I’ve hosted a good many Thanksgiving dinners in my lifetime; at least 40 of them. There are the odd years I’ve been a guest, but that isn’t the norm. Typically, on Thanksgiving Day, my house is filled with 20 or more family members.

If you let it, the day can be stressful and exhausting. Believe me, you don’t want to be known as the host who does it all but becomes completely unraveled in the process.

I’m happy to say that over the years I’ve learned some Thanksgiving tricks, but the biggest lesson of all is to let go and keep it simple.

Here are my top tips for Turkey Day:

DELEGATE

Yes, I used to insist on doing everything, but I finally saw the light. Now, we all talk about what we want our day to look like, then everyone has a say in their assignments. We have it down:

As the host, I’m responsible for the turkey, stuffing, and pecan pie. The five teenage grandchildren set the table, bring in the extra chairs, and clean up. My sister brings the apple pies and makes the gravy. Son-in-law #1 prepares the mashed potatoes and scrubs the roaster. Son-in-law #2 brings his special pumpkin pie and keeps the toddlers out of the kitchen. My three daughters bring the rolls, salad, cranberry sauce, and vegetables. My brother-in-law carves the turkey. My son brings ice cream, whipped cream, and the appetizer platter.

MAKE A LIST, HAVE A TIMELINE AND WORK IN ADVANCE

Once you have your list of food you’re responsible for, know that almost anything on the menu can be made ahead, or at least started, so the big day isn’t so labor intensive. Stay on task by putting together a timeline of what you want to get done when, so that by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you’re in good shape to actually enjoy the day.

Desserts, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetable casseroles, rolls, gravy, even the mashed potatoes can be prepared in advance if you have the storage space in the refrigerator. Or use a cooler. Take things in steps, such as chopping the ingredients for the stuffing or making the pastry for the pies.

And on the big day, you’ll likely be using your electric frying pan, slow cooker, toaster oven, and microwave to cook the side dishes or keep them warm while that big bird is in the oven. So in the days before, organize these appliances and your serving dishes so you’re not hunting for them (and places to plug them in) at the last minute.

TAKE SOME SHORT CUTS

So, what if you find that no one wants to make that favorite dish from scratch, but everyone wants to eat it?

All the holiday fixings, from appetizers to desserts, have a ready-made version somewhere. Augment your feast by ordering from the bakery, the farmers’ market, or picking it up at the grocery store. It’s OK.

RE-THINK THE HORS D’OEUVRES

If you must have munchies for the hungry masses, keep them light and easy. A fruit and vegetable platter, hummus, and low-fat dips will keep your company from getting “hangry.” You don’t want everyone sitting down to the meal you slaved over already stuffed.

MAKE A PLAN FOR LEFTOVERS

If you make too much food like I do, have ideas in mind to use it up. Have storage containers ready at cleanup time. I send turkey and fixings home with my guests and request that they bring their own containers to fill.

GET OUTSIDE AND MOVE

A walk first thing in the morning, a family stroll between the big meal and dessert, kicking a soccer ball around or tossing a football will help compensate for over-eating. And that’s a given.

NIX THE CELLPHONES

Unless someone wants to take a photo or two, leave the cellphones in purses or pockets. On silent. Truly share the time with the people who are right in front of you.

SPREAD THE LOVE AND THANKFULNESS

It can sometimes be challenging to be with your favorite people all in one day. And even though the holiday season can be frenetic and over-loaded with lots of extras, you’ll never regret spending quality time with family and friends. Make a plan and mark your calendars. The best gift you can give someone is your time and attention, not just on major holidays but throughout the year.

Let the people in your life know you’re thankful. For them.


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