Thanksgiving Prep: It Might Take the Whole Month

Thanksgiving is almost here!

No. For real.

It may seem like you have a lot of time to prepare for hosting your family, but the month will fly by. If you want to minimize the stress of holiday prep, start now.

1.Find out who’s coming over.

Joe and I counted 20 potential guests between all of our children, their friends, and ours. Knowing this enables me to come up with a seating plan. Last year, we were able to put two tables together to form one long table that encroached into the living space of the great room, but it worked.

Tablescape (2)

This year, we’re in a different house, so I’ll need to compensate for a new layout and I am going to bite the bullet and purchase folding chairs.

2. Figure out who’s cooking what.

Now that my children are adults, everyone can contribute to the meal. This is a huge cost savings for me. But if you have other relatives coming over for dinner, by all means, accept their offers to bring something.

I well remember saying no to my in-laws when they wanted to bring food. It was definitely my pride wanting to prove I was an able hostess. But the stress of having little children – and my inexperience with hosting holidays – made it so not worth it. And it is really costly feeding everyone. Share the love and the expense by letting people help. If no one is offering, your need for planning now is even more important!

3. Don’t forget the other meals.

If you’re having out-of-town guests, you may have to think about keeping the fridge and pantry stocked for a couple of days. Use paper plates and cups to save time and energy with dish washing. And be sure you divide the labor for prepping the other meals. The men in our family prep breakfasts on the holidays in honor of Joe’s dad who died on Thanksgiving Day 7 years ago. That year it was my turn to make the dinner and his to make breakfast. When we went to his home after his death, we saw the breakfast table had already been set. Thanksigivng dinner and breakfast now have special meaning for our family and the men do a great job cooking up the bacon!


4. Start shopping now

I have always regretted shopping the week of Thanksgiving. Not only is the grocery bill enormous, the crowds are outrageous and I end up behind on prepping food. (Yes, I have had to buy a fresh turkey because I didn’t buy the frozen one in time enough for it to thaw.) At the very least, start making a list now and pick up a few things each week to spread out the expense and to help you get ahead. You’ll inevitably forget something.

5. Start cooking now.

The freezer is your friend. You can freeze just about anything you will serve on Thanksgiving Day, including your desserts. It’s really hard cooking for three straight days or all day on the holiday itself. You won’t likely have enough room in your oven and on your stove top and you’ll be exhausted by the time dinner rolls around. I have begun cooking the turkey the day before Thanksgiving, reheating it after slicing. Forgo a whole turkey if your family loves white meat and just buy breasts. Anything you can do in advance will be a gift to yourself and to your family, including cooking ahead the meals you’ll eat the rest of the week. Brown meat and stack it in freezer bags, for example:

Holiday frozen food

And by all means, think about what you might do with leftovers. We love this turkey and broccoli braid:

Brocolli Braid

6. Plan to take photos that weekend.

When you have a critical mass of family members together, seize the chance to take pics. Let everyone know you have this in mind and invite a friend to do an informal shoot. As we were reminded 7 years ago, our loved ones are not with us forever. You’ll never regret having lots of pics of those you love. I treasure this one taken more than 30 years ago of my brothers, my dad, his dad and my nephew. Three of these men have passed on. What a gift to have the picture!

Butler men

And this is one of my more recent favorites.


7. Plan to exercise

Take a walk…

Thanksgiving Walk (2)

Play a game of family basketball…

Holiday basketball

Last year, daughter Sara – a certified Zumba instructor – led a class for the girls.

Holiday Zumba

8. Have a plan for the little children.

  • Stock upon games, markers, playing cards and butcher paper.
  • Let them help set the table, scoop cranberries out of the can, or other meaningful meal prep tasks.
  • Create a thanksgiving poster with post-it notes. Put the kids in charge of having relatives post what they are thankful for.
  • Create a schedule that includes who will babysit, time outside, time watching movies, and time helping to clean.

9. Have a plan for the big children

Teenagers can be some of the most sullen, unpleasant holiday guests. Averting their negativity is a challenge, but you can try:

  • Give them meaningful chores and dinner tasks
  • Let them have a movie marathon
  • Let them go bowling or shopping or whatever they want to do after dinner
  • Set up a space for board games, cards, and video games. Monopoly and Spades have become favorites at our house.

Holiday Monopoly

10. Make a pact to keep cell phone use to a minimum

Stack phones in an  upstairs bedroom or in a basket at least during dinner. Sure, everyone will want to take those pics I suggested, but agreeing not to use phones is a good discipline and a great example for the younger generation who never knew phones used to be tethered to the wall in the kitchen.


11. Name your turkey.

Not sure when this started in our family, but we always have fun giving our turkey a name. The kids will love this. Here’s Tom.



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