We’re coming into my favourite time of year right now. There is nothing that gets me more excited to be in the kitchen than fall, once it’s cool enough to start heating things up again, and when there are so many chances to cook for the ones I love.
We’re a family of five that lives on a budget (especially since I’m a stay at home Mom). The one way I feel like I can truly show everyone just how thankful I am to have them in my life, is to cook for them. Nothing makes me feel better than hosting a big family and watching parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews all laughing and smiling with full plates and glasses.
I’ve learned a few things over the years though, from being at others homes during the holidays, and from hosting at my own. I’ve seen tears of anger, and tears of joy. I’ve heard some horrifically inappropriate comments that have turned into treasured family legends (thanks Nan, we miss you!), and I have seen people work so hard to please everyone else, that they found no time to enjoy themselves.
Here are my 10 must-do’s to host the perfect Thanksgiving dinner:
- Make a schedule a week before your meal. It sounds ridiculous, and over the top, and a little crazy. I know. But, it really works. Figure out what time you want to have dinner, then start working backwards. And give yourself a buffer! If you really want to eat at 6, put 5pm on the schedule. Something always going a little haywire (ALWAYS), and that extra hour will leave you feeling a lot more relaxed. And if everything goes perfectly, no one is going to be upset about eating sooner! Doing the schedule this early means it’ll be in the back of your mind for a few days, and you have time to tweak it. Plus, being more organized means you’ll be more likely to enjoy the actual day.
- Do as much prep work as you can ahead of time. I used to be NUTS about doing everything the day of because in my head, it was better. It makes no difference. If you can cut up a vegetable the day before, or make a soup and freeze it, DO IT! Make your life easier every chance you get.
- Don’t be afraid to say “Sure, that would be great!”. For a while there, I was so obsessed with making everything for everyone else to show that I appreciated them, I didn’t realize that the people asking if they could do or bring something wanted to feel the same. If someone offers to bring something or help, LET THEM! They want to, they’ll be so happy to help contribute, and it will make the day better for you.
- Label your dishes. You might think this sounds a little crazy too, but it always makes things easier for me, and easier for everyone else to help me get the food onto the table. Bonus, it lets you set the table the night before and see where everything will fit. Here’s my table last Christmas Eve, all ready for dinner Christmas Day, and the dishes labeled with sticky notes.
- Don’t overdo it. I know, judging by the picture above, I’m not good at taking my own advice. You know what Thanksgiving needs? It needs only what you can do in a reasonable about of time, without giving yourself an aneurism. You do not need 17 sides, 3 types of meat, 6 pies, and 3 types of fresh bread. This is what I struggle with the most. Seriously, I had 6 (SIX!!!) cakes for the kids’ family party this year. It’s ridiculous and so unnecessary. While people will love and appreciate what you make, they will love it the same regardless of how many options you give them. And too many different things can seem overwhelming.
- Calm down your need to Pinterest – Mom, I’m looking at you on this one. My Mom hosts Easter every year, and every year she goes insane for about 36 hours. She scours the internet and magazines for things that she’s never made before but look good, and then she can’t pick between them so she makes them all. My Mom spends most of the night in the kitchen, making sure the food is perfect for all of us. This means she isn’t actually spending time with the rest of the family, and while we’re all well stuffed when we leave, we missed seeing her.
- Have snacks. Snacks are amazing things that put everyone in a good mood, and if something hangs you up in the kitchen and dinner is a little late, they keep everyone from getting hangry. My favourite to make is a feta cheese dip, that I serve with plain rice crackers. Just beat together 1/3 cup miracle whip, ½ block cream cheese, 6 oz Tre Stelle Feta Cheese, ¼ tsp oregano, ¼ tsp basil, 1/8 tsp dill, 1/8 tsp thyme, and 1-2 cloves of minced garlic. Everyone LOVES this dip, but go easy on the garlic if you’ve got some close talkers in your family.
- Do something fun to remind everyone why they’re coming over for dinner. You choose where everyone’s going to sit, and then put a little note under everyone’s plate that has one thing written on it about them that you love.
- Start a tradition! My Aunt always makes little goodie bags for everyone full of candy for the holidays (Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). I love seeing them waiting at the table for us no matter who’s house we’re at, and even more, I love digging into it later that night!
- Enjoy it. More important than anything else, take the time to actually enjoy the holidays with the ones you love. Be thankful for the time you have together, because time is surprisingly fleeting. I stopped carrying the camera around with me during the holidays two years ago, and I don’t regret it at all. Sure, I don’t have tons of pictures of everyone, but I have the memories, I remember all the hilarious things my kids said and did, and I can picture the way everyone’s eyes sparkled while they laughed.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I hope you enjoy it with the ones you love, good food, and great laughs!