It’s that time of year! Thanksgiving…turkey, football, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, more turkey, family, chaos and fun! If you are like me, you have known the day was coming, yet have failed to really acknowledge it and now you are realizing that you have no plan. I can’t cook. Ok, I can cook, but I hate cooking anything that requires an actual recipe. Last year we attempted to make Thanksgiving dinner and let’s just say it ended with a frantic search for take-out by two very hangry people and a baby. This year, with the added joy of a VERY active, opinionated and often prone to temper tantrums toddler in the mix…I’m a little apprehensive of how it’s all going to go down.
So, here’s my advice (mostly to myself) on how to survive Thanksgiving without crying in the bathroom hiding from your toddler, very very hungry.
1. Don’t compare your Step #1 with someone else’s Step #100. If it’s your first time cooking thanksgiving dinner, don’t expect it to be like Grandma’s (or in my case dad’s – my dad did all the cooking in my house…sadly I inherited my mother’s culinary skills). Whoever cooked your childhood Thanksgiving dinners undoubtedly had years of burnt rolls, overcooked turkey, and failed green bean casseroles that led to the culinary masterpieces you enjoyed year after year. Go easy on yourself and aim for edible food on the table, instead of a Pinterest worthy spread. Every year you can up your game…but don’t jump into the big leagues when you really should be playing t-ball.
2. Don’t be a hero. If you try to cook EVERYTHING you ever ate at Thanksgiving dinner, it WILL end poorly. Instead, choose a couple of your childhood favorites – the dishes you can’t live without on Thanksgiving, and master those. Every year you can add another dish to your repertoire. It’s not a wise idea to attempt 10 new recipes in one day when you can barely follow one recipe for dinner. Trust me – I learned this from experience last year. Let’s just say I tried to be a master of everything and ended up with a really expensive and MESSY inedible dinner spread.
3. Get others involved – especially the kiddos! Find easy-to-follow tasks that your kids (and husbands) can do to help. No one wants to spend the day by themselves slaving over a hot stove…unless your toddler is particularly miserable – in which case HIDE in the kitchen and cook away! Turn on some christmas carols to tune out the whining and get your Martha Stewart on. But seriously…great activities that toddlers LOVE are washing veggies, popping the heads off mushrooms, mixing batter, trimming the ends off green beans (just let them use their hands), ripping apart broccoli, mashing potatoes, shucking corn and anything that requires pouring or stirring.
4. Make a plan. This is my personal downfall. Because, well, I procrastinate…everything. But, if you try to wing Thanksgiving dinner, you will end up with burnt dishes, uncooked dishes and a lot of food ready with no turkey anywhere near done. Go through what you are planning on cooking and figure out what you can make the day before, what you can prepare the day before, what needs to be cooked at what temperatures and for how long. Figure out what needs to be eaten right after it is cooked and what can be cooked a little earlier and then just heated up a bit. If you have a strong plan then your day will be less like a scene from Sharknado and more like a lovely segment on Rachel Ray.
5. Have a back-up plan. When shit hits the fan, your turkey won’t cook and your husband somehow manages to turn the cauliflower a frightening shade of green, know where you can get takeout or have a frozen pizza ready to pop in before your family starts going all Avalanche, deciding which family member should be eaten first.
6. Who said there needed to be a WHOLE damn turkey? If you are like us and live across the country from any and all family and are thus doing Thanksgiving solo style with a family of 3…you DO NOT need a whole turkey – unless you really like turkey…then go for it. But there is no shame in rocking some nice turkey cutlets or even turkey meatballs (perfect for toddlers and great to freeze and reheat later).
7. Have healthy snacks to hold the toddler over. While full-grown adults can “wait” for dinner without turning into a monster…toddlers can not. So, if you don’t want a pint-size maniac flailing himself on the ground and screaming for NO REASON AT ALL simply because he is hungry…then have snacks. Lots of snacks. I suggest fresh fruit (already cut up) and some cheese and crackers ready to go.
8. Entertainment at the table is NEVER a bad idea. While I firmly believe technology has NO place at the dinner table, I do acknowledge that toddlers don’t have the attention span to sit for a long drawn out dinner. So if you want them to stay at the table, have something that can entertain them (preferably not technology). You could try these really great Thanksgiving tablecloths that are actually a GIANT coloring surface. There’s also a ton of super cute (and free) printable place mats on Parents.com and other fancier Thanksgiving themed crafts at Paper Source to keep your little ones entertained at the table. You can even put some holiday music on in the background and just let them sing along. Another great idea (courtesy of my friend Maria Provenzano) is to get craft paper and use it as a ‘rustic’ tablecloth. It will look cute and you can color on it! Whatever you do, have something available for antsy little ones. Or just let them run amuck and enjoy your dinner as best you can. But don’t expect Jr. to sit calmly at the table while you go for seconds…cause that AIN’T gonna happen. It’s a holiday…not a miracle day.
9. Make your own traditions. One of the things I have struggled with since starting my own family is not having my childhood traditions. For me, the holidays were like a 3-ring circus and I loved (and still love) every second of it. But living across the country from my family means that while I have sunshine 24/7, I also miss out on a lot of family time. It’s easy to get sad or depressed this time of year not being surrounded by my giant, loud and crazy family, having the holiday traditions I grew up with…and I hate that my son isn’t growing up with those same big, loud and crazy holidays and traditions. But, every year, our holidays start to look more and more like “our own” and less like a sad, low-key attempt at replicating my childhood. The key is making your own traditions. Find ways to be festive and build traditions that are your own while still recreating as much of your childhood traditions as you can. For us, we go and donate to a food shelter every year and this year we are going to do a Turkey Trot 5k as a family on Thanksgiving morning. We will go get our Christmas Tree Thanksgiving weekend, but instead of chopping it down in the woods, we will pick it out of an abandoned parking lot. The day after Thanksgiving I will shop my heart out and then spend the rest of the weekend turning our house into the Christmas aisle at TJ Maxx. Some of our new traditions may look different, and feel different from those I grew up with, but each year we do them they become more and more special.
10. Remember the true meaning of the day. Take time during the day to talk about what you are thankful for. It’s easy to get caught up in the food, football and festivities and forget that what really matters is being with loved ones and acknowledging all the amazing things you are blessed to have.
So there you have it. My guide (mostly for myself) to attempt to survive Thursday.
In case you were wondering, here’s what I plan on “trying” to cook:
The Millers (possibly edible) Thanksgiving Menu
Mashed Potatoes (family recipe)
Baked Sweet Potatoes –
Simply wash the sweet potatoes and put in slow cooker on low for 7.5 hours and they are PERFECTION!
Green Bean Casserole (family recipe)
Deviled Eggs (family recipe)
Homemade Applesauce (family recipe)
Broccoli and Cheese (family recipe)
I know. It’s ambitious…but I think I can do it. Especially since most of my dad’s recipes are pretty easy (albeit lacking in actual directions). Besides, all I really care about are the deviled eggs, green bean casserole and chocolate cheesecake (and the cheesecake and eggs can both be made the day before). Plus, I have a frozen pizza “just in case”.
What is on your Turkey day wish list?! How are you planning on making the day a success? Do you have any sage advice on how to keep your toddler alive and the food edible?!