Especially if you are the host, Thanksgiving can feel like one giant checklist. From the shopping and prepping all the way through cooking and cleanup, it's easy to get overwhelmed. I'm willing to place some of the blame on folks like me! We offer so many recipes and tips that instead of picking and choosing what's most relevant to you, maybe it feels like more of a command performance.
So let me make it up to you by putting you at ease. I polled the Food team and we came up with a list of things we give you permission to stop caring about! Maybe you only agree with some of these, and that's fine. Anything you can take off your (metaphorical) plate to better enjoy what's on your (dinner) plate - not to mention your family and friends - is a win in my book.
Ready to reduce your stress? Here's what you shouldn't worry about.
1. Bringing a beautiful whole turkey to the table. We love you, Norman Rockwell, but you kind of ruined this for us. If you think about it, it makes no sense to trot the whole bird out for everyone to see. Ideally, you let it rest at least 30 minutes before carving anyway, so who's going to suggest waiting even longer just to let them ooh and aah over the whole turkey? And, look, stuff happens. You might pull the turkey out of the oven and it looks a little wonky. Maybe the legs sort of drooped. Perhaps the skin isn't bronze all over. Whatever visual imperfections there are, they'll be gone once you cut the whole thing up. (Did an imperfect job carving? Who cares! Everyone's going to drizzle some gravy or cranberry sauce on top anyway.)
2. Timing your meal down to the minute. I can tell you that nothing stressed me out more than trying to hit a deadline at Thanksgiving. Expecting to eat at exactly the time you set is an exercise in futility. Things are going to go slower or faster than you expect, you'll get distracted, the cat will get stuck in the turkey cavity, whatever. Give folks an estimated time, sure, but couch it with "around" and be sure to have some drinks and little snacks on hand if the meal is delayed. People can take pleasure in one another's company for a bit, really.
3. Setting a pretty table. Honestly, we're all here for the food. Don't worry if you don't have decorative gourds or even matching dinnerware. You can even just set out a stack of plates and let people grab them as they come up to the food, buffet-style. Let them sit where they want to sit, pulling up chairs, perching on the couch, etc.
4. Pairing drinks with dishes. "Drink whatever you want and enjoy it," my colleague Olga Massov says. If you're buying wine, you don't need to spend a fortune, either, just aim for that sweet spot of affordable and tasty. "Save prized bottles for another time. There's just too much food."
5. Making everything from scratch. Olga with more sage advice: "Figure out what is most important to you and make that." Everything else can be store-bought or semi-homemade. Hate cooking the turkey? Outsource that! Restaurants are great places for getting the kind of turkey you might not make at home, including smoked or deep-fried. Order a pie from your favorite bakery, or get a store-bought crust. Anyone who judges you for shortcuts or assists probably doesn't deserve to be at your table.
6. Making everyone's favorite dish. I could relate to my colleague Emily Heil's observation that it can feel impossible to include that one dish that makes the meal for every single person, especially with a larger group. Set expectations in advance, and if you know someone anticipates seeing a certain food on the table, give advance notice if it's not happening! Or suggest they make it themselves, which leads me to the next tip ...
7. Going it alone. "Thanksgiving is in part about family. So let the family help you put together dinner," my colleague Tim Carman says. "You don't have to do it yourself." Yes, ask for help! This can take any number of forms. Turn the meal into a potluck. Request people be in charge of peripheral tasks, such as getting ice, taking coats or collecting containers for sending home leftovers. There's no need to be a martyr. People want to be of assistance, so let them.