I’m not cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving this year. I’ve given up and turned that job over to someone else. It’s not what you think- I can cook a turkey that’s beautiful and delicious. But my family has chosen another way. Let me explain.
For the past few years my husband has insisted on smoking a turkey in addition to the roasted turkey that I cook. I mean, doesn’t every family need two turkeys? We’ve joked about it being the great turkey cook-off and wonder each year whose will be better. The children and others at the meal evaluate and vote and he’s been winning the competition.
Everyone seems to prefer a smoked turkey, so this year I will relinquish the turkey preparation to him, and count that as one less task for me to do. This has been a hard one to let go of, probably because it is a shift in one of the traditional components of the meal and I’m a big stickler for tradition. But when a clearly better way presents itself, it’s okay to let go.
In the midst of the stress that we’re all experiencing, this is the year to let things go. I imagine that Thanksgiving will look different for many of us. Gatherings will most likely be affected by those who feel uncomfortable being in a group setting or who choose to quarantine due to exposure to Covid-19. In my own family, some of us have had the virus and others have managed to stay well by social distancing so unless I move the feast outside, those members probably won’t be attending.
So the first tip for staying sane is to acknowledge that this year is different and be open to the feelings that come along with that reality. Feelings of sadness or grief for those who are not present; disappointment that the whole gang can’t be together and it’s not the same. Look at the things that you can let go this year.
What’s Most Important?
The second tip for hosting a successful Thanksgiving is to decide the most important part of the occasion and focus on that one aspect of the occasion. Is it the food and having all the family favorites? Is it setting a beautiful table and having unique fall decor? Is your family focused on the big football game, where snacks, drinks and disposables work best? Once you know what’s most important you can let the others go. Especially in a stressful year, keeping the main thing the main thing and not adding stress by trying to do it all will help.
In her book, The Lazy Genius Way, Kendra Adachi frequently says to name what matters. I’ll be the first to admit that I put tremendous pressure on myself to do it all perfectly- perfect food, beautiful table settings, meaningful conversation among family reflecting on our blessings. Even writing this I see how incredibly impossible and stressful those expectations are. And how easily I set myself up for disappointment. So especially this year, I will name what matters and put most of my efforts there.
Make a Plan/Work the Plan
Few of us cook on the scale of a traditional Thanksgiving feast. In fact, Thanksgiving may be the only time we attempt to do this and it takes some planning and logistics to pull it off. There are many decisions that have to be made: menu, time for the meal, guest list, how to seat everyone, table settings, dishes, drinks, pot luck or not. And by now, you might have an idea which of these things you will prioritize.
After people, my priority is great food and having many of the traditional dishes that I grew up enjoying, especially cornbread dressing and mom’s homemade rolls, and fresh pumpkin pie with whipped cream. I’m not the biggest fan of turkey, and I’ll eat almost any vegetable so the rest of the menu is easy to fill out by asking the rest of the group what they want to have.
The secret to pulling off a big meal is to develop a plan, not only for the day of the meal, but for the days leading up to the event as well. Here are some 9 considerations for creating a plan of attack.
- Start with the menu. Write out all of the dishes you want to serve then determine which ones you will make, which you will buy, and which you will ask guests to bring.
- Gather the recipes for the dishes you are cooking and use them to make a shopping list.
- Shop for groceries well before Thanksgiving week- not just the week before but two or three weeks ahead. There are many sales and items you can pick up that will stay fresh, plus the grocery stores get crazy with everyone else who is last-minute shopping.
- Clean out the refrigerator (and freezer) to make room for the groceries and items you’ll prepare ahead of time.
- If you will be cooking a turkey, buy it early. Frozen turkeys need ample time to thaw, and the safest way to thaw the big bird is in the refrigerator over several days. Butterball.com has all the help you need for calculating how much turkey to buy and how long to defrost your bird. If you plan to brine the bird (which I highly recommend), add two additional days to the schedule.
- Decide which dishes can be made ahead of time. Some suggestions include roll dough, pies, cornbread for dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes that will be baked later, and many vegetable dishes.
- Map out the cooking for the week ahead of the holiday by filling in the foods you will prepare on certain days. For Thanksgiving day, create an hour by hour schedule working backwards from the time you want to eat. It may seem silly to say this but work the plan. It may require discipline, but you will be happier if you spread the workload out over a few days rather than cramming it into one day.
- Include the dining arrangements in your plan- will you need additional folding tables to accommodate everyone? What kind of table covering will you use? Centerpieces? Dishes? Flatware? Cups? Dessert plates? Will you use disposable items? Set up your tables a day or two ahead of time. Gather serving bowls and platters and label them with post-it notes so you’re not scrambling to find them on Thanksgiving day.
- Share the plan with your family and those who will be helping get the meal ready. Ask for help from anyone who is able. As a reformed perfectionist, lone-ranger hostess, having help for this meal is essential. Consider printing out the cooking schedule for the day and posting it on the fridge.
If you feel that additional support would be helpful for you, I created The Complete Feast: A Day-by-Day Guide to Pulling off Thanksgiving. The guide contains recipes for Thanksgiving essential dishes, a 12 day calendar with prompts for preparation tasks, and an hourly schedule for Thanksgiving day. You will receive 12 days of email support and membership in a private Facebook group for extra support, all for just $17. Purchase The Complete Feast by clicking here.
After acknowledging that this year is different than most and naming what matters, making a plan and allowing others to help you will be able to have a meaningful and successful Thanksgiving celebration, no matter what form it takes. After all, the point is to pause and be grateful no matter what and in spite of it all.