Yes, “Organized“, “Stress Free” and “Thanksgiving” can be used in the same sentence. It all starts with the word “organized”. Don’t let it scare you. Embrace it. By being organized and planning ahead you can actually enjoy a holiday.
Start by deciding on what you want your holiday to be like. Do you really want to serve a sit down dinner for twenty (20) people? Or would a buffet be acceptable for you? Would it be acceptable for your “family”?
The pressure of trying to please everyone, especially parents and doing things “exactly” like when you were little and everything was perfect is how the “stress” starts.
It’s your house and your dinner party. You can start new traditions. I didn’t say that it would be easy or that you wouldn’t get some flack, but all “traditions” started somewhere. Make your own. You deserve some happiness.
If you really want a fancy sit down dinner party but twenty (20) people is too much for you to handle then cut the guest list down.
If you really want all twenty (20) people there then maybe you should consider a buffet. It’s much easier and your family will eventually come to terms with the fact that maybe you aren’t serving a formal sit down dinner, but the food is just as good.
You can make Thanksgiving as simple or as complicated as you want….it all depends on how organized you are willing to be.
A good way to keep the stress levels down is to divide and conquer.
Enlist your family for help. Don’t take “no” for an answer. This is your holiday too and you have a right to enjoy it.
And we all know that old saying “if Mom isn’t happy, no one is happy”.
Start at least two (2) or three (3) weeks before Thanksgiving.
Decide on the type of gathering (formal or informal), the size of the guest list and the menu.
Don’t attempt to make something new for dinner or try out a new dessert that day. It could turn out to be a disaster and that would cause you more stress. If you really want to try a new dish….test it out prior to Thanksgiving.
Menu: Do you really want to serve cranberry relish and sweet potato’s even if you don’t like them and only serve them because “they are always served at Thanksgiving”?
Make up your own menu (yes, it is radical). Serve something different. Serve something you like!
If you are having a small Thanksgiving dinner don’t feel obligated to serve Turkey. I know, blasphemy!
Last year I made stuffed Cornish Hen. It was wonderful and just as delicious as turkey. You can also stuff a small chicken or even a duck! Or be really different and have Ham! The possibilities are endless.
Start new traditions! It’s not easy to buck the system but once you make up your mind that you deserve to be happy and stress free on a Holiday you will wonder why you waited so long.
Remember, the whole point of a Holiday is family and friends and spending “quality” time together. Everything does not have to be perfect. Be thankful for what you have and not for what you don’t.
A great piece of advice: don’t attempt to clean your oven Thanksgiving morning before you put in the turkey. I did that once, years ago. I then found out that after the oven is cleaned it needs to cool down and the oven will stay locked for another hour or so after it’s done. And you can’t open it! It certainly put a dent into my dinner timetable!
By starting early and making lists and getting as much done ahead of time as possible you will avoid a lot of stress.
Once you have your menu planned work backwards and make up a timetable to what needs to be done.
For example: if you want your dinner to be served at 6 p.m., what time do you have to put the turkey into the oven? What time do the potato’s and vegetables need to be started? Just make a list and put it on your refrigerator door so that you don’t have to second guess yourself and aren’t panicking at the last minute.
When your family or guests start to arrive your mind and attention will be elsewhere….so a list can help you stay on track. Don’t leave anything to chance.
A few days before Thanksgiving:
The day before Thanksgiving:
- Shop for all of the essentials, including as much of the food as can be purchased ahead of time
- Make sure that you have enough spices and things that you will need for the food (and rarely buy)
- Do any of the baking or make any desserts that can be made ahead of time
- Thaw the turkey (the size will determine how many days it takes to thaw in the refrigerator)
- Buy the wine or any beverages
The night before Thanksgiving:
- Buy any last minute items at the grocery store
- Chop anything that can be chopped ahead of time (vegetables, bread for stuff…but do not stuff the turkey ahead of time) and put them in plastic bags so that you will be all ready to go the next day
- Make sure you have enough ice
- Prepare any of the food items that can be made ahead of time
- Make your family aware of exactly what you need them to help you with on Thanksgiving. Having assigned tasks for your kids and spouse ahead of time takes away some of the stress of what’s expected of them the next day.
When I entertain I love to use all of my special platters and dishes. I love to fuss over my family and I love to set a very special table. I don’t consider it extra work or a hardship or stressful. It’s my way of telling my family and friends just how special they are.
- Set the table and get out all of your platters and serving dishes.
- Make sure that you have enough dishes and silverware. If you don’t, now is the time to call one of your guests and ask to borrow something. Don’t wait until the last minute to find out that you broke the gravy boat last Thanksgiving and never replaced it.
But again…..the Holiday and family and friends are what’s important….not the china or the food. So if you aren’t the type of person to pull off a sit down dinner with all the decorations don’t beat yourself up. There are only so many Martha Stewarts around. And she has a staff to help her!
ENJOY your meal…… sit and talk…..
- Wake up early so that you can have some “you” time to have coffee and relax before the day starts (it will get stressful enough later so the morning might be the only time you have)
- Read over your lists and timetable
- Gather all of your food and cooking utensils, pots and pans ….
- Measure out everything that you can ahead of time and set it aside
- Follow your time table and start making the food according to the schedule
- Once the food comes out of the oven let it rest a while (you can cover it with foil)
- Start cutting the meat and plating the food
- Have family members start their assigned tasks (setting out and serving food, pouring the drinks…)
After the meal:
Have a plan in place to clear the table. Since I always make a ton of extra food so that my guests can take home leftovers I start with portioning the leftovers into plastic containers and putting each family’s containers into a plastic bag and setting it near the door so that they don’t forget them.
Once I have the leftovers divided up and mine put away in the refrigerator and freezer I then start to collect the rest of the dishes and put them into the dishwasher. I don’t start the dishwasher until after they leave so that we won’t be bothered with the noise.
Again, this is where your family members can jump in and help clear and stack dishes. It makes quick work of things when you have other people help.
I need to have as many things cleared up and put away as possible before I start serving dessert. This also gives everyone time to rest and relax before they start eating again.
Some people like to leave the dishes and the mess until the next day. And sometimes I wish I could too, but its worse the next day when you get up and walk into a mess. I’d rather get it done and over with.
Make quick work of it (or as much as will fit into the dishwasher) and then sit and relax and spend time with your family.
Remember, a Holiday is supposed to be enjoyable. If it’s not, figure out why it isn’t and change it. Skip the big complicated meal, the fancy desserts and the good china and make it as simple as you are able to handle.
Start your own tradition….and make it about family!
Karin E. Fried, CPC, is the owner of Organizational Consulting Services. You can visit her Web site at