When I was a kid, my grandmother, aunts and mom all cooked together for Thanksgiving. Everyone would get together a few days before to get started on their special dish. Grandma had to make the stuffing, and one of my aunts was great at mac and cheese and cheesecake. That tradition has been passed down to the next generation, and now my sister, mother, grandmother and I all cook different dishes.
Cooking is one of my favorite pastimes, but cooking a big meal without a plan can take time away from family and friends and add stress to the season. Most of us would rather watch the Bears play the Lions from the couch, not from the kitchen. With that in mind, here are a few tips for removing stress from Thanksgiving and adding more time to focus on family.
1. Make cooking a family affair.
Invite all the cooks over to prepare their special dishes that can be prepared in advance a few days before the holiday. It makes for great memories and family fun -- plus you get a little bit of all your favorite family recipes mixed into one meal!
2. Start prep early.
Prepare fresh vegetables like green beans and collard greens early Thanksgiving week. Cook them halfway and then freeze them. I often prepare our stuffing early by chopping all the vegetables and baking the cornbread and preparing the stuffing by mixing it all together without cooking it. I then freeze the two pans for a day. Just don't forget to defrost it the night before Thanksgiving to have amazing stuffing and vegetables for the whole family!
3. Use prepared sides to help save time and frustration.
Cooking everything from scratch can really add to your to-do list. I like to buy a few prepared sides and make them my own. For example, I'll pick up a side of sweet potato casserole from the store or restaurant and add my own twist! I just crush the pecans, bake them and spread them on top using brown sugar to add that caramelized touch. Then pop it into the oven for about 45 minutes and it's done.
4. Let the kids help.
As a mom, I know it can be hard to cook that big meal with little ones needing your attention. I always give my kids fun tasks so that they can contribute -- and so that I can multitask. For example, the kids will set the table, help decorate the house, or even decorate cookies or cupcakes. They also like to go with Dad to run last-minute errands on the big day as he prepares to fry the turkey.
5. Don't fret!
Something could go wrong -- it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a few mishaps, like another run to the grocery store because you forgot the chicken broth. Don't let that worry you! Take the time to enjoy the day with family and friends you don't see very often. If someone adds baking powder instead of salt to your favorite side dish, don't fret -- you can always make a last-minute trip to the store or a restaurant for another side (but make sure they're open Thanksgiving Day!).
6. Make the kitchen a welcoming place.
Don't fight the tendency for people to congregate in the kitchen. Carve out a place where friends and family won't be too in-the-way, then put some snacks out so they know they're welcome. On Thanksgiving Day, think about small jobs you can give guests who come in asking, "What can I do?" They'll feel helpful, and it will take at least a couple of things off your plate.
7. The dishes can wait.
As the host, when you leave the table, you're leaving your guests. All the dirty dishes will still be there later; enjoy the time you have with your family and friends.
8. Think about leftovers in advance.
Think ahead about what needs to be reheated and how much oven, stove and microwave space you have. Sometimes I will make a cold side dish like potato salad to save room and time heating.
I hope these tips help provide a stress-free Thanksgiving!