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November 12, 2012

My 8 Tips for A "Less Perfect" Thanksgiving

Blog-staying-calmI have a fun Thanksgiving tradition. I get together with a group of people I used to work with right after college – and we have a mini "Friends-giving." The tradition started a long time ago before most of us had families or big dining rooms and kitchens. Before most of us knew how to cook – or wanted to learn. The focus wasn’t on the food. It was about getting together. We bought all the food and sides from a rotisserie chicken place in New England called Boston Market. And it was a feast.

Now our families have grown, and so have our taste buds. Over the years, people have started cooking real, delicious food. They've brined turkeys, mashed potatoes, made pie crusts -- from scratch!

This year, I am hosting. And I here's my secret: I'm going back to getting take-out. It’s all part of my goal on being "less perfect" and focusing on what's really important. The purpose of this is to be together. It was never about the food.

Thanksgiving can get so stressful. Add kids, in-laws and a house packed with guests to the mix and suddenly you can’t wait to gobble down your food and get everyone out the door. I suggest adopting a little bit of my "less perfect" plan for your holiday too (No, I don’t only mean getting fast-food!). Here are some ideas:

  1. Buy your appetizers. They're not the main event!
  2. Ask everyone to bring one side dish or a dessert.
  3. Make two kid-friendly foods so you don't have to hear whining if they don't eat turkey (microwavable macaroni counts!). (Here are 9 kid-friendly recipes)
  4. Cook your favorite dish (you will really look forward to eating it!)
  5. Assign chores, even to the kids. Do this a week in advance, and start jobs 2 days before.
  6. Get kids to create the table décor. That way, it's not perfect -- it's adorable!
  7. Hire a housecleaner or Care gig runner to do errands, set up or clean up. The more work (or kids) you have, the more helpful this will be. (Or book a sitter so you can prep in peace!)
  8. Focus on being together. Find a game for the kids to play together (here are some kiddie table activities), and another game for the adults to play after the kids go to bed. This should be fun and festive. The dishes can wait for Friday! 

Tell me, what is your best tip to stay calm over the holidays?


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Thanksgiving is always at my house. The first few years I took pride in cooking the meal and had a lot of fun with it! After a few years I realized that at the end of the day I missed so much time with my family. We tried eating out three years ago and it was fun, but did not really feel like Thanksgiving. Two years ago we decided to order our dinner. A local country club makes all of the food...including a whole turkey. I tell them what time I will pick up the food and we bring home an entire hot meal! It was perfect! I got to spend time with my family and enjoy a beautiful Thanksgiving feast!

Joyful Abode

I have to admit this list makes me a little sad. I think cooking CAN be a fun family event. Involving the kids in the kitchen (and yes. Letting go of "perfection" a bit) will create many more memories than hiring a sitter so you can "prep in peace." This article is a bit conflicted.

If the meal shouldn't be the focus, why are you buying appetizers, hiring a caregiver while you cook, and making multiple "kid friendly" meals? (Since when is turkey a vile food according to kids? And since when are moms required to be short order cooks? I am glad I don't live in fear of my kids not liking something I cook. They can eat it or not but I'm not making multiple meals.)

How about this to simplify: cook with your family. Instead of 3 entrees, choose one. Instead of 6 sides and 3 desserts, pick 2 or 3 favorite sides and one dessert. Skip appetizers or just set out some cheese and fruit.

You're truly not required to make thanksgiving dinner a giant feast can be a nice gathering around a lovely (simplified) meal. I think it was better homes and gardens last week that had "37 essential recipes for thanksgiving" first thought was "wait. I'm REQUIRED to cook almost 40 recipes? They're ESSENTIAL?"



I agree with joyful abode! However, I have three very young children and am the only cook, so we make all the sides and homemade bread in advance, freeze, then pull out the morning of. Everything tastes fantastic and I only have to pop the turkey and potatoes on the stove/ oven that day. Easy. The kids also get to help with the prep, we just do one dish at a time instead. We keep it fairly simple as well, and if I don't have time for the homemade rolls, there are always crescents for backup!


This article just does not do thanksgiving justice. Reading things like this makes me realize why people want to skip it and move straight to Christmas. When I was a child we were all given a "dish" to prepare. Even a 3 year old. At 3 I made tea. Before too long I was allowed to cook every dish except the turkey and ham, which to this day falls on my mother. I now get my children to prepare the dishes. My 7 year old made the pre-thanksgiving pumpkin pie yesterday. All I did was deal with the oven. I hope she has fond memories just like I do of thanksgiving, Christmas is still a blurr but I remember thanksgiving.


Yes, thanksgiving is all about the people but it is also about the feast or bounty.

I love to cook Thanksgiving more than any other meal.

Things to make it easy include making the same Tradional Thanksgiving menus every year! It not time to learn a new dish. Having my grocery list stored both on my PC and on my Haristeeters shopping website. I've already placed my order for pick up this year. I also keep a list of when to cook what; like making cranberry sauce the weekend before.

By the time Thanksgiving comes I'm really just cooking a few main items and everything else has been done ahead. I even have a schedule for Thanksgiving day.

By the time company comes I am ready for a glass of wine and hanging out. What I don't worry about is making a perfect table when it comes time to eat! Thanksgiving may be about the people and food, for me it's not about perfect presentation.


I agree with the comments. If there is any day of the year that we should cook a home made meal, it should be on thanksgiving if at all possible. I recently hosted a gathering for some women and presented a soup bar. Everyone was very amazed that I took the time to make three soups for them. But mostly they were so grateful for the warmth of this home made meal. When someone takes the time to cook for you, you dont just get the delicious meal, you somehow receive all that love and effort in that went into making it. Especially in this day and age. People are so appreciative of anything home made! And I agree that cooking together really can make the memories.

But some years if things have been stressful it can be a unique and memorable adventure to go have dinner at a hotel on thanksgiving. We did that with my mom one year when I was in high school and I really enjoyed it. Something out of the ordinary becomes a special memory too. One year my parents served the turkey from a variety that is in a tin foil container, like pound cake. It was actually tasty!! It was a fun memory that we all got a kick out of our turkey in a can. So yes, imperfection certainly! But did you ever notice that no matter what our memory is, traditional, perfection or far from it...if it is a happy' perfect.


Best tip to stay calm over the holidays??? Don't invite your mother in law!!! If only it were possible!

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