgiving meals you can pop in the oven and reheat. Sure, this is probably the most expensive option for providing a delicious dinner, but it's also a sure-fire way to avoid Thanksgiving drama and give your guests a meal they'll rave about. To bypass any potential ribbing about your lack of cooking skills, feel free to hide the packaging and claim the meal as your own. No one has to know that the food came pre-prepared.
Try a Potluck
When you take on the responsibility of hosting Thanksgiving dinner, thanks and family togetherness can oh-so-easily turn into a pressure-packed effort to prove yourself to your guests. Take some stress out of the holiday with a potluck meal, where each visitor contributes a different dish or dessert. Keep a list of foods you'll need so you can give guests a ready answer when they ask what they should bring. After all, you don't want to end up with 20 pumpkin pies and not a single side dish. To avoid kitchen conflicts on the big day, ask guests to stick to foods that can be served at room temperature. This will allow you to focus on a few key dishes, like the turkey or your signature green bean casserole.
Thanksgiving morning is not the time to start planning a major feast. Even the best chefs need a few weeks of prep time to pull off the perfect holiday meal. At least two weeks before the big day, put together a list of dishes you'd like to include, along with a list of ingredients. Don't feel pressured to try a bunch of new and exotic recipes to impress your guests, especially if it's your first time acting as host. Most people look forward to classic Thanksgiving favorites like turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, so complicated recipes only increase your odds of a holiday dinner disaster.
Free up time on the big day by preparing casseroles and side dishes 24 to 48 hours in advance and refrigerating them. Make appetizers beforehand so your guests will have something to snack on while you're busy in the kitchen. Finally, don't underestimate how much time it takes to prepare a turkey. Frozen turkeys require several days to thaw before they're ready to cook.
Choose Your Guests With Care
When you're stressing about whether the turkey will be ready in time, the last thing you need is drama. Keep the peace this Thanksgiving with a guest list designed to minimize conflict and bring out the best in your family and friends. Encourage fighting family members to be on their best behavior by adding a few outsiders to your table. Your siblings may think twice about squabbling in front of your elderly neighbor or a few of your work friends who can't make it home for the holiday.
If you're hosting Thanksgiving for the first time, limit your visitors to people you're comfortable spending time with. Remember that a stress-filled holiday is not necessarily the best time to meet your significant other's parents or to attempt a reconciliation between two feuding family members.
If you're planning on deep-frying your turkey for Thanksgiving, HowStuffWorks Now recommends reading this first.
- Boostyn, Andrew. "Thanksgiving Tips for Hosts and Guests." Reader's Digest. (Oct. 21, 2011) http://www.rd.com/family/thanksgiving-tips-for-hosts-and-guests/
- Dictionary. "Potluck." 2011. (Nov. 2, 2011) http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/potluck
- Goudreau, Jenna. "Women Brace for Family Feuds This Thanksgiving." Forbes. Nov. 22, 2010. (Oct. 21, 2011) http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2010/11/22/women-brace-for-family-feuds-thanksgiving-coupons-deals-turkey-family-conflict-holiday/
- Hartwell-Walker, Marie. "10 Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving With the Dysfunctional Family." Psych Central. 2009. (Oct. 21, 2011) http://psychcentral.com/lib/2009/10-tips-for-surviving-thanksgiving-with-the-dysfunctional-family/all/1/
- National Turkey Federation. "Thanksgiving Preparation Timeline and Tips." 2011. (Oct. 21, 2011) http://www.eatturkey.com/consumer/thanks/timeline.html