Shortcuts for Hosting a Stress-Free Holiday Meal

This year my husband, Dave, and I hosted my parents, sisters and Grandma for Thanksgiving. We’ve hosted several holiday meals since we moved to Texas five years ago, but this is the first Thanksgiving we’ve hosted since we’ve become parents. We weren’t sure how complicated hosting Thanksgiving might become by adding a toddler to the mix, so we intentionally took several shortcuts to lessen the stress of hosting a big family meal—especially important when you’re 22 weeks pregnant. We were both pleasantly surprised how easy the meal preparation was this time around, so I wanted to share the shortcuts we took that helped us tremendously.

  • Only invite relatives from one side of the family at a time, especially if you live in another city than your guests. While technically my grandma is an in-law to my mother, for Dave and me everyone who celebrated Thanksgiving with us was from my side of the family. From experience, we’ve found this simply works best for our extended family, as the two sides of the family have significantly different interests and food preferences. Plus everyone gets along better and has quality time with my son, who until this spring is the only grandchild on both sides of the family.
  • Order the turkey. Based on the recommendation of a Texas native friend, we ordered a Greenberg Smoked Turkey. The company recommends serving the turkey chilled or at room temperature, so no cooking is needed! This not only saves time, but valuable oven real estate on the day of Thanksgiving. I found the turkey to be quite tasty, and Dave and Levi loved the chilled leftovers. Almost all of the meat-eaters in my family raved about the smoky flavor, and even those who said it was just OK aren’t big fans of turkey in the first place.
  • Limit the number of dishes you are serving, and select dishes you’ve prepared before and aren’t too labor-intensive. Preparing fewer dishes allowed us to spend less time in the kitchen and more time visiting with family. While trying new recipes can be fun, it adds stress when preparing a new dish for a big group on a holiday so centered around food. Dave and I have been starting to evaluate recipes on a whole new scale: taste relative to the effort it takes to prepare it. We found this significantly reduces our stress in everyday meal preparation.
  • Plan out your cooking schedule. Thanks to the ever-organized and talented Jenny Hobick at Everyday Occasions, I downloaded a Thanksgiving planning worksheet from her Thanksgiving Guide. This allowed me to list out all the dishes I was planning to make along with cooking temperatures and times, so I could plan when I needed to assemble everything as well as when everything needed to be in the oven. I did add one additional column to the printed worksheet I used; I listed which cookbook I could find the recipe in to make it easier to track down the instructions I needed. For me, it was important because I reference recipes via a Pinterest board, family and personal recipe binders, old recipe and email printouts from years past, and traditional cookbooks.
  • Cook what you can ahead of time. On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, I prepared whipped garlic mashed potatoes from scratch as well as pumpkin polka-dot cupcakes. I was able to assemble both during naptime and do most of the cleanup while my son ate his post-nap snack. Going into Thanksgiving day, it was nice to know these dishes were already completed or, in the case of the mashed potatoes, just needed to be heated.
  • Enlist helpers in the kitchen. Not only does meal preparation go much more quickly with additional hands, it’s much more fun to strike up a conversation while you’re performing routine tasks in the kitchen. Having the cooking schedule handy took the mental gymnastics out of thinking about what needed to be done when and allowed me to delegate dishes more easily when asked “What can I do to help?”
  • Serve your meal at dinner time. We ended up with a dinner time Thanksgiving meal for the first time because of logistics—my sister Molly flew in from Denver on Thanksgiving morning and my son, Levi, takes a noon nap. The best part about serving the big meal at dinner time was that we had the whole day to prepare it, so we could take our time and relax a bit without waking super early. This also allowed me to partake in a long walk with my sister Kayla, which I was able to do twice during her visit. It was great sister bonding time, as Molly was also able to join us on the day after Thanksgiving.

Hope this helps you enjoy your holidays more!