By Ashley Steel
Thanksgiving is just around the corner and, if you’re like most folks, you’re probably running around like a turkey with its head cut off.
On a holiday where family and friends abound, there are birds to be basted, stuffed and baked, potatoes to be mashed, casseroles to be dished, appetizers to be plated and the list goes on.
This year, make hosting Thanksgiving dinner a stress-free affair with these planning tips. (Sorry, we can’t do anything about your in-laws.)
The most important part of hosting any large meal is advanced preparation. When it comes to Thanksgiving, everyone has a different idea of what should be on the table, so the first step is to coordinate with your guests to plan a menu, says Danielle Farrell, media coordinator and lead event planner for The Betty Brigade, a personal assistance and concierge service in Ann Arbor, Mich. You should be sure to take into account any dietary restrictions as well.
Once you’ve established a menu, start delegating cooking duties. While it’s customary for the host to prepare the main course, “don’t try to take on all the work yourself,” says Farrell. After all, hosting is hard enough.
And remember, “this isn’t a Food Network cooking show,” Farrell says. Don’t go for complicated recipes you’ve never tried before; you’re more likely to miss an ingredient that way. “Keep it simple so that you don’t get stressed out.”
Aside from meal planning, getting a jumpstart on home preparation is incredibly valuable and time-saving. Start cleaning your house two to three days in advance, so the only thing you have to worry about on Thanksgiving is cooking. Pay special attention to features that will be important to guests, such as ensuring there is enough toilet paper and hand soap in the guest restroom. Make sure there are enough chairs for all of your guests, etc.
“Most people don’t have the benefit of a large kitchen or industrial set-up,” says national etiquette expert, Diane Gottsman. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to do as much as you can before the big day. Many sides, desserts and other dishes will keep in the fridge and can be reheated prior to serving.
For those items that need cooking on the big day, try pairing items that bake at the same temperature and “figure out what you can cook on the stove at the same time you are reheating a dish in the microwave,” says Gottsman. Additionally, you can speed up the cooking process by chopping any vegetables or other ingredients in advance.
“The easiest way to serve food is buffet style,” says Farrell. This allows everyone to get what they want and in the right proportions. In order to keep food warm, chafing dishes are a great option. If you don’t own chafing dishes, the oven is a great alternative. Keeping foods covered at 200 degrees will keep foods warm without drying them out, says Farrell.
“Don’t try to be Martha Stewart,” warns Farrell. Your home doesn’t have to look perfect. Most of the time, guests appreciate a tidy house above complicated, cluttered decorations. “Strive to keep things picked up,” says Farrell, but put out a few basic decorations — like some fall leaves or pumpkin-scented candles — but don’t overdo it.