Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday to enjoy with family and friends and an opportunity to remember our many blessings. Year-to-year, you probably look forward to a joyful, traditional Thanksgiving Day. But when it’s your turn to host (or hostess) the dinner, it may seem overwhelming. Like so many of our big challenges in life, the worst part is the worrying. So, if you are having guests for Thanksgiving dinner, stop being stressed out and get yourself organized. With careful planning and an eye to simplicity and economy, you can forget about extra stress and look forward to a happy Thanksgiving.
Here are some tips from Grandma - based on experience and old-fashioned common sense - that can help you plan a hassle-free and delicious Thanksgiving Day dinner.
DECIDE ON A GAME PLAN AND STICK TO IT
The main stress-reducing step to hosting a successful Thanksgiving dinner is to plan well in advance. Determine how many guests can be accommodated comfortably in the space you have. Decide on a number. If your dining space is limited, tell your guests that they’ll need to advise you if they would like to bring an extra person to the meal. Don’t be afraid to say no to additional guests, if it’s going to be a problem.
Next decide how much time you need to buy the food and prepare the meal. If it’s going to be a worry-free Thanksgiving dinner, my suggestion is that all the buying be done in a single trip a few days before the event. You can always pick up anything that you missed the day before the meal. On Thanksgiving Day, plan for a maximum work schedule of three hours of preparations, including table setting. Make sure that all the food, drink, and ice is set out on the table or on a buffet before any one sits down, and don’t offer to get up to go and get anything else. If there are any extra trips to the kitchen, they should be done by volunteers or delegates.
LIMIT THE SIDE DISHES
There are so many possibilities for delicious holiday food. But if you want to be hassle-free, plan to serve just a few dishes. Once you've chosen your dishes, write down your menu. Tell your closest friends and family members about your menu choices. Don’t allow yourself to be influenced. Tell anyone who criticizes you that you’re intentionally paring down from the traditional coma-inducing meal, and make all guests aware that their contributions are welcome. Wine and other desserts are the best things for other people to bring.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE TURKEY?
Don’t make the mistake most of us have made - more than once - and buy a turkey that’s way too big! You don’t need a pound or more of turkey for each person at the meal. You’ll have several different side dishes and dessert. Tell your guests beforehand that you plan to have a tasty, moderate-size meal. And that you’re doing this as a tribute to rational thinking – that you hope to serve a special dinner that doesn't make everyone fall into a near, post-meal coma from overindulgence. Your goal is to have plenty for all, but still be capable of taking pleasure in dessert and conversation after the meal.
The week before Thanksgiving, grocery stores typically reduce the price of turkeys. Wait to get the best deal on your bird, but don’t wait until the last day because you might end up turkey-less on the big day.
Check your cookbooks or go online and print out the recipes you want to use. Read through the recipes carefully, pencil in hand for making notes. Make a list of everything you’ll need when you go shopping.
Detail your cooking plan by starting from when you want to serve dinner and work backward to figure out a rough schedule. Make a note for when you’ll need to start preparing each dish. Do as much of the preparation as you can the day before Thanksgiving. Some examples of what can be done beforehand are: chopping the vegetables, measuring the dry ingredients and putting them in bowls with lids, and setting out dishes, pots and pans.
PLAN TO HAVE AN EASY AMBIANCE
Plan to use your best tablecloth and dinner napkins. Create a simple centerpiece. Some fresh flowers or a pretty glass bowl filled with seasonal fruit (or vegetables) makes a lovely statement about fall bounty. Add a couple of lit candles and your table will be festive. Beyond that, you only need to use a few understated decorations. For example you can twist wire ribbon or raffia - in a fall color - around the dinner napkins and tie a cinnamon stick (or some small Thanksgiving motif) on top.
Part of your decoration can be a highly visible, self-service coffee and dessert bar. You can set it up on a side table or buffet, or use one section of the kitchen counter. Include a ready to start-up coffee pot, cups, dessert plates, along with your one beautiful dessert and after-dinner mints. You’ll be ever so happy you took the time to do this. It makes the room like charming and is extremely practical - the guests can help themselves after the dinner. You’ll just receive the compliments - and not have to run around taking care of additional serving tasks.
BE HUMBLE AND SHOW GRATITUDE
Remember why you’ve decided to do all this. The purpose of the day is to enjoy your family and friends. Don't worry if everything isn’t perfect. Be ready to interact with your guests when they come. Sit down, have a drink – alcohol or not, as you want– and take a breath. Yes, you were the all-too-busy chef just a few minutes before, but as soon as the guests turn up, your goal is to present yourself as a gracious host or hostess. When everyone is around the table, be ready to accept help when offered and don’t feel shy about enlisting assistance when you need it.
Don't forget what the Thanksgiving holiday is supposed to mean. Make this an opportunity to show the spirit of thankfulness. As you sit down to the holiday dinner, have someone prepared to offer a short prayer of thanks and ask for volunteers to say a few words about what they are most grateful for.
A THANKSGIVING MENU FOR EIGHT
Here’s an example of a traditional Thanksgiving menu for eight people that you can cook and serve in about three hours. And it won’t break the family piggybank! (Personally, I plan to use this menu for the holiday season.)
- Turkey breasts with bone (6 lbs.), split open and oven-baked, basted with butter and lemon-garlic zest. Served with pan gravy.
- Mashed sweet potatoes (3 lbs.), oven-baked briefly with butter, brown sugar and pecans on top
- Large serving dish filled with fresh cut veggies, deviled eggs, whole-wheat crackers, and a tasty dip. (It can be put out somewhere before the meal for anyone who can’t wait to eat something and later taken to the table.)
- Steamed green beans (2 lbs.) with mushrooms and green onions
- Big dish of cranberry sauce - make your own or buy readymade
- Corn bread muffins, 2 per person - make your own or buy at the bakery
- Large, deep-dish apple pie - make your own or buy at the bakery
- Cheddar cheese slices - to eat with the apple pie
- Dish of after-dinner mints
- Pitchers of ice water
- Wine and (or) iced tea with the meal
- Coffee and (or) hot cider with dessert