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A Stress-Free Thanksgiving

Ten tips for an easier holiday

There are plenty of small steps you can take to reduce holiday stress. 

1. Arm yourself with a plan: Sit down and make a guest list. From the number of guests, plan your menu. Then you can create a complete shopping list and decide if you're doing all of the cooking or if others will be bringing dishes. Take inventory at least two weeks out of your dinnerware, kitchen tools, and gadgets, spices and other staples in your pantry, and don't forget to count chairs!

2. Shop early: Grocery stores get more packed the longer you wait, plus you run the risk of some of your needs being sold out. Try to do your shopping early morning or late evening at least one week before the big day.

3. Make-ahead magic: Plenty of side dishes, desserts, and breads can be made ahead of time. This frees up your counter space and your to-do list. If you do have to make several dishes on Thanksgiving, try to distribute them evenly between the stovetop, the oven, and the microwave.

4. Perform a test flight: If you're making a side dish for the first time or using ingredients that you aren't familiar with, try them out beforehand so you'll be prepared for success on Thanksgiving Day. Ditto if you're serving a new wine or using new equipment, like a brand new oven.

5. Manage the little ones: Keeping the kids occupied takes time as well. Having a group of kid-friendly DVDs on hand is a no-brainer, but don't stop there. Kids can help in the kitchen with cookie decorating or in the dining room with setting the table.

6. Shrink the menu: With the size of the feast on most of our tables, it really isn't necessary to load your guests up on dips, snacks, or appetizers. A platter of cut fresh vegetables should do the trick.

7. Turkey duty: As the place where all eyes are focused, preparing a perfect Thanksgiving turkey carries a huge amount of stress. The most important thing: don't forget to thaw the turkey. In the refrigerator is the best method, but will take longer. You can also submerge the turkey in cold water to speed thawing. Keep the bird basted as it cooks and let it stand for at least 30 minutes after it comes out of the oven to keep it moist.

8. Quick fixes: Purchasing store-bought desserts and adding your own flair is a great timesaver. Defrost a frozen pumpkin pie, top with streusel, and bake. Or simmer cranberries in orange juice and a little sugar just until they pop and spoon over purchased pound cake.

9. Plan an after-dinner activity: Plan something for the family to do after dinner. Pre-purchase movie tickets for the opening blockbuster and fold them in your napkins. Have your yard staked out for a game of flag football. Your guests will love having the planning done for them.

10. Don't sweat it: The true secret to being a gracious host or hostess (and keeping your own sanity) is to not let small problems ruin the day. If one of your side dishes burns, simply toss it out and enjoy the bounty you do have. If the turkey burns, order take-out. And don't forget to laugh.

Ready to get started on your best Thanksgiving ever?

