I (Helen) know meal planning can seem stressful and overwhelming to some, but I love it. As Thanksgiving approaches (it’s next weekend in Canada), even the most anti-planning entertainer can really benefit from having a game-day strategy. After all, you can’t just go out and buy a frozen turkey the morning of your meal, and expect it to all work out. Well, maybe you could, but the thought of that is kind of giving me heart palpitations.
Come to think of it, I think this will be the first Thanksgiving meal I’m organizing, but I cook for about thirty people regularly, and have catered larger events, so hopefully what I’ve learned will be of some use to you, especially if you’re hosting your first Thanksgiving meal:
- Make a plan. I’ve already extolled the virtues of planning, but seriously, make a plan at least a week ahead of time. Find your recipes for every element of your meal, make a grocery list, and create a schedule for how you’re going to get it done. For example, I’ll be making pastry for apple pie on Wednesday, and preparing the filling and doing the baking on Thursday (our meal is on Friday). Do as much as you can ahead of time, and the day-of preparations won’t feel so daunting.
- It’s okay to take shortcuts. If this is your first time hosting a sizable celebration (or if it’s your hundredth time), it’s okay to focus on one or two things you want to do from scratch, and take shortcuts in other places. This is not the time to start churning butter. Maybe your turkey will be of the ready-to-roast variety, but you’re going to try making a pumpkin pie from scratch. Or maybe your pumpkin pie will come from a bakery, but you’re going to make stuffing using an old family recipe. Pick your battles. And if someone compliments you on your store-bought pumpkin pie, just say “thank you.”
- Consider allergies. The traditional turkey dinner is actually a great meal to make for people with allergies and food sensitivities, because chances are, everyone will be able to eat something without you going to a whole lot of extra effort. A vegetarian might be missing the main event, but she’ll be able to eat almost everything else. Someone with gluten sensitivities will miss out on stuffing, but he’ll be able to have plenty of other parts of the meal (just don’t cook the stuffing in the turkey). If you’re feeding several people with allergies, and want options for dessert, make something that everyone can eat. An apple crumble made from certified gluten-free oats and coconut oil instead of butter is a great option.
- Enlist help. You don’t have to do this on your own. This might look like having a few friends/family members come early to peel potatoes, or it might mean everyone brings their fave side dish (which will help with point #5). Don’t invite everyone to come and help you; if you’re anything like me, this will just stress you out and you’ll have to go hide in the pantry for a few minutes and have a cup of tea. Just ask those who you know will be helpful and encouraging.
- It’s about more than the food. Perhaps more than anything else, my season in the kitchen has taught me that I cannot please everyone everyday. When you’re cooking for a group from a variety of places and backgrounds, you’re always going to be missing a “classic” (to them) Thanksgiving dish. But more than likely, you’re going to have something that everyone enjoys, whether it’s the turkey, the mashed potatoes, or the pumpkin pie. And besides, the point of Thanksgiving is not the food. It’s the thanks-giving. The thankfulness for friends and family, and for God’s provision in our lives.
What are your Thanksgiving/entertaining tips?