10 Thanksgiving Survival Tips

What we’re really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets.

I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving? – Erma Bombeck


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but it’s no secret that (especially for us foodies) it can bring with it a lot of kitchen chaos and performance anxiety. So many dishes, so many people, and so many “cherished family traditions” that must be upheld it’s would be well-nigh impossible to make it through the day without at least SOME drama.

So, if we can’t avoid the chaos, let’s at least try to get a rope on it, huh?

Here are a few tips to help you can avoid enough of the crises to actually enjoy the meal and your guests:

#10 – Don’t sweat the small stuff! – Does anyone really care if the tablecloth is ironed? Does anyone really care if their napkins are shaped like swans. No they don’t…they want to eat, and laugh, and eat some more. If you’re low on time (uh, who’s not?), and that cloth is really bugging you, just iron the corners and sides. Once the dishes and centerpiece are in place, no one will see the wrinkles. Have the kids help you set the table the night before, too. It’s one less thing to do.

#9 – Have a plan! – Sit down and make a guest list. From the number of guests, plan your menu, and make a check list of all ingredients. Create a complete shopping list and decide if you’re doing all of the cooking or if others will be bringing dishes. Take inventory your dinnerware, kitchen tools, and gadgets, spices and other staples in your pantry, and don’t forget to count chairs!

#8 – Lighten up on the menu! With the size of the feast on most of our tables, it really isn’t necessary to load your guests up on dips, snacks, or appetizers. A platter of cut fresh veggies should do the trick, or at least make appetizers a “pot luck” item.

#7 – Plan a dress rehearsal! – If you’re making a side dish for the first time or using ingredients that you aren’t familiar with, try them out beforehand so you’ll be prepared for success on Thanksgiving Day. Ditto if you’re serving a new wine or using new equipment, like a brand new oven.

#6 – Clear out your fridge! You’re going to be filling it up again pretty soon, so now is a good time to eat the best leftovers and toss the rest. Clean off the counters! Martha Stewart isn’t going to be dropping by (Dear God, please…) so clear away all the crap…those knick-knacks, cookie jars, and kitchen gadgets you’re not going to use. Think “industrial kitchen” and you’ll be headed in the right direction.

#5 – Prep 24 hours in advance! Do as much prep work as you can: Make salad dressings; chop onions and celery and store in resealable plastic bags in the fridge; top and tail green beans; make stock for gravy with purchased turkey wings.

#4 – Don’t be afraid of a pot-luck. Most folks have a special holiday dish, share the spotlight of a great Thanksgiving dinner by letting them bring it! Keep a list so you don’t end up with 6 bowls of candied yams, and another list of suggested dishes (with recipes) for folks who vapor-lock when faced with a menu decision. If they’re really not up to it, a box of wine, a veggie plate, or a couple of bags of ice are pretty hard to screw up.

#3 – Shop early (and late!) – Now that we’re just a couple of days out, you can safely buy most of your ingredients. Onions, carrots, potatoes, celery, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and green beans, squash, even fresh-looking salad greens will last until Thursday provided you store them properly. DO NOT plan on doing any shopping on Thanksgiving Day! Pick up cheeses and cured meats for an easy, no-prep appetizer to serve while you’re in the kitchen.

Full-contact grocery shopping not your thing? (Mine neither)…here’s what I do:

Find a good 24-hour grocery (I like Winco), and hit it about 4-5am, do your shopping, then stop by your favorite coffee shop on the way home for a cuppa and a bagel. Make a plan with a friend to shop together. Relax, refresh…maybe jump ahead to #1.

#2 – Assign the final steps. If you have older children, nieces & nephews, or in-laws that you CANNOT keep out of the kitchen (I commiserate, believe me)…put ’em to work! MIL is in charge of the stuffing! – getting it in the serving dish, and to the table, with a serving spoon. Cousin Fred is in charge of making sure everyone’s glass is full. Little Susie is in charge of getting rolls in the basket, the basket to the table, and making butter dishes (and knives) available. Make it clear that once they have performed their job, they should take their seat at the table.

#1 – BE THANKFUL! This is what it’s about peeps…not the turkey, not the pies, and (believe it or not) not about being the perfect host. Find a quiet spot to sit for 20-30 minutes, before you start cooking Thursday morning, and reflect on what you have to be thankful for, write these things down, and WHY you’re thankful for them. Keep that thought firmly in place as you ride into battle.

The secret to being a great host or hostess (and keeping your sanity) is to not sweat the small stuff. day. If the yams burn, toss ’em out, turn on a fan, and enjoy all the rest of the great food. If the turkey burns, have a number handy to order take-out!


Remember, Thanksgiving isn’t about the turkey in the oven, it’s about all the turkeys around the table. Have fun with it!

Oh, and don’t forget to grab our FREE Thanksgiving feast menu, complete with recipes, grocery list, cooking timeline, and lots more! The menu is available for all four of our plans (but you don’t have to be a member): Classic, Lighter Side, Diabetic-friendly, and Gluten Free.

Happy Thanksgiving!

– Chef Perry

Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. – Charles Dickens

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