For many of us, Thanksgiving is a big production of food, football, family gathering, laughter, fights, and lots of pie. It can be an easygoing, laid back affair or it can be a stressful nonstop event. My memories of Thanksgiving growing up involved family vacation, since my family didn’t see the point of cooking a huge meal for just four people. I look back on those trips and see all the fun, all the experiences, and none of the stress (though I know some was probably involved for my parents in taking a vacation anywhere with kids).
Once I grew up and was making my own decisions about where to go for Thanksgiving, would we host, would we cook, where would we go, it started to get a lot more stressful. Then I switched to a plant-based diet, and things got even more complicated. I started making big productions myself, full of vegan dishes I was determined everyone would love. Family came, friends came, everyone helped out. It was fun and fairly low key (except for my cooking madness). But over the years, I started feeling like I had to keep topping each year’s menu and activities and things easily got big and stressful. FOR NO REASON. It was all in my head.
This year, I decided to go back to the basics. The menu is getting shrunk. The visitors are increasing. The activities are staying the same. Exactly as I want it to be.
Ready to get your Thanksgiving back and enjoy every minute without going crazy? Try these tips:
Cut the menu in half. Yes. Half. Take a look at each dish you traditionally make and ask yourself, “WHY do I make this?” Is it a food you love, that your family loves, that your one child loves and insists upon? Great. Keep it on the menu. However, if you find you are making something just because you’ve always made it, and no one will miss it, cross if off the list this year. There is no reason to make something people don’t care about that much. It just adds to your cooking list and provides extra time and stress.
Invite the people who matter. We are all used to having family at holiday gatherings. But also think about those friends and coworkers and neighbors who might not have somewhere else to go and who have a big impact on your daily life. Yes, this is adding people to your day, and we’re trying to simplify here, not make things harder. But people can also bring food. Fill your table with the people that matter most to you. And give them a dish to bring to round out the meal without you having to do all the cooking.
Put guests to work. Have a friend or relative who always shows up early? Let them help! Even guests who aren’t as savvy in the kitchen can pop rolls in the oven or toss a salad together. Have someone stir cranberry sauce, mash potatoes, check on the pie, pour drinks, set the table. Even kids can get in on the prep work. And giving everyone a role to play will make guests feel more at home and included.
Make it fun. Thanksgiving isn’t about spending the day in the kitchen while your guests lounge around watching football. Add some fun activities everyone can participate in to your agenda for the day. Join in the annual Turkey Trot in the morning before coming home and cooking up your feast. Go out and play a round of tag or flag football. Have a family game night tradition after dinner. And make sure the host or hostess also participates! If you’ve cut recipes off your cooking list, asked people to bring food, and put guests to work, you have plenty of time to join in on the fun!
Looking for some menu and recipe inspiration? Check out these past holiday posts:
What are you doing this year to simplify Thanksgiving?