Twenty Tips for a Stress Free Thanksgiving

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • It's almost here. Soon we will be gathering around the table with anywhere from a few to a room full of family and friends to take time to appreciate each other and all we have in our lives. It is a time to be grateful and to recognize all the goodness around us. But sometimes, the stress of trying to make everything perfect, to make sure everyone enjoys the day, to make sure the food is delicious gets the best of us. The following are twenty tips to make your Thanksgiving Day stress-free. As always, use those tips that are relative to your situation and ignore those that are not. And most of all, have fun and enjoy the company of your family and friends.

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    Remember: it is just a meal. If you have hosted Thanksgiving dinner before, you are an old pro. You know that even if the turkey is dry, everyone comes again next year anyway. If the potatoes are lumpy, your guests return next Thanksgiving. There are not any life and death decisions when making your Thanksgiving dinner. Remember, a meal is remembered for the feeling it brings, from sharing time, stories and laughs with those around you.

    Make a plan. Sit down this week, if you haven't already done so and make a plan. How many guests do you expect? Are there any food allergies you need to be aware of? What is on the menu? Where is everyone going to sit? Planning out the details of your dinner can help you feel more in control and less panicky.

    Make a grocery list. Heading off to the grocery store can be a fiasco without a list in hand. Even if this is your tenth time cooking Thanksgiving dinner, if you are anything like me, you'll come home without at least one important ingredient. Take the time to write out everything you need, check your cabinets to see what you already have and go to the store prepared to come home with everything on your list.

    Shop ahead of time. By the weekend before Thanksgiving, grocery stores are busy. With each passing day, they get busier. Instead of being frustrated by long lines and wasting time, shop at off-peak hours or shop early. If you don't have time, take a lunch hour to shop for all the non-perishables on your list so you only have to pick up items that need refrigeration later. The more you get done early, the less rushed you will feel later.

    Think about what you can make ahead of time. Are there foods on your menu, such as side-dishes or desserts that can be made the weekend before Thanksgiving and kept in your refrigerator? Free up some time to spend with friends and family on Thanksgiving Day rather than spending the time in the kitchen making every thing at the last minute.

    Test new dishes out on your family. You saw a fantastic recipe you want to try out for Thanksgiving dinner but you've never made it before. Take the time to test the recipe before serving it at the Thanksgiving meal. Find out what your family thinks. Be prepared for whether it is great or just ho-hum. You'll save yourself from being disappointed if it doesn't turn out the way you are imagining it.


  • Clean your house early. There is nothing like looking around the day before Thanksgiving and realizing you were so busy preparing food you completely forget to vacuum the rugs. Make sure you include cleaning on your master plan and start working on it a little each day. When Thanksgiving Day comes, the house will be ready to receive guests.

    Be ready for overnight guests. If you have guests traveling a distance to come for dinner, if the weather is going to be cold or snowy or you have a relative that tends to drink too much, be prepared with clean sheets and towels in case you end up with someone spending the night.

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    Think about any special dietary requirements of your guests.
    If you aren't sure if there are special requirements, call your guests to find out. You will feel guilty if you prepare a wonderful feast and see cousin Jim sitting quietly with hardly any food on his plate because his health issues don't allow him to eat the mashed potatoes or the stuffing. Take any special needs into consideration and have a variety of food for everyone to enjoy the meal.

    Keep appetizers to a minimum.
    Let's face it, with an entire Thanksgiving dinner, we really don't need appetizers, but it helps to keep everyone settled while dinner is cooking. Instead of loading everyone up on fatty foods, set out a plate of vegetables and dips.

    Plan to be done early the night before.
    No matter how much you have to do, make it part of your plan to stop preparations early the evening before your guests arrive to sit down and relax. This will help you feel more at ease with your guests. Be sure to get a good nights sleep and wake up Thanksgiving morning refreshed and ready to greet your guests.

    Consider serving dinner buffet style.
    Instead of worrying about getting everything on the table, set up a buffet table and let everyone fill their plates according to what they want. Have informal seating, letting everyone mingle together.

    Accept your family for who they are. There are probably family members you don't get along with, ones who always have a sarcastic comment or are just unpleasant to be around. Remember, family is made up of many different individuals and each person has contributed to the family in some way. Accept each person for who they are and try to find some positive in each person.

    Assign jobs to keep people busy. As you are making last minute preparations, you don't need people milling about, getting in the way. Instead, make a list of jobs that need to be completed, such as setting the table, folding napkins, getting out the silverware, washing pots already used. Keep the list by the kitchen door. If someone asks if she can help, point out the list and let her get to work. It will take some of the pressure off of you to complete everything by yourself, will make your guests feel needed and make the wait for dinner easier on everyone.

    Watch your budget. I know, it isn't Christmas, but hosting a Thanksgiving meal can get expensive. Make sure you don't blow your family's grocery budget for the month on a single meal.


  • Ask everyone to bring a dish. You supply the turkey, the home, and the wine. Let your guests supply their favorite Thanksgiving side dish and a dessert. Not only will it lessen your work, it will be fun to taste each person's contribution to the dinner. Just be sure you know in advance what people are bringing so you don't end up with turkey, stuffing and ten green bean casseroles for dinner.

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    Don't overindulge. When you have been looking forward to the Thanksgiving meal and smelling the food cooking, maybe for days, it is easy to gobble it down as if you have not eaten in a week. Remember moderation. Most likely you will have left-overs tomorrow, take your time, savor the flavors. You will feel better after dinner.

    Line up some games for the adults. Once dinner is over, have some games ready for the adults. This can be "getting to know each other" games or something simple like bingo or Pictionary or games geared to your situation. (see: Family Games for ideas.)

    Have activities for the children. Rent or borrow some children's DVDs and games. Purchase a few coloring books, crayons and other simple toys. If you have the room, set up a spare room as the children's area and place children's activities around. Enlist some of the older children to supervise the younger children so the parents can enjoy their time socializing.

    Forget tomorrow for the moment. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Stop worrying about the work you will need to do to get your house back in order or the shopping you plan to do. Spend the day being fully present in the celebration and enjoy each moment with your family and friends.

    Give thanks. That is, after all, what the day is all about. Take time throughout your celebration to remind yourself, and your guests, what you are thankful for. You might even want to set up a jar with paper and pen to have each guest write down what they are thankful for. Your guests don't need to put their name of the paper. During dinner, pass around the jar and have each person pull out a slip and read it. It will remind each other that difference should be set aside and each of us has many reasons to be thankful.

Published On: November 16, 2010