Enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with your family should be the priority when it comes to entertaining for that special day.
But for the host of this dinner, this can become an Olympic event! Preparing, shopping, cooking, baking, and still looking good for the day and not frazzled can be difficult even for the seasoned entertainers!
As the host or hostess we tend to focus on everything being perfect especially if you have invited many guests besides your family, or maybe this is the first year you are entertaining the “in-laws”.
So, here are 5 great tips I have learned over the years of hosting the family Thanksgiving dinner and hope you find them helpful in your quest to actually enjoy the dinner with your family instead of running around and stressing.
1. Come up with a menu ahead of time
When planning the menu think about what appliances you have and how many of these dishes will cook at the same time. It can be nice to have scalloped potatoes, but if they need to be in the oven at the same time as 10 other things then this should not be on your list. Why stress yourself?
So, think the menu through. The simpler the better, or if you must have some of these fancier side dishes, make sure they are something you can do ahead of time.
2. Pot Luck!
This has got to be one of the best Thanksgiving dinner ideas I put forth to my family. Growing up my mother used to put on an amazing Thanksgiving dinner, and as kids you really didn’t see all the work that went into it, you simply ate it all then went off to play.
But as I got older I used to see how tired my mom was when the dinner was over. It would take about an hour to fully eat something she had obviously worked on for days. Cooking, baking, setting the table up just right and all the side dishes we loved, but then while we are enjoyed each other’s company and got caught up afterwards, she would have a nap!
So, when I took over the holiday dinner, I decided that I wanted to enjoy it too, so I decided that others could bring part of the dinner. I would host and cook the main event and do the setup but others would bring veggies, potatoes or even dessert.
No one was left out! My brother, who couldn’t cook if his life depended on it, was and still is always asked to bring crusty rolls and butter.
This made for a great dinner. I just made sure we had the bases covered. So, they would get switched around if needed each year, but the way it works right now, is my sister and her family bring the dessert. They can either bake them or buy them we don’t care! My mom brings a potato dish she likes to make. Friends would bring veggies and dips for appetizers or veggie main dishes.
This way my main job was the turkey, ham and the stuffing and setup of tables. This is not only easier on you but your wallet too!
3. Cook the turkey ahead of time
I know a lot of people don’t like this idea, and want the turkey sitting at the head of the table just like in those Norman Rockwell paintings or in the movies, but for me this was not practical.
No one in my family liked carving it, and it simply took too long and it was messy!
So, I have taken to prepping and cooking the turkey the day before. It would take about 5 hours in my oven, so I would then do a bit of cleaning or getting other things ready or simply have time to myself and read before the next day when a slew of relatives would show up!
Once it was cooked, I would carve it, and take my time without anyone watching. I took the huge roasting pan and simply laid all the turkey slices right into the juices. Dealt with the carcass by wrapping it in foil and putting it in the freezer (yes you can freeze what is left of your poor turkey ready for soup making another time) just make sure and label it before putting it in the freezer. You don’t want any rude surprises when you think you are hauling out a roast only to find a picked over turkey!
By keeping the sliced turkey pieces right in the juice you will keep them moist. Then cover the roasting pan in foil and make room in the fridge. I even make the gravy ahead of time. This way if the turkey doesn't look its best or it needs more cooking you can deal with it on your own, rather than on the day when lots of people are waiting to eat! Your turkey job is done now.
4. Setup Early
Try and do most of your setup the night before if you can. Even if it simply means getting rid of a few knick knacks and hauling out those dusty chairs from the back of the garage, basement or shed and cleaning them off.
If you can setup the table and chairs and set it you will already be ahead of the game. It just seems so much less stress to do this with one or two of you rather than rushing around while cooking dinner and people milling about
As nice as it is that you will get people asking “do you need any help?” unless they know your kitchen inside out, this actually, in my opinion causes more stress as they start asking for things and where to find them. So and try to keep people out of your work space or it gets too busy and stressful.
By having all your serving plates, casserole dishes and serving utensils out of the drawers and ready then you are not frantically searching during the event.
Try and imagine the foods you are going to be serving and how they will get from your oven or counter to their plate to eat! This way you will know just what you need.
5. Incorporate the Barbeque
If you have a barbeque this would be a great place to heat things up. Or in my case, everyone loves my baked potatoes. I prep them the day before by slicing into them and then placing slices of onion and bits of cheese and wrapping them in foil.
This way they can be cooking away on the barbeque and not taking up room in the oven.
This way the only thing that needs to be in my oven is my roasting pan of turkey and anything that guests bring that needs heating up.
Now you are ready and can sit down with your guests and hopefully enjoy a stress free thanksgiving!
I hope these Thanksgiving dinner ideas have helped to start your plan now so that you can enjoy the day.
But if even this sounds stressed, then order out or get a bucket of chicken! I have a few friends who do this as Thanksgiving to them, means simply being with family no matter what they eat! Enjoy!