When it's your turn to host Thanksgiving for the first time, you may be tempted to go all-out to impress the masses, whether it's your small family unit or a big friends-and-family gathering.
But the key is to work smarter, not harder. You can produce a delicious, memorable meal with a bit less fuss with these holiday hacks.
1. Rely on prep
The amount of time that's needed to create a large holiday meal is easily underestimated by first-time Thanksgiving chefs. If you want to avoid being stuck in the kitchen all day, “Make as much of the meal as possible ahead of time, typically the day before, reserving only the turkey itself for actual cooking on Thanksgiving Day. Everything else just gets heated up," says food blogger Katie Moseman, owner of Recipe for Perfection and Magnolia Days.
“Cranberry sauce, gravy, and mashed potatoes can all be frozen or refrigerated, so no need to stress yourself out trying to make it all right before your guests arrive. Make ahead and store in deli-style quart containers or heavy-duty zip lock bags in the fridge so you don't have the problem of dealing with an overstocked fridge," says Andrea Correale, celebrity caterer and founder and CEO of Elegant Affairs.
Making every element of your meal from scratch is a lofty goal, so don't be afraid to break out the frozen side dishes or crack open a few cans of refrigerated crescent roll dough. A meal kit delivery service like Home Chef is another genius hack, saving you from having to hunt for every spice, delivering fresh and pre-portioned ingredients, eliminating a major kitchen time commitment.
Hosting Thanksgiving doesn't mean you need to go it alone in the kitchen, so count on your willing sous chefs and delegate. “Ask your guests to contribute to the feast. It is all about sharing in a delicious meal. The less you have to make yourself, the more time you will have to chat, laugh, and make memories," says Correale. When your guests sincerely ask if they can help the day of, let them! “Fill the water glasses, pour wine, give the football-watchers a five-minute warning," says Lauralee Dobbins, a DIYer from Medford, NJ. “It makes your job easier and they're glad to be of service."
Attempting to achieve the pinnacle of a successful holiday dinner when meal prep doesn't go well on any normal night of the week? “Organizing isn't about stuff, it is about time," says Ben Soreff, professional organizer with House to Home Organizing. “De-cluttering the kitchen and fridge allows everything to be easier, especially if you have a small space to work. Items you don't use often should be stored in the basement, attic, or garage."
5. Use paper and plastic for eating
Save the wedding dishes or heirloom china for another day. “To avoid a buildup of plates in the sink, consider using upscale disposable, biodegradable bamboo or wood-style plates. They look natural and blend well with the Thanksgiving motif," says Correale. Paper and plastic may seem like an unnecessary expense, but your exhausted body will thank you later when clean-up is simplified tenfold.
6. Easy on the hors d'oeuvres.
“I want my guests to eat the Thanksgiving meal that I've prepared, so I always go easy on the hors d'oeuvres," says Dobbins. “Crudité, olives, cheese, but nothing too filling." Save the bread for the meal, but be sparing there as well. Unless it's a special seasoned bread that someone has handmade, stick to the main courses and appealing side dishes.
7. Don't be afraid to go rogue
You may be excited about buying your very first 20-pound turkey, but don't let your enthusiasm get in the way of logistics. “Instead of taking up all your oven space with a whole turkey, buy turkey breasts. They cook much faster and will make room for sweet potatoes and side dishes," says Correale.
Thanksgiving is all about the food and the company. You may be a traditionalist, but there is no shame in implementing some hacks to make your life easier and your holiday happier.