Going all out at Thanksgiving is truly an American tradition, one that has a particular urgency this year since we were cheated out of proper get togethers in 2020. (Thanks, coronavirus!)
Yet be warned—working yourself to the bone to host a huge blowout with all the trimmings could do a number on your sanity—and lead to a holiday meltdown that your friends and family will remember, well, forever!
Instead, consider this the year you decide to ease back into things and take a lazier approach to the Thanksgiving holiday. But this new hosting style still needs to be organized before you leap into the fray, say the experts.
“Make lists of everything you need to prep, do, or buy, and then tackle anything that isn’t time-sensitive or needs to be done at the last minute,” says Katie McCann, the organizing professional at Haven.
Once you have a handle on what you’ll accomplish and how you’d like the day to run, take a look at these easy shortcuts to help you lighten the load as Thanksgiving approaches.
Here’s to a healthy—and stress-free—turkey holiday!
Insist on potluck
This may seem rather obvious, but trying to cook the entire Thanksgiving meal yourself (or most of it) is the first thing to change when it comes to this holiday.
“Just have everyone bring a dish, ideally one they rock at,” says Ana Cummings of the eponymous design firm.
But nine or 10 casseroles lined up on your kitchen counter is just a replacement problem since most or all of them will need reheating in your already stuffed oven.
The fix? “Ask guests to bring their dishes in a crock pot so it can be plugged in, heated, and served right from there,” says McCann.
Hire a little help
Nah, we don’t necessarily mean to suggest that you hire staff to cater your party and do all the dishes. (That would be heavenly, though!) Instead, treat yourself to one or two luxuries when it’s your turn to host Thanksgiving. This might mean buying all the pies at a local church sale, or taking advantage of all the pre-cut, pre-washed options at the grocery store to save time and prep work.
“Half of the Thanksgiving dinner is all the prep involved and stores know this, so pick up ready-to-go items and make this step much easier,” says Cummings.
But if you truly love cooking, then get some help getting your house cleaned—before guests come or after they leave.
“If you don’t typically clean your own home, hire someone in this instance to take one task off your plate,” says McCann.
Nix the full bar
Tequila and turkey? They don’t really mix (some say), so consider removing this liquor—along with, say, the raspberry vodka and triple sec—from your home bar. A simple drinks menu is easier (and more affordable), and most people tend to pick the same few things with this meal every year.
Offer a single white and a single red wine, along with beer and one or two spirits from the more common ones (gin, vodka, bourbon) and that’s it. Soft drinks and mixers are necessary, too—but then leave it at that. You might even pre-batch a signature cocktail, says Andrea Correale of Elegant Affairs Caterers, who recommends one made with apple cider.
“Make it the night before, preset a tray with glasses and then serve it up—but not in the kitchen area—keep it in another room so you can work to get the dinner out with less stress,” she says.
Skip big appetizers
Just like a full bar, not serving a large assortment of appetizers is another way to save time and hassle.
“Lots of pre-dinner snacks mean extra platters, plates, forks, and dishes to clean up before the big meal, causing clutter in the kitchen and full guests who can’t enjoy the big meal that’s coming next,” says Correale.
Keep it simple! A couple of cheeses, crackers, and olives is plenty. Or make a charcuterie board as the appetizer course, says Cummings.
Set a simple table—ahead of time
Make your table a simple tableau by putting out one glass per guest, rather than options for wine, water, and a third for whatever strange imported port your Uncle Ken insists on pouring.
A universal wine glass works for any beverage, and it cuts down on all the dishes later on. And however you set your table, do it ahead so you can check off this item on your list, even several days before the holiday if you’re not using the table in the interim.
Find a spot for coats
Nothing makes you want to tear your hair out more than seeing everyone’s coats and bags draped on the couch, or worse, over the chairs at the table you so nicely set early.
Do yourself a favor, and clear some space in your coat closet or one of your kid’s closets, and direct folks to put their outwear in this designated spot.
Prepare for leftovers
Another annoying situation is being faced with a ton of leftovers and not enough fridge space to store them or eaters in your house to consume then. You can remedy this issue by gathering up enough plastic containers ahead of time so they’re ready to fill and send home with guests.
Set them up away from the dishwashing folks in a corner of the kitchen or on the dining room sideboard when the meal is over, and let guests help themselves to some pie slices, green bean casserole, and other leftovers.