Nov. 1, 2009 1:49 pm
One thing we do is play a Christmas Trivia game to start planning ahead with the kids running the show.
Nov. 3, 2009 3:15 pm
Each guest brings something--a dessert, soda, wine, etc..
Nov. 3, 2009 11:17 pm
I go so far as to cook my turkey the day ahead. I slice it up & place it on a large jelly roll pan & wrap it up tightly with foil. Just warm it up on the big day & you're good-to-go. I like being able to enjoy myself too on Thanksgiving day & this helps a lot because the clean up is a cinch. No carcass to debone.
Nov. 4, 2009 4:27 pm
I make the dessert the day before and I roast my turkey EARLY on Thanksgiving day, cut it up and fill up a buffet serving dish with one pan of white turkey, a pan of dark turkey and a pan of stuffing. I make the gravy (from the drippings of course) and put it in a slow cooker. Doing this keeps everything hot and ready to eat. TIP* I buy a good chicken stock and add just a little in the turkey pans, this keeps the turkey EXTRA moist and I get compliments every year that my turkey is moist! Most of the work is done early and then I can relax and get ready for the guests. I also plan a game to play after. Usually Spades which is fun and easy for everyone! Cranium is also a fun board game that my family enjoys. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
Nov. 8, 2009 12:23 pm
I'm not sure where I heard it from but a great idea I found was filling a cooler full of soapy water, putting it on a back porch or just outside and out of the way and taking the large pots and pans you're only going to use once and putting them in there for clean up later so they don't clutter up the space you have and you don't have to waste time cleaning them right away.
Nov. 8, 2009 5:10 pm
Does anyone know if the "Make ahead" Mashed potatoes (made with cream cheese and sour cream) can be made ahead and FROZEN?? I think I read somewhere that they can be...
Nov. 9, 2009 12:06 pm
I am doing the unthinkable this year, after making the entire meal form scratch myself for the last six years in a row. I have ordered a precooked dinner at a local highend grocery store. Turkey, real potatoes, gravy, stuffing, pumpkine pie and good rolls and green beans. I'll add a fruit pie, drinks and someone will bring an appetizer. DONE. This year I want to enjoy myself and not do six loads of dishes. So we'll see how happy we are with this. by the way you can freeze the mashed potatoes with cream cheese, no problem (that's my recipe too). Also reheat them a few hours ahead in a crock pot which keeps them hot and not dryed out for serving.
Nov. 18, 2009 12:12 pm
I think it's also VERY important to plan for after the feast. I always get up early and carefully plan out my day for when I will prepare each dish. I take care of most of the prep in the morning when I have the most energy and then just have to swap pans in and out of the oven. This gives me a chance to take a break every few hours to lay down or spend some time with my family. I always find that AFTER dinner is the hardest though. All that food and standing on my feet leaves me so tired I have trouble bringing myself to clean up and put the food away. I make a point to wash dishes and wipe down counters as I go throughout the day, and if I can rinse out a mixing bowl and reuse it rather than making another dirty, I always do that. I think it's SUPER important to stock up on Ziploc bags and large tupperware when I'm doing my shopping so that I can easily put away the leftovers. Make sure you clean out your fridge, consolidate containers, and throw out unwanted leftovers before doing y
Nov. 18, 2009 1:09 pm
I do prep the day before, cut up all the veggies for the stuffing, put in plastic containers, make the bread for the stuffing, cut up cheese for snacking. In the morning, all I have to do is toss all the ingredients together for the stuffing. Saves a ton of time. This year I'm going to make the turkey stock a few days ahead of time and freeze it, I'll be able to thaw and use it for the stuffing and then make my gravy quickly! I also make my pecan pie the day before.
Nov. 20, 2009 11:22 am
Last year was the first time I ever made a big holiday meal and I made it all and I made way too much. I had a good plan and the meal was a huge success! But I was really stressed out by the time dinner got here. This year I am reducing the menu and asked everyone to bring something so I can focus on a repeat performance of excellent turkey. Something I found that helped in planning last year, Make it ahead! If I could prepare it early I did!
Nov. 21, 2009 5:50 pm
It helps to do as much as you can ahead. This year I've decided to give to give the others a chance to show off their culinary skills. I love to cook but I can to the other 364 days of the year!
Nov. 21, 2009 6:25 pm
Ihave been making Thanksgiving dinner for so many years I forget. I have learned alot. This is the Saturday before and i have 2 pumpkin pies, 2 peacan pies and 1 pumpkin cheescake already mad and in the freezer. i have the bread dried and the vegs. chopped to go into the dressing in the freezer. i have my homemade cranberry sauce made and yup..in the refrigerator. the table is aready set with glasses, cups dishes turned upside down so as not to get dusty. i will start to make my soup on Weds. and chill overnight. the turkey and the ham are defrosting as we speak in the refrigerator. should be done on weds. so it is easy to prepare startiang a week ahead of time. it stays fine , defrosts well and lets you enjoy your gueswts and a few glasses of wine!!! "HAPPY TURKEY DAY EVERYONE!!"
Oct. 11, 2010 12:10 pm
Being retired, living alone and spending Canadian Thanksgiving by myself, I turned Thanksgiving into a project. I started the previous week by planning my menu. From there I checked Allrecipes for some ideas. The final menu was Asparagus and Curry dip, pork tenderloin with honey grape sauce, double baked potatoes, garlic roasted cauliflower, and a store bought pumpkin pie. The real fun started whe I checked my pantry and bought all the missing necessities. Then I was able to make a one item, starting on the Friday, and another piece each day until Monday. It sounds simple but when you are alone it makes each day a bit special in the lead up to the BIG day. Thanks for your help, allrecipes.
Nov. 20, 2010 9:58 am
Every year at Thanksgiving our Grandma hosts it at her house and makes the necessities, turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, etc. Then she assigns every relative a dish or vegetable to bring. Every year we get to eat something different and/or new, and everyone gets to contribute.
Nov. 2, 2011 8:30 am
