Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. Some people love the music and gift-giving of Christmas. Others love the decorating and costumes of Halloween. My love lies squarely in between them both: a holiday known for its abundance and variety of food. A holiday that has its own pants. Regardless of whether I expect to cook for four or 14, I go all out when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner prep. The upside? My guests get to experience all the fixings of a traditional Southern Thanksgiving meal. The downside? While it turns out most people eat Thanksgiving dinner at around 3 p.m., my poor guests are lucky if the collard greens are ready by then.
The fix? I make a Thanksgiving brunch. Sure, it sounds like more work, but after doing this for the last three years, I pretty much have it down to a science. Here are a few tips I use for my family.
1. Kill two birds with one stone
Yeah, it sounds simple, but it’s sometimes harder than it looks. Just like with dinner, it’s important to look at the 3 Ws — who’s coming to your party, what do they eat and whether they have any food allergies (OK, that last “w” was a stretch, but bear with me, I’m working a theme here). And don’t discount people who say they’re bringing kids; just because they’re small don’t mean they won’t be starving (and at the most inopportune times). Just like you should do with dinner, plan for more rather than fewer; you don’t want to run out of food. And don’t worry about cooking too much (I have an answer for that too.)
2. Plan your menu
I love menu planning. Even though I pretty much cook the same dishes every year, I always write it down in order of prep time and put it on the fridge to check off as each dish is finished. Putting it in writing keeps you on track and prevents that “Oh, crap” moment when your entire meal is ready and you realize you’ve forgotten to make the cranberry sauce. Try to choose recipes that can be made in advance so you can pop it in the oven and make a few on-the-fly sides (like bacon. Bacon is a side, right?). I also choose dishes that freeze well in case it doesn’t all get eaten (see tip No. 1).
I also have a few vegetarian friends, so I’m sure to add at least one vegetarian dish to the menu. I love making this easy overnight strata that I can easily split and add meat to just one dish. With the kiddos, I make sure to have something they can easily eat with their hands. And don’t forget your drinks. My mom and I are sensitive to OJ, so I make sure to grab a couple bottles of Simply Orange® Low Acid. Pro tip: Be sure to get enough bottles so you can make a pitcher of mimosas too. This one is perf, because it’s a bit smoother than other OJs, so the taste isn’t overwhelming and it doesn’t shock your taste buds (which can dull the taste of bacon, amirite?).
3. Think beyond the food
I spend so much time on the menu prep that this one is still a bit more difficult for me. But when you have a house full of guests (or just two young kiddos and a hangry husband), at some point all the mini quiches and mimosas won’t be enough to keep them occupied. I didn’t grow up watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, but becoming a mom has taught me one major lesson. You can (usually) occupy kids with nearly anything as long as you make it into a game. Waiting six hours for dinner is no different. Enter: Thanksgiving Day parade bingo. For real, this game gives me a solid two hours of uninterrupted prep time, and (see above) the kids can snack on brunch until dinner is ready. For the grown-ups, I’ve heard some people watch football. If you’re not one of them, getting a fun and engaging card game like Cards Against Humanity is an absolute must. If you need something a little more, ahem, family-friendly, try a board game or interactive video game (like Wii Bowling… if Wii is still a thing?).
4. Choose your wine list
Yes, this deserves its own category. If you plan on serving wine, plan in advance. Not running to the gas station for wine while your guests are waiting for you makes you seem super-fancy. Trying to ball on a budget? We’ve got you covered. No need to spend over $20. Let’s save our money for important things like bacon and mimosas.
5. Be flexible
I’m a control freak. I hate when things don’t go exactly as planned. Alas, my fave holiday is essentially a practice in things that don’t go according to plan. That’s why the brunch is perfect. People are eating, having fun, chatting, playing games, so when your perfectly executed Thanksgiving dinner (I know, LOLOLOLOLOL, but no one has to know it wasn’t perfect) is finished, things will be fine. Remember, no one but you knows if there was supposed to be canned cranberry sauce or homemade (pro tip: if you’ve never made cranberry sauce before, always have a backup can), a pumpkin pie or a sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole or green beans almondine. Thanksgiving is about family, friends and food. So don’t overstress yourself. They’ll love you no matter what.
Just don’t forget the mimosas.
This post was sponsored by Simply Orange.