De-stress Your Thanksgiving Preparations – Part 2 (And have a London Fog)

Clear your brain with a London Fog!

Clear your mind with a London Fog

***UPDATE! I created a couple big event menu planning templates for you.

Thanksgiving Chart    Event Chart – Blank Template

You can use my examples as a starting point, and personalize the templates to your event. These are forms that I use regularly. They are very simple and straight forward, the way good organization should be!***

Most of these tips will apply to both a formal sit down dinner and buffet serving styles, but I concentrate more on buffet style. Be warned, the reason I have not gone formal is that all of my gatherings are about the people who are in my home, not the presentation. If I have little kids set the table, I don’t fix it after they’re done. I never do dishes or clean the kitchen when everyone is there. This is partly because I’m tired and my feet, ankles, hips and back are sore by the time dinner is served and I can’t keep standing, but also because I want to spend the time relaxing with the people I care about, not working side by side the entire time.

First you’ll have to decide whether you want buffet style or sit down and pass. Many people love the formality of everyone sitting down together and passing the dishes around the table. I have six children, so for many years that did not sound appealing to me. We had formal candlelight dinners with them to get them comfortable and to teach them how to behave in a formal setting, but I’d rather not do it on a big day.

This looks like a lot, but it really can be helpful. Pick and choose what suggestions will help make your Thanksgiving, Christmas or other big gathering easier and more enjoyable for you.

Here’s your first tip: Use lists and charts to keep yourself organized and on track. These lists and charts are not just for you. They are a great communication tool for anyone who is willing to help. If necessary or helpful, add times to the big jobs of the day. This helps me to see when I’m falling behind, and when I can take a few moments to sit and visit for a few minutes.

So, here we go with my beloved bulleted lists!

BEFORE & BEYOND THE FOOD

  • Plan everything! Get it down on paper or in your computer. (I prefer computer, then print things out when needed.)
    • Adults – where will they gather and what will they do
      • You are not the entertainment, but consider
      • Are there places for them to gather comfortably,
      • Are the veggie and other snack trays and drinks easily accessible,
      • Is the TV on, and on the right channel for parades or football games?
      • A small stack of Sudoku and crossword puzzle books with a full stock of pencils and erasers can make you the most loved hostess of nerds like me
    • Children – your own and others’
      • For young ones
        • Use butcher paper as a tablecloth on the kids’ table and supply crayons for them to decorate their own table—have an example of the old standard traced hand turned into a turkey in the center; draw rectangles to represent place mats and let them decorate their space as well. (This also helps them find their places when the dinner time bustle happens.)
        • Ask an adult or older teen –who you know to be kind to kids!—to keep them corralled away from the kitchen if necessary. The kitchen is a very dangerous place on this day.
        • Go through your children’s rooms with them a day or two before and box up everything but the toys they want to share with the children coming. Don’t forget, you have veto power. The goal is to have only a manageable amount of safe, sturdy toys out and within reach. Every toy that is in the room, whether put away or not, will end up on the floor, so remove the boxed up toys to another place in the house.
      • Older kids and teens
        • If you have an extra TV and room, video games are an obvious favorite if you and your guests are okay with it—this will entertain most young adult men, as well…or my husband.
        • Apples to Apples is a card game that is very popular and non-exclusive. Anyone can join in any time, and it’s fun to watch other people play.
        • A puzzle that is already started on a card table off to the side is tempting to anyone. People will stop by and fit a piece in here and there throughout the day.
        • If the weather is nice, send the kids out (with proper watchers for little ones) to gather small branches that have fallen in the autumn shedding, or pine cones, etc. Have empty vases out for them to make arrangements. Then leave the arrangements as they are! (Plan ahead and have space in your buffet set-up for the vases to fit once filled.)

NOW FOR THE FOOD!

  • Plan menu – including breakfast, snacks, desserts, and drinks
    • Make sure not to overload the work load of the day of the event
    • Breakfast should be light, and can be as simple as cereal, but plan it and have it available for others to serve themselves
    • Include dishes that can be made ahead and frozen
    • Keep it balanced! It’s okay to indulge, but there’s no need to go overboard with fatty, chemical-filled food.

      • Creamy gravy and mashed potatoes balance out if the rest of the meal is real food prepared without a lot of butter and cream
      • With crackers, pretzels, cheese, veggies and veggie dips, and fruit salad, etc., there is no need to feel deprived because there are no chips. Besides, chips and salsa are at every gathering and party; it’s a special day!
      • Drinks do not have to be elaborate or sugary. We don’t even have pop. (Unless my husband sneaks and gets it the day before.) Coffee, tea, iced tea and/or lemonade, are more than enough for people to choose from, and will save you a lot of money!

**A quick note on using the freezer to help with your big celebration meals: you can start 3 months in advance and not only save yourself time and work, but you can spread the cost of a feast out over 3 months, rather than all in one swoop. For those on tight budgets, it can make the difference between possible and impossible.

