The following is a guest post from regular contributor, Emily at So Damn Domestic.
If you’re in the United States, and if you have managed to block out the early Christmas hype, you’re probably starting to think about Thanksgiving.
And your Thanksgiving feast.
Maybe you’ve even ordered or purchased your turkey already, or you’ve revived your “Thanksgiving Recipes” Pinterest board.
To be honest, you might even be stressing out a little bit.
But it doesn’t need to be so complicated. I promise.
Here are 3 steps I always take to have an Organized Thanksgiving Feast:
Step 1: Plan.
You’re not planning a wedding. It’s okay to relax on the centerpieces and napkin rings, fancy chargers and placemats, and 49 different kinds of beverages.
Plan. But plan simply.
What are your absolute favorite non-negotiable favorite Thanksgiving foods? Write those down. Also gather the recipes so that you have them all in one place ahead of time, and use the recipes to make your shopping list.
Now fill in the blanks. If you’re only cooking for your immediate family, you don’t need all of the “fixin’s.” You can have one entree, a couple of side items, and one dessert, and call it good.
If you’re hosting a large gathering, you’ll want more options though. Most people will want to bring something to contribute to the meal, so find out what they’re planning. If a few people are making their favorite side items, just make sure they’re not all green bean casserole. Your friends or family members will appreciate a heads up about what other people have already said they’re going to bring.
And if someone doesn’t know what to bring, or they’re not very good at cooking, you can suggest a store-bough pumpkin pie, or ask them to pick up a bottle of wine or some dinner rolls on the way over. Most people feel pretty comfortable making a salad, too.
Whatever you do, DON’T say, “Aw, no thanks. I’ve got it. Just show up!” when people ask you what they can contribute. Accept the help, take a little bit of the pressure off of yourself, and you’ll also get to enjoy the love that’s cooked into their feast contributions!
Step 2: Make a Timeline. Backwards.
Make a cooking plan, starting from the time you want to sit down at the table, and working your way backwards.
Does it take 15 minutes to carve the turkey? Count backwards.
How long do you want the turkey to “rest” before you cut into it? Write that down, going backwards from the carving time.
Depending on the size of your turkey and whether you brine or stuff it, your turkey will have varying estimated cooking times. Look them up and write that down, including when you should baste it or flip it over (there are a billion ways to cook a turkey, but you know what I mean). All backwards from the time you want the turkey to begin resting before it’s carved.
Now do the same thing with anything else that should be ready to serve around the same time, on the same planning sheet.
Here’s what my planning sheet (a notecard) looked like in 2007. And the next one from 2008. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
And anything that isn’t particularly time-specific can probably be made ahead of time, even a day or two before your feast. Write those down on a separate list.
Step 3: Label Your Serving Dishes
Before any big gathering we host, I pull out the serving dishes I plan to use, and label them with what foods will go in each one.
Post-it notes work fine for this. They’re not pretty labels for the guests to read – they’ll never see them.
But it’s much nicer to realize 3 or 4 days ahead of time that when your serving bowls are filled with salad, broccoli, and green beans, and your baking dishes are occupied with pumpkin pie bars, turkey, and cornbread, you might need to use a disposable foil pan for the macaroni and cheese. You can add that to your shopping list and pick it up when you get your groceries.
I also pair serving spoons and tongs with those labeled dishes and bowls, so that I know whether to pick up an additional inexpensive one or ask someone to bring one from their house when they come over for the gathering.
Bonus Step: Enjoy your day.
When it’s time to get ready for the big feast, relax. You’ve got this. You’ve made your plan. You bought your groceries. You have your timeline. All of the serving dishes are ready and waiting to do their jobs.
Anything you can do to lower your level of anxiety or stress is helpful. If that means using disposable dishes, do it. If it means hiring someone to clean your house beforehand or afterward (whichever stresses you out more), go for it.
Stay out of the kitchen as much as you can (use your phone timer or one of those portable ones that you can clip to you). Let other people help with the tasks that need to be done.
Play games. Eat good food. Enjoy your family. Chat with your friends.
And remember what Thanksgiving is all about.
Emily Chapelle is an expert homemaker, having set up 7 homes in just as many years. She helps busy and overwhelmed women change their homes from chaotic to calm, 15 minutes at a time, so they can regain a sense of control and focus on what really matters. She shares home organizing tips, decluttering your life, time-management for homemakers, and other homemaking topics at So Damn Domestic. Her ebook, Finding the Awesome – 3 Steps to Doing More & Stressing Less, has been downloaded over 2,312 times, and you can get it for free.