I don't know about other people's families, but on Thanksgiving day everyone in my family is in the kitchen helping prepare food. Grandma is making crust for the apple pie. My mom is stirring gravy. My husband is mashing potatoes. I'm forming rolls. Jordan, my daughter, is given small tasks so she feels included. And we are all chatting up a storm. Hearing stories from when Grandma was a little girl on the farm and having to catch the turkey. Laughing about how my mom went into labor with my brother the day after Thanksgiving. Telling Jordan about honorary "aunt" Rose who made up the Jell-o salad recipe that we still serve today more than 50 years later. By the time dinner hits the table, it is well infused with love and laughter and maybe a few tears.
But there is also the stress of the holiday meal. So, here are my tips on de-stressing and how to get kids, and husbands, involved:
1. Make sure everyone, men included, have a dish they are responsible for making. Mashed potatoes are a hard one screw up - peel, boil, mash, done. He can do the potatoes early on Thursday, then scoop them into a buttered crock pot, set on low - they'll stay warm and moist until dinner time. He doesn't even have to miss football.
2. Start early. Figure out what can be done before Thursday. The Saturday before I make cranberry sauce. Jordan helps by pouring water and sugar into the berries. She can also prep the jars and lids so they are ready for me to fill up. Wednesday, Jordan and I will make the Jell-o salad and the pumpkin pie. Jordan can measure ingredients and stir. Early Thursday morning, she and I will start the dough for the rolls. I've had Jordan kneading dough since she was five.
3. Don't make new stuff. Every year all the magazines and newspapers come out with new fangled green bean casserole recipes or stuffing or whathaveyou. Personally, I don't need the added stress of trying something new and hoping it works out. My family has been doing the exact same dishes since I can remember. The way we end up with new items is when a new person joins the family. My brother's wife's family tradition is a apple-cranberry pie. She brought one when they were dating, it was a big hit and is now part of the meal.
4. Laugh. Mistakes will happen. One year we peeled the potatoes into the garbage disposal and tried to run it. We broke the garbage disposal and water came flooding under the sink and all over the floor. As we were cleaning up the mess, the news was on and they were going over tips for the day. One of the tips - don't put potato peels down the garbage disposal. Right. Check. I've also burned the pie crust, used salt instead of sugar in the Jell-o, added vanilla instead of soy sauce to the green beans. Each time we just laugh about it and it makes a great story to tell in the kitchen the next holiday.
5. Keep kids busy. Have a couple crafts for kids to do. Every year Jordan makes the name tags for the place settings. This year she is also going to make a Thank You Sunflower. You take a small paper plate and color it all brown. Then you cut out petals from yellow construction paper. Each person writes what they are thankful for on the petals and tapes them to the paper plate. Note - I suggest choosing the crafts and going to the craft store two weekends before Thanksgiving, so it's not yet another thing you have to do at the holiday.
6. When all else fails, drink more wine.
I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with lots of friends, family, love and laughter and really, really good food! If you want any of our family's recipes, shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org