November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving Tips to Save Your Sanity - and Your Budget!

Thanksgiving is just one week away and while I have a long list of work ahead of me next week, I'm not too stressed by the cooking and cleaning ahead of me. Since our family moved back to Ohio in 2004. we've hosted Thanksgiving at our house (both houses, really!); I've got five years of turkey roasting and pie baking under my belt.

I've learned a few tricks over the years, too, so I thought I'd share them with you in case you're in the midst of a holiday panic attack. ;-)

1. Make a master menu plan at least two weeks in advance. Thanksgiving dinner is pretty standard year after year for us - turkey, stuffing, cranberries, potatoes, etc - but I still make a master plan of what we'll be eating for dinner and any appetizers/munchies I'd like to have out for everyone while we watch football and goof around (we specialize in serious goofing in this family!). Then as all the ingredients I'll need start showing up on sale with coupon matchups, I can grab 'em and stash 'em in my pantry until Thanksgiving week. I save lots of $$ doing this and - even better - I don't have to set foot into a crowded and frantic-paced grocery store on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

2. Farm out the work. I don't cook everything for Thanksgiving; I'd be a twitching mess of a mom if I had to do all the cooking by myself. Since both my mom and my mom-in-law come for Thanksgiving, they help by preparing some of the sides (think sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, salad, bread & rolls) and bringing them over that day to be warmed up in my oven. It saves me both time and a few $$ since I'm not purchasing every part of the meal.

3. Schedule cooking/food prep times. If you leave your cooking and your food preparations until the day before or {gulp} the day of Thanksgiving, you're likely to feel just a smidge overwhelmed. Or maybe you're like me and you feel a bit more vein-in-the-temple-about-to-explode overwhelmed. To spare myself the thrill of a holiday meltdown/burnout, I've come up with this schedule for Thanksgiving week that I follow for cooking:

-> Sunday morning of T-Day week, I set the turkey in the spare refrigerator to defrost.

->Monday, I start prepping and cooking/freezing any appetizer dips we'll be noshing on and I tear up the bread I use for the stuffing so it has time to dry out.

->Tuesday, I bake pies and refrigerate them after they've cooled. If I have any frozen cookie dough, I might toss that in the oven, too, for the kiddos who don't like pie (not mine - they love eating pie for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving!).

->Wednesday, I do the finer details that are best left until the end - I chop and saute the veggies for the stuffing, chop veggies and fruits for the appetizer trays, mix sour cream dips, and boil the turkey neck and giblets for turkey stock to use in the stuffing the next day. I make sure that darn bird is defrosted, too; if it's not all the way there, I let it sit out on the counter while I'm working. I know {gasp!} that's breaking the don't-get-food-poisoning rules, but it works for me.

->Thursday, or T-Day, I mix the stuffing and jam as much as I can into the turkey, then pop that bird in the oven. The rest of the food that I needed to make is pretty much done, so I can actually enjoy the day with everyone instead of slaving in the kitchen.

->Friday, I sleep in! No Black Friday sales for me! ;-)

4.Use what you have. We don't have a fancy dining room set or fine china. We dress up our kitchen table and the extra tables and chairs with harvest colored tablecloths, place mats, and decorations but we don't overdo it. Although the commercials would beg you to think otherwise, it's not necessary to have a Martha Stewart themed home for the holiday season; the best part of the holidays for us is just spending time together. I do keep the kids busy with making hand-tracing turkeys and decorations that they get to hang on the wall and use for name cards at the table. You can save a lot of $$ by not going overboard on holiday decor.

5. Clean all week long in little sessions. Just as I break up the cooking for Thanksgiving day, I break up the cleaning that needs doing before our house is full of guests. I make a list of tasks and everyone - right down to our littlest guy - helps out in getting the work done.

Those are my tried and true tips for managing the workload of hosting Thanksgiving without going bonkers or broke. What tips do you have? I'd love to know! Share 'em in a comment!

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