November 13, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner Survival Guide

If you are hosting the big feast this Thanksgiving, start with the sage advice of a professional meal planner. Aviva Goldfarb, cook, author and founder of The Six O'Clock Scramble, a weekly meal planning system, has ten tips for having a successful meal while keeping your sanity intact.

I get the jitters before hosting almost any gathering. But with all the build-up to Thanksgiving, it feels like the stakes are even higher than usual. To keep it in perspective, I try to remember what is most important-to be with family and friends and appreciate our blessings. But if I'm hosting the feast, I still have a lot of work to do! I've devised some strategies for making the evening easier on us, while still indulging our guests:

Don't try to do it alone

Just because I love to cook, doesn't mean I have to do it all! If anyone volunteers to bring something, I take them up on it. I also try to involve the kids with the preparation, either by asking them to make place cards or table decorations, or clean the house. (A friend of mine cherishes the Thanksgiving tablecloth her kids made on which they traced their hands in fall colors and wrote what they were thankful for.)

Make a menu ahead of time

By the Sunday before the feast, I make a list of everything we are serving, from appetizers to coffee. I note who is making each item and when I need to start my assignments. I even jot down my daily tasks on my calendar.

Grocery shop early

I make a detailed grocery list (consulting the menu I've decided on) and buy the groceries by Tuesday, so I can start cooking on Wednesday.

Cook in advance

Most of the trimmings can be cooked well in advance of dinner, and then warmed before the meal. Even the turkey can be finished cooking (we even slice it!) hours before the meal. (Just put that Norman Rockwell image of the father cutting the bird at the table out of your mind!)

Get the house and table ready the night before

To avoid exhaustion on the big day, I make sure the house looks nice and the table is set before I go to bed on Wednesday.

Keep appetizers easy

Before dinner, I serve simple foods, such as gourmet cheeses, nuts, store-bought gourmet spread for crackers, vegetables and dip, and fresh popcorn.

Send the kids out for a picnic and sports before the meal

This strategy, suggested by my friend and colleague, Jeanne Rossomme, frees the kitchen for the big feast, and calms the kids so there is a higher probability of civilized behavior when guests arrive.

Have plastic containers ready so you can pack up leftovers

This makes clean-up easier. But save a slice of cooked turkey breast for next week's recipe for turkey pot pie!

Take the last thirty minutes off

An experienced hostess once told me that I should try to hold sacred the last half hour before guests arrive. I use this time to get myself cleaned up and put my feet up for a few minutes. That way I'm not utterly exhausted before the evening begins.

Give thanks and eat slowly

After sitting down, each guest shares one thing for which they are thankful. This simple tradition really sets the right mood. Then we enjoy the feast we've all helped to prepare, and we try to remember to savor the time together after all our hard work.

I hope you have good food, easy travels, and a holiday that's more full of gratitude than gripes.

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More on the Holidays

Aviva Goldfarb Aviva Goldfarb is a cook, author, and founder of The Six O'Clock Scramble ( ), a weekly meal planning system (recipes, weekly plans and automated grocery lists) to get healthy, earth-friendly, family-happy meals on the table each and every night. She can be reached at . You can also follow her on Twitter @thescramble.


Shirley in MO

Good sound advice! After hurrying for over a week to prepare, it is kind of hard to "eat slowly". LOL Will try a little harder this year to relax and enjoy.

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