Thanksgiving Hacks For a Stress-Free Holiday

This post was originally written in October 2016. It has been updated November 2023.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. From my early childhood, Thanksgiving has meant family, friends and of course, wonderful food. A perfectly roasted turkey is a beautiful thing. Mother would always use her best china, her silverware, a lace tablecloth, and her crystal. It was special. It also involved many pots, dishes, pans, and clean-up. I was usually involved in the clean-up.

For many cooks, the time leading up to the big holiday is very busy. If trying to do all the necessary prep, making a shopping list/guest list, gathering ingredients, visiting all the grocery stores, decorating, and more is stressing you out, it’s time to get organized. Take time to plan, delegate, and relax.

Here are my thoughts on making Thanksgiving a less stressful day.

I. Sometimes our expectations make a wonderful time an exceedingly stressful time. We have our memories and want to make memories for our children.  Nothing is really perfect; neither the dinners we had as children, nor the dinners we produce for our families.  For a more stress-free Thanksgiving, I would like to suggest we first remember to not place unreal expectations on ourselves and others. The dinner will be wonderful even if there is a small mishap or problem. Keep a smile and warm thoughts as this too shall pass.

Happy Organized Life has a free printable Thanksgiving Planner for download.

II.  The next consideration is knowing what you want to happen, what you need to accomplish it, and having a plan to make it a reality. There are many checklists available on other blogs for this (see above), or just jot down on paper or your phone your ideas.  How many people are coming? For side dishes, how much and what size dish is required? How big should the turkey or main dish be? What size pan for the turkey (or other main dish) is needed?

I know this is important because more than two decades ago, I was hosting Thanksgiving and my sister insisted on buying a fresh Amish turkey for the meal. I told her the size needed and what my pan would hold. So the afternoon before Thanksgiving, she brought me a fresh, never frozen, no hormone Amish turkey which was almost twice as big as I had requested. It was huge. I had no pan to fit this bird. I frantically went to the store for a bigger pan. The only one I found big enough to hold half of that turkey was disposable.  I bought two and my husband cut the bird in two. I cooked half in the early morning hours of Thanksgiving and while the family ate, I cooked the second half. Everyone went home with lots of fresh turkey. So have a good roasting pan to fit your needs and try to de-stress over mistakes. No one except me was upset over that turkey.

III.  If you wish, you could have others who are attending bring a side dish or dessert. Less stress for you, and really more fun for everyone. Some people are known for a particular dessert, salad or dish. Why not have them bring their best and you provide the main event?

IV.  I would also suggest that some side dishes not requiring an oven or that could be made the day before would give you breathing room. BuzzFeed even did an article on 19 things you can make for Thanksgiving without an oven.

For smaller groups, check out my recipe for Slow Cooker Turkey Breast. Think pumpkin hummus, a fall pear & pomegranate salad, and butternut squash soup.

V. There have been quite a few articles on Thanksgiving hacks to save time and stress in the kitchen.  My favorite time saver is completing prep before the day of Thanksgiving. Need chopped or sliced celery, carrots, or potatoes for the meal? Peel and chop carrots or celery even two days before  and keep in the refrigerator. Potatoes should be kept in water overnight. Need bread, biscuits, or cornbread for dressing? Make two days ahead and save for the day.

VI. Make room in the refrigerator by storing non-essentials in a picnic cooler with ice packs.  Don’t need pickles for the day? Into the cooler. Or use a cooler for serve-yourself drinks. Coolers can be a small fridge or a serving tool or both. Your choice. Patio coolers are both attractive and functional in serving large groups of people.

VII. I would also suggest that you have a set of containers that work well together to maximize space in the refrigerator.  I remember reading one post last year on time-saving hacks. Everything was prepped ahead and placed in plastic bags. Yes, I use plastic bags for chopped veggies, but I really prefer to not clog the environment with a ton of plastic bags. Plus many wetter items do better in a nice reusable container. If the bag opens, out runs the wet mess. Now you have a refrigerator to clean. Most of us save margarine bowls and lids. I have some, but my preference is glass or ceramic containers and bowls. I’ve owned Pyrex and Corning products for years. Unfortunately too many containers are ROUND.

Amazon has a nice 24 piece set of containers with lids.  Prepare in the bowl, store, and  reheat in the microwave or oven because its glass. Since they are square, it is easier to fit in the refrigerator.

These extra large glass food storage containers with airtight lids  [3 containers with lids] will hold large amounts for the holidays and are microwave/oven/freezer & dishwasher safe. They’re on my wish-list. Using glass or ceramic for cooking and storage is great for you and your food. No chemicals are released into your food like plastic.

I hope these ideas help in planning your day. I’m wishing you a stress-free holiday. Enjoy this time of family, friends, and thankfulness. Remember the ones you love want to spend time with you. God Bless!

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I was raised in Tennessee but have lived in Florida for many years. Love my small home in the Tampa Bay area and its developing garden. My decorating style is eclectic - some vintage, some cottage, all with a modern flair. Pursuing a healthier lifestyle. Spent many years in social services but am happily retired.

13 thoughts to “Thanksgiving Hacks For a Stress-Free Holiday”

  1. These are all good ones, Carol — and I do most of them. But I got a new tip about using the cooler and ice packs for some of the non-essentials. That’s a great idea.

  2. Carol, I appreciate you sharing these wonderful ideas for less stress with the Thanksgiving meal. These are going to come in handy.
    Visiting today from SSPS 286 #50&51

  3. Great ideas and Thank you for sharing your links with us at #286 SSPS Linky. See you again next week.
    May you all have an awesome Thanksgiving, as we here in Canada already had Thanksgiving last month

  4. Carol,
    This is such a wonderful post. Not only did you share some helpful time savers but you really captured the feeling of Thanksgiving that I remember as a child. Now our family and extended family has grown so with in laws cousins, etc and we are a very large group of 35.. We don’t use china dishes but decorative large paper plates, everyone brings a dish, and the host only makes the turkey, a pot of soup, and supplies all the drinks. Everything else is assigned to the guests down to the homemade cranberry sauce. It’s not a beautiful and memorable as in my youth but it’s fun and everyone is included and everyone is together. I love the glass storage container set that you shared.

    1. The time with family is not about china plates for sure. It sounds like you are capturing the essense of putting family first and teaching it to your children.

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