The Secret to a Calm Thanksgiving


Whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving for your family or for 50 out of town guests, thinking about the big day can be daunting. While there’s something nostalgic about the hustle and bustle of a busy holiday meal, my goal is to be able to enjoy the day as much as possible. This is easy when you know the secret to having a calm Thanksgiving. 

My husband and I moved to Arizona the year after we got married. We were the first people in our family to live here and we only had a few friends. While we knew we’d miss our families for the holiday, we were new at our jobs and couldn’t take the time off to travel. 

I was starting to feel overwhelmed when I realized I didn’t know how to roast a turkey or prepare any of our favorite family recipes. It was then that I took a deep breath and realized the secret to a calm Thanksgiving: PREPARATION!

Planning for a Calm Thanksgiving

Getting dinner on the table during a regular week can be a challenge, I knew that a full multi-course Thanksgiving dinner was going to take more than a little planning. I started to think about the meal as if I were planning a party:

  1. Create the Menu – List all of your family’s favorite recipes. Are you big dessert fans? You can add as many options as you like. Do you like potatoes three different ways? Or, would you rather never see another mashed potato again?
  2. Refine the List – If nobody in your family enjoys green bean casserole, give yourself some grace and take it off the list! Just because your great grandma always made it, doesn’t mean you have to continue that tradition.
  3. Compile the Recipes – If you aren’t sure how to make the dishes, call someone who does. If you want to add something new to your Thanksgiving menu, look for a recipe with lots of great reviews. I like to create a “Thanksgiving” Word document with all of the recipes – you’ll see why in the next two steps.
  4. Create a Shopping List – Using your recipes, make a list of everything you’ll need. I promise, if you go to the grocery store the Sunday before Thanksgiving, you’ll want to run away or cry. You can buy any of the pantry items in advance. I like to save mine in a Trader Joe’s bag on the counter, so they’re easy to access and don’t get mixed in the pantry with our weekly groceries. Remember to add the basics – butter, seasoning, tin foil, etc.
  5. Create a Timeline – Using your recipes, make a list of how long each item needs to cook and at what temperature. If some recipes can be made in advance, add that to your timeline. Next, work backwards, starting with the time you want to eat. If you eat Thanksgiving dinner at 6pm and the turkey takes four hours plus 30 minutes to rest – it needs to start cooking at 1:30pm to be ready on time. Remember the simple things – do you have cool whip that needs to thaw? When do you baste your turkey? When do you want the table set?
  6. Start Early – Turkeys are usually sold frozen and take a few days to thaw, depending on the size. Remember to include this in your timeline and planning.

Avoiding Meltdowns

If you have kids running around the house and it makes you feel flustered, give them a job. Whether it’s drawing handprint turkeys or making name cards for the table, kids love to be a part of the festivities.

Plan for the unexpected. By making a plan, you can remain calm when something goes wrong. If your pie crust comes out raw and the filling is burning, ask a guest to stop at the store and buy a pie on their way over. If the turkey is done but the side dishes are barely warm, adjust.

Know that you’re not alone. Rely on the people in your family who have previously hosted the holidays. Accept help when people offer to bring food and drinks. There’s even a “Turkey Talk Line” if you have questions about your bird. 

Plan for what guests will do when they arrive. Do you have a friend or relative who is especially helpful in the kitchen? Is there an older cousin who can help manage the kid chaos? Does grandpa love watching football, but your spouse loves the parade? 

Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy time with family and food. It’s easy to place a lot of pressure on ourselves, especially if when you’re hosting the holiday. Remember to make time for yourself leading up to the big day so you can enjoy a calm Thanksgiving.