We've been hosting Thanksgiving sit down dinner for our families for over 30 yrs. We've experimented w/ many time saving ideas & each year as the guest list gets larger we find all the prep. & the day to be getting much easier. Making lists & keeping them from yr. to yr. has been a life saver for us. I always refer to previous yrs lists for help w/ figuring out amounts of food to be prepared for the # of guests that will be coming that particular year. Every family that comes brings a dish(normally the samething every yr.)& we have quite a variety of sides. We always prepare 2 turkeys, the sizes depend on the # of guests. One turkey is prepared the day before, carved & the meat is stored in two ziplocks..1 for white meat & 1 for dark. On Thanksgiving as the main turkey is being carved I just "nuke" the meat that had been stored. We have found that smaller turkeys tend to be moister & easier to handle, especially when turning them over 1/2 way thru the cooking process. All our serving p
Nov. 2, 2011 1:14 pm
I have been cooking all the family meals for 27 years, and here's the biggest tip I can give any new Thanksgiving chef: do as much in advance as you possibly can. 1. Stuff that needs to be chopped (onions, celery, nuts, etc.) can be chopped early in the week and stored in the fridge. 2. Bread can be baked several weeks in advance and frozen. 3. There are recipes for make-ahead side dishes, such as mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole, so you don't have as much to put together at the last minute. 4. I make my gravy 2 or 3 days in advance, then reheat and add pan drippings on Thanksgiving day. 5. Measure the spices for each recipe and place in small plastic bags and label "for pumpkin pie" or whatever; that way it is ready when you need it. 6. Set your table the night before. 7. When you are cooking keep the sink full of dishwater and clean up your kitchen as you go.
Nov. 3, 2011 3:19 pm
I just want to say I love all your stories.
Nov. 8, 2011 1:52 pm
Hi Laurie Ann Here's the recipe I have for the make ahead mash potatoes: Three-Day Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes 5 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes 1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, at room temperature 1 tablespoon Kosher salt 2 teaspoons ground white pepper 1 (4 ounce) carton of sour cream 1 (8 ounce) carton of small curd cottage cheese 2 tubes single soda crackers or 2 packages of the squares, crushed finely Butter a 9x12-inch casserole dish or cake pan. Peel and cook the potatoes (steam or boil); drain off the water. Mash the cooked potatoes with 1-1/2 sticks of butter and add the salt and pepper. Stir in the sour cream. Gently fold in the cottage cheese. Put into the casserole dish or cake pan. Top with a dusting of the crushed crackers and dot or drizzle with the remaining 1/2 stick of butter. Cover tightly. You can refrigerate the casserole up to three days. To serve, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Gently stir before s
Nov. 10, 2011 6:37 pm
I have been doing Thanksgiving for over 30 yrs now and one thing I do that makes it a lot easier is cook my turkey the day before. I debone it and place the meat in my roaster oven pan with all the juices and enough water to just cover it. On Thanksgiving, I heat up the turkey in the roaster or in the oven. If in the roaster, we usually have buffet style and I leave it there with white meat at one end and dark at the other. If in the oven, I usually put it in at 400 for about 25 mins. Then I take it out and put it on a platter. Either way, everyone always raves about my turkey because it is so moist, not the least bit dry. I set aside some of the juices to make the gravy and I warm up my stuffing in the oven or in the microwave.
Kathy Shields 
Nov. 11, 2011 3:02 am
I cook the turkey the day before and debone it,then put it in a crock pot with some gravy to keep it moist(not to much). Reheat the next day slowly after adding more gravy.I put stuffing and /or mashed potatoes in another crock pot and do the same thing. Frees up the kitchen and the cook gets to spend more time with family. They love it as everything is ready when they are and tastes great!
Nov. 11, 2011 8:56 am
I agree with chopping all veggies up to 2 days before & preparing the cornbread for the stuffing. Another thing I like to do is prepare my peaches (for cobbler) & OF COURSE clean & wash the greens. I like to brine my turkey over night to ensure that no matter the size of the turkey it will be moist & tender. Also, I find that by cooking the turkey in a Reynold's oven bag it GREATLY reduces the baking time as well as you don't have to baste during cooking - the bag helps to baste & brown the turkey. One last thing is I am trying Paula Deen's (from Food Network) mystery pecan pie which adds a layer of a cream cheese filling to the pie - so I will definitely try the recipe out this weekend & hand out samples to ensure everyone enjoys it :). I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving & try not to tire yourselves out too much because Walmart's black Friday starts 10pm Thanksgiving night this year - yay!
Nov. 13, 2011 1:13 pm
Hubby & I have been hosting Turkey Day for the past 20 years! I make the turkey, oyster dressing, prailine sweet potatoes, mashed rutabegas and 3 pies; lemon meringue, peacan, and pumpkin. I sometimes ask my mother-in-law to bring a french silk pie (scratch made from a small cafe where they live) or I make a small apple crisp but the other three pies are an annual tradition & expected by all! :-) I have my sis bring the mashed potatoes (so great to not have to hassle with these on top of everything else!) and ask the other guests to contribute the veggie sides, cranberries, rolls & wine. I still do alot of the cooking, but that's part of why I like to host! One huge peice of advice I have is to start power cleaning your house several days in advance so that part is all done a day or two before the big day. It's super stressful when you are facing all of that prepping/cooking PLUS have a house that needs to be presentable for gusets! And get your grocery shopping done a week or so in ad
May 8, 2012 9:24 am
This is a great breakdown of steps for a stress-free holiday! I try to follow these for all holidays that I am entertaing. Thanks for a great article.
Nov. 7, 2012 1:59 pm
Thank you so much for this article (and I love all the comments too)! My in-laws, for the last several years have actually taken us to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. I love to work with my kitchen tools and gadgets, so for me, making the dinner myself is a good time. I like the ideas here about planning, pre-prep, and clean-up. Thanks, everyone!
Nov. 9, 2012 9:16 pm
Some years, we have our Thanksgiving meal on Friday, due to one of our children needing that accomadation. There are other families, often affected. So, we try to roll w/the punches. I end up doing too much 'the day of'. But,I usually have a pie & my sweet potatoes done, the night before. My husband peels potatoes & sometimes makes the mashed potatoes. And, he carves the turkey. I sure like that idea, of putting sliced turkey in the slow cooker. It always get cold, sitting on a platter. Happy Turkey Day!
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