Thanksgiving is my FAVORITE holiday. I know that sounds weird (what? you don’t like Christmas?!?), but think about it: Thanksgiving is the only holiday that centers around FOOD and nothing else. No pressure to buy gifts. No pressure to get a costume. No pressure to hide a bunch of plastic eggs before the kiddos wake up. The only thing you’re supposed to do is EAT. Fabulous. Like a crazy person, I (selfishly) opted to host Thanksgiving at my house a few years ago when my first daughter just turned 1 and I was almost 5-months pregnant with my second. And like an even-more crazy person, I didn’t want any one of my 16 guests to bring ANYTHING.
Here are few tips that helped me get Thanksgiving dinner on the table without losing my mind:
1) Make lists for everything … and post them in full room. 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), etc. HERE’S THE IMPORTANT PART: Write them on sticky notes or post them on your fridge so you can 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 events.
2) Plan three 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 (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, 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).
4) Use a card table for dirty dishes. This a tip my mom does… my sister and I actually 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 in your basement (or, any kind of spare table or a clear area) somewhere out of view to take your dirty dishes after your guests are done eating so that they don’t pile up in the kitchen. My mom uses an area in her garage, I use an area behind my laundry room. I can’t tell you how liberating it is to not see a piled-up mess in your kitchen while your guests are still enjoying themselves.
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 even putting my crackers on a platter and covering tightly with plastic wrap the night before. The object of the game is to have as LEAST to do as possible the day-of.
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.) The object of the game is to do as little thinking as possible on the day-of. Creating this itinerary takes effort, but IT IS WORTH IT.
7) Do your hair/makeup as soon as you get up in the morning. This way it’s overwith and DONE. Yes, you will need to do touch-ups before your guests arrive, but – trust me – it is NOT FUN to have that shoot-I-still-need-to-get-ready feeling hanging over your head when you’re in the kitchen checking the progress of that casserole in the oven one hour before people show up at your door.
A bonus tip: Tell your husband that his ONLY responsibility that morning is to keep the kids out of your way.
What helps you stay stress-free on Thanksgiving?