5 Secrets of stress-free Thanksgiving celebrations

Nov 19, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. ET

Use these holiday entertaining tips to get your turkey to the table without sacrificing the time and energy to celebrate the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Family on Thanksgiving

I get pumped as Thanksgiving approaches each year. I love this holiday that brings my family and close friends together to celebrate the people and events in our lives that makes us feel lucky and loved. Of course, I also look forward to the food. This year, in addition to the turkey, we'll be feasting on roasted Brussels sprouts, scalloped potatoes and my sweet potato, apple and toasted pecan soup. Dessert is still undecided, which is fine by me because the menu planning is half the fun.

Between my time catering and all the dinner parties we throw, I've developed crowd-friendly recipes as well as a recipe for a successful shindig. Use these tips to execute your Thanksgiving gathering with the least stress and the most enjoyment. Happy holidays!

  1. Make a plan. This is one I learned from catering that is so, so helpful for holiday parties. Write down or type up a list of everything you need to get done, from ironing the tablecloth to decanting the wine. Then, work backward from the party start time to track when you need to get each thing done. This 10 minutes or so of planning will save you stress and reduce mistakes. And, if you're Type A like me, it will just make you feel good.
  2. Do ahead of time what you can. While making your plan, look for every opportunity to do things ahead of time. Lots of food can be prepped days in advance and many dishes reheat well. The table can be set the morning of or even the night before. You don't want to be distracted from celebrating by getting tied up in tasks that could have been completed long before the party started.
  3. Include a 30-minute buffer. When you make your day-of plan, allow half an hour between the time you're ready and when your first guests should arrive. This gives you a little wiggle room — a good idea both practically and mentally — but the point here is actually to give you some time to get your party face on. Use those 30 minutes to do whatever helps you feel relaxed and ready to have fun — change your clothes, touch up your makeup, grab a beer or a glass of wine — so when the party starts you can be part of it!
  4. Cut back on the number of dishes. I've seen sitcoms poke fun at how every guest has some specific nostalgic side that makes Thanksgiving for them. In my experience, though, people are just happy to have someone else cook for them! Preparing a large volume of just a handful of dishes minimizes prep time, reduces the challenges of juggling oven time, and lets you focus on making the most amazing, delicious food.
  5. Relax and have fun! I might be stating the obvious here, but I tend to get so caught up in my perfectionism that I forget the reason we all get together in the first place: To give thanks. Trust me when I tell you no one really cares if the turkey is a little dry or there wasn't enough for a second helping of mashed potatoes. Spend the day enjoying the company of the loved ones you are so thankful for and those around you are sure to follow suit.

More holiday entertaining tips

Holiday entertaining survival guide
Tips to pulling off a flawless holiday party
The dos and don'ts of easy holiday entertaining