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Tips for Creating a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Meal

Published November 14, 2011        by Nicole

flickr photo credit: CarbonNYCHave you ever noticed how those lovely family holidays tend to make us crazy? We let stress carry away any joy we get from being with our loved ones, and if children are among your guests, you will find anxiety amplified. The good news, though, is that you can have a stress-free (or certainly less stress) Thanksgiving meal by taking a few easy steps before you even put the turkey in the oven.

Planning, planning, planning. Being prepared reduces anxiety levels enormously; it is when we are frazzled, harried, hurried, or torn in eight directions at once that stress overtakes us. To keep this from happening, sit down well in advance of Thanksgiving and plan your guest list and menu. If you tend to become easily stressed (and who doesn't around the holidays?), you may want to think about paring down your guest list.

If this isn't a possibility, it's time to delegate and plan your dishes accordingly. Instead of laboriously making portobello mushrooms stuffed with pine nuts and goat cheese, make a big pot of creamy garlic mashed potatoes. Guests will still love them, and you can make a large quantity easily. You don't have to write your menu from a gourmet, haute cuisine restaurant; simple favorites will do just fine. Better yet, have guests bring side dishes. You can be in charge of the turkey or ham, and your guests can bring the side dishes, appetizers, and desserts. Delegate; your local guests will be more than happy to bring food. And if you have to, buy a pumpkin pie instead of making one. It'll be fine.

Enlist family or a close friend to help you clean the day before your Thanksgiving feast. Children can pick up toys, straighten out rooms, and maybe even man the vacuum. This will leave you free to cook and perhaps even enjoy your guests on Thanksgiving. This is a great time to delegate as well: just because your great-grandmother single handedly cooked Thanksgiving differ for 25 people while making crafts and warming apple cider for everyone doesn't mean you have to. Get your spouse, children, and friends to help you prepare foods and get your house ready for guests. If they're eating with you, they can very well help out! And they will probably be very happy to do so. And if not, you can bribe them with pre-Thanksgiving treats.

Preparing the meal is not stressful when you're at home with the leisure to do it yourself. But when guests start arriving and your aunt starts looking over your shoulder and giving you tips about your gravy, this is when it starts to get a little too warm in the kitchen. To avoid some of this stress, give your aunt – and anyone else who is dishing out advice – jobs. People can peel, chop, grate, slice, or wash to help you out. Every chef needs prep cooks, so don't be afraid to delegate tasks.

If there are guests who you know will be more hindrance than help in the kitchen, create other jobs for them. Maybe someone can help the kids make crafts or read them books to keep them out of the kitchen. Maybe you can set up some board games or put on the game in the living room. Maybe you could send people out to gather leaves and acorns for a centerpiece or let them paint gourds. They'll feel helpful and they will not be underfoot. Let others know that they should relax, have a drink, read, watch television, or visit with other guests without feeling obligated to do anything. If all else fails, set a tray of holiday chocolates in another room and run for the kitchen.

If you have children at your gathering, give them a break. They pick up on the excited or stressed atmosphere and act accordingly. If they cannot sit through an entire adult meal, set a kids' table. Let them get up before the adults and go watch a movie or set up a game in the living room for them. Don't be too rigid about rules today – letting it slide will help alleviate a lot of stress, and life can go back to normal tomorrow.

Most of all, give yourself a break. Remind yourself that you are thankful for all of these people in your home and for the food which you are preparing. One step at a time; you will get there, people will eat, and Thanksgiving will be a success.

And if you are gearing up for the Christmas holidays, be sure to check out this article for 10 Ways To Avoid Holiday Stress too!