I now have eight(!) Thanksgivings’ worth of experience as a working mom. Some of them, we hosted the whole family at our house. For others, we traveled out of town or to another family member’s house in town.
Whatever your plans are this season, I have some Thanksgiving tips, recipes and resources to share that I hope will make your holiday more fun and less stressful.
If you’re hosting …
- Shop for the essentials in advance. Have you ever waited till the night before Thanksgiving to pick up your main ingredients. I have, and I don’t recommend it. The store is an absolute zoo, and you might not get everything you need. Or you have to make multiple trips. Instead, I suggest going a week or two early (for the items that won’t go bad) and follow up with a final shop at an odd time, like very early or very late in the day.
- Get other people to bring food and drinks. Trust me, you are doing every guest a favor by having Thanksgiving at your house. They don’t have to clean, cook a turkey, set the table, entertain people on their home turf, or clean up afterward. So if you ask them if they could contribute a side dish, bottle of wine or some rolls from the bakery, they won’t mind a bit. And it will make your job as hostess so much easier—and less of a hit to your grocery bill.
- Consider hiring a cleaning crew to come a day or two ahead. It’s no secret that I am the world’s biggest proponent of hiring cleaning help. If you’re on board and already have a regular cleaning crew, book them for Monday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving. That’s one less hassle you have to worry about when turkey day comes, and everyone (including you) will marvel at your sparkling bathrooms and floors.
- Cook ahead of time. Anything you can make in the crockpot the night before, or bake ahead and reheat later, do it. Thanksgiving meals usually involve so many dishes that trying to make them all within a few hours is pretty much impossible.
- Make it a family affair. Spouses, kids, out-of-town guests hanging around? Put them all to work. Remember, you should not be the only one responsible for making this mammoth meal, preparing the house and running last-minute holiday errands. In my case, Hubs usually does the heavy-lifting type cooking (turkey, stuffing, etc.) and the kiddos help by setting the table and making place cards. We usually end up calling my folks to stop by the grocery store on the way here for extra napkins and forgotten ingredients.
- Don’t try to force gratitude or reconciliation. Isn’t it the worst when you try to get everyone to say what they’re thankful for and they either crack jokes about it or can’t actually think of anything? An alternative might be to ask if anyone wants to volunteer an expression of gratitude, or just skip it altogether. Also, if any family members or guests have beefs that go back months or even years, you do not have to play Dr. Phil and bring them back together in harmony. In fact, feel free to seat them at separate tables or just don’t invite someone if you know for a fact they’re just going to get drunk and ruin the meal.
- Deputize a few key helpers for mealtime serving. From passing dishes around to stirring the gravy to any of the million needs that crop up throughout the meal, you’ll need help getting it all handled. Choose some guests who don’t mind helping and are good at jumping in where they’re needed to make it all happen.
- Start clean-up right away. I have also made the mistake of waiting to clean up dishes, leftovers, etc. until after the guests go home. This just delays the inevitable, and puts more of the load on your shoulders. A better idea is to ask everyone to clear their own places (ask kids to help with elderly family members if needed). Then rally the troops to do things like storing leftovers (and divvying them out if you’d like guests to take some home), taking out the trash, running the dishwasher and any other cleanup work.
If you’re a guest …
- First, breathe a sigh of relief that you don’t have to deal with all of the above. Woohoo!
- Ask your host what you can bring. If they shrug you off, suggest some simple but necessary things that would be easy for you to pick up. Ideas: Wine/beer, pop, napkins, cranberries, or a no-bake dessert that doesn’t require oven space (we have three no-bake desserts here and Sara’s addictive cranberry Jello recipe if you need ideas).
- Volunteer to help your host. If you’ve ever hosted Thanksgiving, you know that this is so appreciated and welcomed. Jump in and serve, clean up, keep the kids entertained — whatever needs done.
- Take this opportunity to enjoy your family. Without the extra duties of being “in charge,” you can watch the kids interact with their cousins or catch up with your aunts and uncles. It’s kind of nice to be a guest, so relish it while you have the chance.
If you’re traveling …
- You have my condolences. Traveling during the Thanksgiving holiday can be hectic, crowded and frustrating. If you’re going by car, that makes the situation more manageable. If by air, God bless you.
- Many of the tips for “if you’re a guest” (above) can also apply to you if you’re traveling. Unless, of course, you’re doing the Thanksgiving “getaway” type of trip where you’ll be waited on hand and foot by resort staff. If that’s the case, cheers to you, my friend!
- Instead of bringing food or other tricky-to-travel-with items, consider having flowers or a centerpiece delivered to your host. That way, you can order online and not have to drag something extra along for the ride (or risk ruining it during the trip). Bonus: Get 10% off orders of $60 at FlowersFast.com (Code: 10OffFlowers60), an FTD Top 100 Florist that offers same-day delivery.
- Road snacks are a must! Check out Sara’s favorite holiday snack mix recipes that you can make in bulk before you leave. Pack snack-sized bags for the trip, and save the rest to bring as a thoughtful guest.
- Prep your smart phone with some family travel apps. Working Mother has 10 handy apps for a stress-free trip here.
- Get expert tips for traveling over Thanksgiving from the fine folks at Family Travel Magazine.
Those are my best tips to make your Thanksgiving a little easier. One more thing: No matter what you end up doing, I hope you can have a guilt-free Thanksgiving holiday by soaking up time with your loved ones.
Still craving more?
You can see our friend Margee Moore’s Top Turkey Day Tips here. And by all means, take full advantage of Pinterest—but no pressure or guilt, OK? It’s just a resource for ideas and inspiration. With that in mind, here’s our Pinterest board dedicated to all things Thanksgiving.