3 Steps to a Low-Stress Thanksgiving Meal

Nesting on 11.21.11
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With Thanksgiving a mere few days away, I've been seeing my friends run around in a tizzy trying to prep for the holiday and meet everyone's requests for the big meal. Should they drive the forty minutes to Whole Foods get that specific request from their mother-in-law or is there another way to work around it? Thanksgiving is supposed to be about spending time with family and enjoying a wonderful meal together, but with all the good there also always seems to be a lot of stress. This is my first year hosting Thanksgiving dinner (although I've hosted other holidays), and as a busy working mother, I don't have time to start cooking a week in advance. But I refuse to stress out about it, and I'm following three simple steps to create a Thanksgiving meal that will be stress-free, delicious, and beautiful.

1. Reduce the Number of Dishes to be Made- Squash, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, gravy, and cranberry sauce are just some of the items you're likely to find served up alongside the turkey. There will almost always be more food than there is room on your plate. Plus there are appetizers because you can't host a dinner party and not have appetizers even when you don't really need them. My solution is to move some of the dinner items into the appetizer course. We always have squash at our holiday meals, but this year I'm going to make a roasted squash and sweet potato soup as a starter which means one less useless appetizer. This means a little bit less food on this gluttonous day and less work.  And because we're only eight people for dinner, I'm only making one dessert. It's not necessary to have three different pie options. I will make apple pie from scratch, but there will only be one. If people ask for additional dishes that you don't have planned on your menu, feel free to say in a nice way that you already have a full schedule of cooking, but they are welcome to bring the dish they'd like if they want to.

2. Add One Special Ingredient- I would love to consider myself a gourmet cook, but the truth is that even though I insist on making everything from scratch, I'm not always that great when it comes to timing or getting too creative with the spices. And now doesn't seem like a great time to re-invent the wheel anyway. However, I can still create a meal that feels like I really poured some culinary talent into it by adding just one special ingredient to each dish. For instance, I'm going to add Gorgonzola cheese to my mashed potatoes. It's a bit more exciting than just adding garlic and while it may not be a flavor typical of Thanksgiving, this cheese will taste delicious with the cranberries, stuffing, and green beans.

3. Keep the Décor Simple and Natural- Sometimes the most beautiful centerpieces are the easiest ones to make. I picked up mini pumpkins at the farmer's market that I'll put on each plate, and I always like to use centerpieces that have an extended use. This year, I've filled a vase with clementines and added bunches of spiky cauliflower that I also found at the farmer's market and couldn't resist. It's a beautiful color combination and only cost me a few dollars. It also doesn't require any water and my kids will gobble up the clemetines after the day has passed. I also combed my own yard for greenery and other things to add to additional arrangements around the house. Cranberries, clementines, apples, pumpkins, and gourds can be just as beautiful as an expensive flower arrangement and chances are you've already got them around the house. If you really want flowers and want to keep them easy and inexpensive, choose a single color and flower grouped in a large bunch and placed in a low vase with a coordinating ribbon wrapped around it.

We are three days away from Thanksgiving and it's my first year hosting, and I don't have an ounce of stress over it, but I'm sure that it will all be wonderful (even if the turkey ends up being a little dry) because it will be simple and we'll all be thankful to have our loved ones gathered around the table which is all that really matters at the end of the day.

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