I heart Thanksgiving… always have, probably always will. It’s the only holiday that totally revolves around FOOD — and nothing else. No gifts to shop for and lose your mind over at the mall. No extra responsibilities or crafting projects that you have to cover on account of ‘getting the holiday done successfully’ (like Easter eggs). No panicking about not being able to find your toddler’s bunny ears just minutes before you’re supposed to head out trick-or-treating. Ya get me? Thought you’d see the light. Fabulous.
I mean, I had to be a little turkey-crazy to host Thanksgiving back in 2011 when my LadyP had just turned 1 and I was almost 5-months pregnant with my LilMiss. Of course I was going to cook everything. And to push it to another level, I didn’t want any one of my 16 guests to bring ANYTHING. (I swear my mother-in-law almost passed out when I insisted that I was going to do everything myself and that I just wanted them to show up without burden and enjoy themselves.)
Being a big Turkey Day freak, here are my top 7 fabulous tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving (and if you want the wacky video version, scroll to the bottom of this post, baby):
1) Make lists for everything … and post them in full view. Shopping lists, to-do lists, lists of things you like to clean up. I like to have separate lists for food, decorations, to-do’s, kids items, things you need to bring out of the basement (see Tip #4). HERE’S THE IMPORTANT PART: Write them on sticky notes or post them on your fridge or oven so you see them every day and check off things as they get done. Consider your home a work-zone for the week leading up to the big event. 1 list for decoration items (white pumpkins!), 1 list for perishable foods (salad ingredients!), 1 list for non-perishable foods (rice!)… you get me.
2) Plan three (or more) shopping trips. One trip for decorations. One trip for non-perishables (which I like to do a whole week beforehand). One trip for produce/perishables (this should be 2 days before). Nothing – NOTHING – should be left until the day before your big Thanksgiving
show-off cook-off (but that’s just based on my experience). Having all my supplies in my home, ready for me to tackle, 2 days ahead of time makes me feel relaxed and in-control.
3) Set your table 1 or 2 full days before. The dishes will be fine (I promise), you can wipe them down with a damp cloth that morning if you’re worried about any dust (but trust me… they’ll be fine). Did I mention that you’d BETTER use your formal dinnerware? (That’s a threat.)
4) Use a card table for dirty dishes. This a tip my mom taught me… my sister and I used to make fun of her for it growing up (still kinda do) but you can’t argue with how well it works. Set up that card table (or any kind of spare table) in your garage, basement or anywhere out of view: THIS IS WHERE YOU WILL TAKE YOUR DIRTY DISHES POST-MEAL. AHA! Talk about a sneaky way to keep your kitchen clear and tidy while your guests are still in the house (because, as we know, guests WILL end up in the kitchen). I can’t tell you how liberating it is to not see a piled-up mess in your sink while your guests are still noshing on pumpkin pie and sipping coffee.
5) Make and/or prep your food 2-3 days beforehand. I remember making the cranberry sauce 2 days beforehand, chopping all my veggies and potatoes the day before (and storing them in plastic containers so that I could just dump them together quickly when needed) and putting my crackers on a platter and covering tightly with plastic wrap the night before. I even pre-measured the chicken stock, water and other ingredients that I’d be throwing together into a pot a few days before so that I didn’t have to think twice about it. Pretend you’re a pro-caterer and create an environment that works like a machine so that you can do the LEAST amount of work possible the day-of. Attention family members: The kitchen is now a work zone.
6) Create cooking notes for time. This SAVED me. The day before, go through your menu and coordinate what gets cooked when (and for how long). Create a single itinerary that documents exactly what time to put things in the oven, on the stove or take out of the fridge… working backwards from when your guests are due to arrive. Be vigilant: If you know that rice takes 20 minutes to cook, your note should read something like this: 2pm, Start rice. 2:20pm, Check if rice done. (Seriously.) This way, you can mindlessly follow your own trusted directions and timeline and have confidence that everything IS getting done. Creating this itinerary takes effort, but IT IS WORTH IT.
7) Do your hair/makeup as soon as you get up in the morning. Yes, you will need to do touch-ups before your guests arrive, but – trust me – it is NOT FUN to have that damn-I-still-need-to-get-ready feeling hanging over your head when you’re standing in your kitchen (dressed in pajamas) checking the progress of that casserole in the oven one hour before people show up at your door.
BONUS TIP: Tell your husband that his ONLY responsibility that morning is to keep the kids out of your way. (And to take that yucky stuff out from the inside of the turkey. Yes, I’m a wimp.)
What helps you stay stress-free on Thanksgiving?