How to Prep for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving

Stress-Free Thanksgiving
Photo by Andy Chilton on Unsplash.

By contributor Caylin Harris
So you’re hosting Thanksgiving, I’m not sure if congratulations are the right sentiment? But really it’s not that bad if you plan ahead. In an earlier post, I’ve compared Thanksgiving to a marathon and it’s true. Hosting isn’t a challenge because the food is more complicated, it’s just the sheer volume that can create problems. This year will be the seventh year I’ve hosted Thanksgiving—my parents got divorced when I was 18 so the hosting baton got passed a little earlier than most—and I’ve learned some truly valuable things along the way. Here’s what you should know now to pull off a flawless holiday:

Start planning early

I start thinking about the menu a few weeks out, but more than thinking I start writing things down. I have a word document saved on my computer that not only has my previous year’s menu, but my ingredient list, and my checklist for tasks to do leading up to Thanksgiving. And I know this might sound insane but it’s incredibly helpful and every year it’s easier because I’m not starting from scratch. So I start by taking a look at the menu from the previous year and I figure out what dishes I’ll make again (so the ones people really enjoyed) and which ones were just meh, then swap in dishes that I think will work better.

Here’s an important reminder: do not try out a recipe for the first time on Thanksgiving. If you think you want to make it, test it out before the day and then decide. Here’s some recipes we’ve shared in the past that are always crowd pleasers.

make it easier for yourself

So within my master doc, I mentioned that I keep a running list of all the ingredients I’ll need for every recipe I’m making. As a reward for your superior planning skills, I’m here to tell you that you can host Thanksgiving without going to the grocery store. Yup, you read that right. Take your ingredient list and order all of it online and get it delivered to your door. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Take a look at your list and divide where you can find what you need, you can find even the most obscure ingredients on the internet, just give yourself enough time for shipping. This will save you at least four hours!

Work ahead

Do not under any circumstances leave all of your cooking until the day of. Do whatever you can before. Not only will it free up time for you to enjoy the time with friends and family, it lightens the overall cooking load. I plan out what I can do ahead of time by day, everything from whipping up my stuffing the day before to pre-chopping veggies so all I have to do is cook them the day of. You’d be amazed based on your recipes how much you can figure out beforehand.

create a plan of attack

One of the trickiest parts of the day, figuring what needs to go in/on at what time, at what temp and for how long to have everything on the table by dinnertime. So simplify it. Make yourself a cheat sheet that tells you what you need to do throughout the day. Set alarms on your phone if you need reminders. It makes the whole process so much easier if you’re not trying to cook and do the math on what needs to go in the oven at what temp. Know that for things that don’t need to be cooked and just heated, you can get away with heating them at a different temp than the recipe calls for to squeeze in multiple dishes at the same time.

Forget perfection

If you’re cooking for a lot of people don’t worry about creating the perfect table setting. It’s not important, it’s really a win if you can all sit down at the table together. Last year I served up everything buffet style in the kitchen. So people filled their plates and then we sat down in the dining room. It freed up so much room not having all of the dishes piled onto the dining room table. Do what feels right for your house and your guests!

Good luck! You’re going to be great. Oh and do yourself a favor, when people insist on cleaning up after it’s all over? Let them, then go sit on the couch with a glass of wine and put your feet up. You’ve earned it.

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3 Comments

  1. Rach wrote:

    100% agree with this. I host every other year and planning and working ahead as much as possible helps so much!

    http://www.rdsobsessions.com

    11.13.19 | Reply
    • Caylin Harris wrote:

      It’s so much work but really helps when you break it up, I actually get to enjoy the day when I work ahead. Thanks for reading! xx

      11.13.19 | Reply
  2. Cece wrote:

    Thanks for these great suggestions. Would like to see a copy of your Master Plan doc.

    11.13.19 | Reply