  • Make ahead and freeze – pies
    • For a combination of time saving plus best flavor, go for fresh pie fillings and get help with the crust
    • Apples can be peeled, cored, sliced and tossed with a mixture of brown sugar, flour, and spices and frozen in gallon size zippered freezer bags in the amount your pie recipe calls for
    • Frozen pie crusts save time
    • Puff pastry as a crust can add interest to an old recipe or make a chocolate cream pie really decadent
    • 15×10 inch slab pies instead of round pies—roll 2 pie crusts or puff pastry crusts out to fit a jelly roll pan (a cookie sheet with 1 inch edges) then cover with ingredients for 2 or more pies. Bake at 375° for 40 minutes, check for doneness and adjust
  • Make ahead and freeze – side dishes
    • Wild rice dressing
    • Mashed potatoes (click on  “Make Ahead and Freeze” for wild rice dressing and mashed potatoes recipes)   
    • Fresh sweet potatoes can be cooked, mashed, seasoned with whatever you prefer, then frozen in a gallon size zippered freezer bag.
    • During the summer, when the green beans are bountiful in your garden or at a farmer’s market, get enough for a gallon size zippered freezer bag. Wash, trim and blanch them. Let them dry, then freeze them flat in the zippered freezer bag. Mark the bag “Thanksgiving.”
      • You can take it a step further and season the blanched beans, toss them with some toasted slivered almonds, and have it ready for heating.
    • Homemade broth may come in handy of there isn’t enough pan juice for a good gravy. If broth is frozen ahead of time, it helps for it to be in plastic sour cream or yogurt type containers because it can slip right out without having to thaw it first.
    • Think of your menu and traditional favorites. Is there anything, or any portion of preparation that can be made in advance and frozen? I was given about 50 lbs of onions one summer. I caramelized many containers’ worth and had them available for use without having to wait the half hour it takes to make them.
  • Take inventory of cooking/baking dishes and serving dishes.
    • Make use of pretty oven-safe serving dishes when possible
    • Use crock pots and other warmers – I love my 3-pot crock pot thingy. Yes, I said thingy!
    • Don’t forget coffee and tea servers, sugar bowls and creamers, pitchers or drink dispensers
    • Plan utensils, too
    • Include serving trays and bowls, etc. for snacks
  • Everything that can be prepped ahead, should be prepped ahead—If prep work is done beforehand, more people can help with assembly on the day of the event
    • Fresh items such as produce and cheese can be cut up and sliced the night before
    • Drinks—
      • How much iced tea or lemonade should and can be made the day before and kept in the fridge?
      • Borrow a second coffee pot to have decaf available, or just to have enough to keep up with 17 coffee drinkers, like I had last year.
  • Arrange “serving stations” wherever space is available and suitable
    • A drink station near a water supply is helpful
    • A couple snack stations so refills are easier to foresee and tend to
    • A staging area for the kids helping replenish the snack trays and cracker baskets
    • A staging area for the person helping assemble serving dishes for the table or buffet
  • Delegate!
    • There are many time consuming jobs that young children will actually find fun
      • If everything is prepped the day before, children can be given serving trays and veggies, crackers, cheese, etc., and allowed to use their own creativity. It keeps them busy, within sight and feeling useful. Plus, if they snack (a little!) as they go, at least they’re eating veggies and cheese, rather than junk food.
        • My two youngest have been arranging the veggie tray in the shape of a turkey every year as part of our family tradition for years now. I ask them what they need and it gets added to my shopping list.
      • Setting the table isn’t as much of a chore if a couple or a few do it together.
    • It helps if you have a list of the jobs that others can do without extensive direction
      • When people ask if they can help, they can either pick something from the list, or read it to you and you can tell them which needs to be done.
      • If necessary or helpful, add times that the big jobs should be completed. This helps me to see when I’m falling behind, and when I can take a few moments to sit and visit for a few minutes.
    • Label serving dishes with what will be in them and group them with their utensils
      • In the arrangement in which they will finally be placed, if possible.
      • Post-it notes work, or you can lightly stick masking tape to each
    • If you have children old enough to load a dishwasher, assign them times to be in the kitchen as the preparations are going on. They can help with little things and keep the sinks clear of dirty dishes and pots and pans.
      • I always try to split up the work among them and give them plenty of time to hang out and play
      • Assigning two at a time is more fun for them and helps with cooperation level

      I hope you can make use of some of these ideas. I’ve used all of them from time to time, so they’re tried and proven! Let me know which ones you like the most, and I’d love to hear your suggestions, as well!

    Sipping a London Fog while planning Thanksgiving

    Double strength Earl Grey

    London Fog

    • 12 oz hot, double strength Earl Grey tea (2 tea bags for double strength)
    • Heat ¼ cup vanilla syrup with
    • ¼ cup milk and
    • 2 TB half-n-half
    1. Make double strength Earl Grey tea. Steep for 4 minutes, then discard tea bags.
    2. Heat vanilla syrup with milk and half-n-half
    3. Add half vanilla milk mixture to hot tea. Add more a tablespoon or two at a time until preferred taste 

    OR! I just found this! It may not be new to you , but it certainly is to me. I hate flavored creamers. I can taste the fake milk flavor. I’ll go without coffee if there isn’t a real milk product of some kind. But now, there’s Nestle® Coffee-mate® Natural Bliss™! It’s just real dairy, sugar (not corn syrup) and natural flavor. (Don’t know why they can’t say vanilla. Has me curious.) I may become their biggest fan.

    • 12 oz hot, double strength Earl Grey tea
    • 3 – 4 TB Nestle® Coffee-mate® Natural Bliss™ all natural vanilla coffee creamer
    1. Make 12 oz hot, double strength Earl Grey tea, as in step one above.
    2. While tea steeps, heat creamer in microwave for 30 – 40 seconds.
    3. Add heated creamer to hot tea.
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This entry was posted in A Full, Frugal & Beautiful Life, Drinks, Food, Freestyle Cooking Class, Holiday Cooking, Organization, Recipes, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to De-stress Your Thanksgiving Preparations – Part 2 (And have a London Fog)

  1. Pingback: Bruschetta for Breakfast | Life is Delicious

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