The idea of a stress-free Thanksgiving may seem like a paradox. The holiday brings too many people into too small a space with too much food and drinks that you need to account for. Or at least that’s how it feels when you’re hours deep into a turkey crisis or any other Thanksgiving disaster.
But Thanksgiving should be about relaxing, time with family and a lot of delicious food. There are a few key things you can do to prevent total chaos and get ahead of the stress, especially if you're hosting this year. Here are our best tips for keeping your cool on turkey day.
Just Defrost the Turkey
In the pantheon of great holiday stressors, none can compete with the heart attack brought on by realizing you have forgotten to thaw the bird. It’s best to let the turkey slowly emerge from its icy tomb in the germ-free fridge, not on the counter, so give it up to five days to do its thing. Set yourself a reminder on your phone, put a sticky note on the fridge or the front door or your forehead, just don’t forget.
Start the Day with Some Physical Activity
Whether you’re planning to spend all day cooking, watching football, or arguing with family, you’ll probably spend much of Thanksgiving inside. Get some fresh air in your system first thing in the morning, before you have a chance to put it off. Join a turkey trot, set out on a crisp autumn hike, take a dip in the ocean, just go for a drive. Sunshine and oxygen will act as a buffer against stress the rest of the day.
Let Others Help
No man is an island. It takes a village. Go fast alone, go far together. Yadda yadda yadda. Every chef hears this advice and nearly every chef ignores it. Don’t be one of those foolish, prideful hosts who believe they must do everything themselves. Your family and guests (if they’re the polite sorts you want at a holiday meal) will undoubtedly offer to help. Let them. Have tasks prepared for kitchen helpers, let guests bring potluck dishes, outsource dessert, and even let people do the dishes. Which leads us to…
Clean Up Before Dessert
Thanksgiving can be stressful enough without waking up on Friday to a sinkful of dishes. Tackle those dirty plates right away, possibly even before dessert, giving your guests time to digest the meat and fixins before carbo-loading with pie. You can even use sweets as a bargaining chip, encouraging others to help clean up quicker.
Anything you can prepare ahead of time, prepare ahead of time. Carve out time each day leading up to Thursday to mix cranberry sauce, bake stuffing, or roast sweet potatoes. If you’re planning on a formal table spread, set the table the night before. Giving yourself this time will not only free up precious hours on turkey day but will also help you avoid any last minute, day-of trips to the grocery store.
Don’t Bother With a Kids Table
You might be tempted to separate the young ones so the adults can talk privately, but ousting the kiddies from the Thanksgiving table only encourages parents to drink too much, talk politics, and argue like they never would with their kids watching. Let everyone sit together and help the kids dine like grown-ups. They’ll rise to the occasion, as will their parents.
Distract the Distractions
While you should absolutely rely on able guests, there are always certain Thanksgiving attendees who just need to leave the kitchen. Leave out board games ready for kids to pass the afternoon. Draw away intrusive adults by putting on a football game, the Macy’s parade, or holiday specials of your favorite TV shows.