Hosting this year's Thanksgiving feast? You may break into a cold sweat just thinking about it. After all, TV shows and magazine covers feature decadent pies, mouthwatering turkeys and picture-perfect dining room tables. All this pressure to host a perfect holiday is enough to rattle gourmet cooks.
It is possible to be the hostess with the mostess, minus the sweat. We promise you can host while having some fun yourself. Remember that the true essence of Thanksgiving is about being thankful for what you have and enjoying the people that you're sharing the meal with—not how golden your turkey is or how many desserts adorn the table. Follow our 10 tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner below.
- Stay on top of your headcount—the best that you can. Your sister-in-law was supposed to bring her boyfriend. And then they broke up. Your in-laws weren't going to fly in for the weekend but now they are. Thanksgiving guest counts can change quicker than you can eat a helping of green bean casserole. Do your best to stay on top of your headcount, but don't drive yourself crazy. Always err on the side of more food than not enough (which is almost impossible at Thanksgiving anyway!).
- Don't go overboard. You don't need 10 different cornbreads; one will suffice. Making five vegetables? Just stick with the basic and traditional ones. Determine your menu carefully and selectively, keeping your guests' eating habits (if you know them) in mind. If someone is allergic to nuts, keep them out of the meal entirely. By creating a menu that everyone can eat, you won't waste time making a dish for each person.
- Keep it simple. Challenge yourself, if you want. But it's fine to opt for easy recipes. That means making the five-ingredient pumpkin pie with items you already have opposed to the one with 15 that requires you to purchase every spice at the store.
- Nix some homemade dishes. If you dread peeling the potatoes for mashed potatoes but Suzy must have them, whip up the instant variety. Not good at making stuffing? Pick some up at your gourmet grocer. You don't have to slave over every aspect of the meal.
- Stay organized. After you've chosen your recipes, write out any ingredients and kitchen supplies you need to buy, simultaneously scanning your shelves and cabinets. Organize your lists by grocery store aisles to save you from running around. Buy what you can in advance and get the perishables a day or two before.
- Enlist help. Need just a teaspoon of cloves for your recipe? Short on some serving pieces? Borrow cooking supplies, pots, pans and more from neighbors or dinner guests. It will save you money and stress.
- Do what you can ahead of time. Take advantage of your freezer space. The more items you can prepare in advance, the easier the day will be. And set the table a few days ahead too (even the prior weekend) so it's one less thing to worry about.
- Get guests to pitch in. Delegate guests to bring something and they'll most likely gladly oblige. You may even want to ask someone to stay late instead of bringing food so you don't have to do the dishes alone.
- Devise a schedule. Whether you're serving a few or a large group, the day will run more smoothly and seamlessly if you stick to a timeline. Write down what time each item needs to go into the oven, onto the stove or be taken out of the fridge. Plus, you won't forget to serve everything you've made.
- Relax! It's ok to sit back and pour yourself a glass of wine or enjoy the big game with your guests. Taking a break will help you feel refreshed and less overwhelmed. Remember that you're allowed to have fun, too.