One year I made every dish from scratch, including cranberry sauce and rolls. It was awesome to wield ultimate culinary power for a control freak like me. However, the entire day I was far too busy and stressed out to spend time with my family. By the time dinner rolled around I was too exhausted to enjoy the food I made.
Since I’m hosting Thanksgiving at my house this year, I’m striving to strike a balance between homemade food and relaxation.
The key to cooking a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner is planning, preparation, practice, and people.
First step of planning a Thanksgiving dinner is thinking about how many people will be attending your meal. Now, if there’s one thing I’m bad at its math. Add the fact that most home recipes use volume for measurement while most grocers sell food by weight, it’s hard to accurately calculate exactly how much you’ll need or how much you make will feed.
Since Thanksgiving is all about bountiful amounts of food, it’s not likely you’ll run out. Just keep in mind that most recipes are written for about four people, most grocery store ingredients (cans, meat sold by the pound), support this four-person recipe setup. In my mind, since there are so many options, most people will eat half of a normal serving. So if you’re hosting eight people, you can probably get away with making one of each average recipe.
Most people end their planning after setting the menu and writing a shopping list. But if you’re going to cook all the Thanksgiving hits, at least 10 different dishes and desserts, that is hours of prep, cooking, and cleanup. I’d recommend planning out exactly how long it takes to make each of these items from start to finish.
Equipment. Prepping for Thanksgiving means more than shopping, you’ve got to make sure you have all the equipment you need. When I make a recipe, I get out everything I’ll need ahead of time, because it saves time searching for gadgets in the cooking process. I’d also suggest having more than one set of common items, such as measuring spoons, measuring cups, sheet pans. Make sure you’ve got a roasting pan that will fit the 40 lb monster turkey you’ve been eyeing at Costco. (A roasting rack really does make a difference, so invest in one!)
Buy a double supply of tin foil. I’d also get some aluminum foil pans for most dishes too, so stacking the pre-made things is easier in your refrigerator.
Even if you have extra stuff, make sure you clean up as you go along. Make sure you’ve got lots of clean microfiber and kitchen towels, disinfectant spray, clean sponges, trash bags. I’d suggest having an extra trashcan without a lid near your prep area too. Get a set of nice rubber gloves too- makes cleaning up all the better, and your hands won’t be dried out at the end of the week.
I’d also go so far as to practice your dishes the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Think of Thanksgiving like the Super Bowl. If you’re the quarterback you wouldn’t try out new things the day of the game, so don’t try to fry a Turkey for the first time on Thanksgiving. If it’s me, I’m going to make most dishes in the days before anyway.
At the very least, do a mentally rehearsal of your Thanksgiving schedule. It’s my military experience, or the fact I’m a worry wart, but I like to mentally walk through everything I’m going to make before I make it. Mentally walking through the recipe allows you to double check your ingredients- that way, if you forget something, you have time to go get it.
Like Frozen, you should just let it go- you’re not going to be able to do everything yourself. Nor should you try, Thanksgiving is about gatherings of loved ones and friends just as much as its about food. Let people help you. Let people bring things. Most of your friends and family don’t want to watch you run around busy and stressed out. No one likes a martyr.
Figure out what’s most important for you to make yourself. If none of your friends can cook, there’s always commercial options out there. Most grocery stores offer a pre-cooked thanksgiving box. Boston Market, Bob Evans are just two restaurants that also have entire meals available for purchase. They’ll bring it to your house and everything!
- Plan your cooking schedule by time.
- Try to make as much as possible in the days leading up to the big meal. Food tastes better the next day anyway (because science). https://www.forbes.com/sites/nadiaarumugam/2011/11/23/the-science-of-leftovers-why-they-taste-so-good/#622599547d27
- Double check your cooking equipment, buy extra cleaning and prep supplies.
- Practice your recipes before the holiday.
- Let other people help you either in the kitchen, or by bringing stuff to dinner. Research catered options too. A store-bought pie won’t hurt anyone.
However you plan to make your Thanksgiving dinner, just remember that it’s your holiday too. Whether you want to meticulously plan and cook a perfect meal, or eat Boston Market in your sweatpants, whether you want to be alone or with everyone you’ve ever met, do what you want! This is America, you’re free to do what you think is best, and for that I’m thankful.
P.S. If you’ve never read The Oatmeal’s Thanksgiving comic, do so now: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/thanksgiving