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10 Tips for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner

Even the cook should get to enjoy a stress-free Thanksgiving. So, if you're hosting this year's holiday festivities, follow these tips to help take the stress out of getting ready to cook a Thanksgiving meal.

  • Make a plan: Poor planning is probably the greatest stressor when you're trying to execute a large meal, particularly Thanksgiving dinner. If you want your holiday meal to run smoothly and keep you from aging ten years over the course of a week, you must plan the event carefully, well in advance.

  • Organize: Make lists of everything you need to keep organized (ingredients, dishes, kitchen gadgets and accessories, guests, tablescapes, activities). Once you know exactly what you’ll need, you can round up the items, and organize them in a way that makes them accessible.

  • Keep a general head count: Crowds tend to be ever-changing. At first, Uncle Joe and Aunt Juanita plan to come, then they decide they can’t, then they decide they can and ask if they can bring Joe's brother. Especially around holidays, the reality is that crowds often shift, so it’s up to you to keep an accurate head count as you move forward. However, don’t spend all your time trying to keep a solid count or you'll drive yourself — and your guests — crazy. Expect some changes on your guest list, just always err on the side of too much food than too little. Just try to keep a general head count running at all times so you know what you’re up against.

  • Carefully determine your menu: It’s easy to get excited about a holiday meal and go overboard with your menu. Keep your head out of the clouds and think carefully about everything you must do to create each dish. Plan to have a few items that are more difficult and take more time and a few items that are quick and easy.

  • Prepare some items in advance: A vital trick when cooking for a crowd is preparing as many items in advance as you can. The more items you can prepare in advance, the easier the big day will be. Here's a solid list of make-ahead Thanksgiving dishes you can prepare before the holidays.

  • Don’t be afraid to borrow: Just because you're the host of a holiday dinner doesn't mean you should have all the pots, pans, dishes, and supplies on hand. When you cook for a crowd, borrowing items is perfectly fine. You don’t need to buy everything you may need, and you don’t need to suffer in silence, either.

  • Create a workflow: A workflow will help you manage your tasks and ensure that everything gets done.

  • Eat well, exercise, and sleep well: Everyone has gone into panic mode at some point. In those times, reality seems to go out the window, and you zone in on one particular task. As you’re getting ready for Thanksgiving, try to keep the same schedule. Eat the same kind of foods you normally do, get some exercise, and go to bed and get up at the same times as usual. If you keep your body in sync, you’ll keep a level head on your shoulders.

  • Take a breather: Build some downtime into your Thanksgiving day. Your mind and body work better if they both can take a break, so don't feel guilty if you put your feet up, watch a parade, or read an article for 15 minutes. You’ll feel refreshed, and those overwhelmed feelings will remain at bay.

  • Ask for help: The trick is knowing when you need help. As Thanksgiving day nears, be realistic. If you simply have too much to do, make some phone calls and get extra help. Your goal is to have a fun, successful Thanksgiving Day.

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