Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Every year, I tell my husband, “Let’s just keep Thanksgiving simple.” It should be a time to enjoy the company of friends and family and eat great food. I almost wish we could just have toast and popcorn like Snoopy and Charlie Brown serve. I can make toast!

But there is nothing simple about it once the chaos in the kitchen begins. Dave cooks the turkey and the ham, makes the fruit salad, and most of the side dishes. I prepare the stuffing and the mashed potatoes (I have mastered those two dishes, and while I never actually enjoy cooking, I find it satisfying to be able to help cook at Thanksgiving).

If you’re hosting the meal, there’s not a lot you can do about the chaos of the kitchen, but here are some tips for easing other stresses of the day so that you can relax & enjoy:

Occupy the Kids

If your own kids are already bouncing off the walls – food, fun, break from school and Christmas is coming – just see what happens when you add a few cousins or grandparents to the mix. It’s nice to have the family together, but better if you can keep them occupied.

Older tweens and teens can help in the kitchen, either with cooking or setting the table. Younger kids can take drink orders and make sure the older adults in the family are cared for. Helping out will only occupy so much of their minds though, so set aside some out-of-the-kitchen space where they can watch TV, play video games, or even work on crafts – handmade placemats or pine cone turkeys.

Another idea is to turn the kids loose with cameras. If your hands are elbow-deep in turkey guts, having the kids grab some snapshots will ensure you get pictures of the day.

Get Help Hosting

Most people want to help out, but when they are a guest in someone else’s home, they’re not sure how to. Make it easy on your guests by giving them specific tasks. While your mom and sister sit and gab, have them slice apples and grapes for the fruit salad. While the guys watch football, have them peel potatoes. Everyone will enjoy the meal more if they contribute – and in that same vein, just because you have agreed to host doesn’t mean you can’t ask your guests to bring a side dish.

Keep it Simple

We never quite succeed at this one, but we do try. We do both a ham and a turkey, but we no longer make homemade gravy. We buy the stuff in the jar or can, which seems to taste better anyway. We skip things like cranberry sauce that no one would eat anyway, and instead of a fancy salad, we just buy pre-cut veggies and put them out early with Ranch dip. Instant potatoes were our solution for years, until our youngest daughter tasted the real thing; now we do 10 pounds of mashed potatoes (with five kids, three of them growing boys and one of them a starving college student, lots of food is required to sustain them until the next holiday).

Don’t Stress

Dinner will never be done exactly at the time you want it to, and not everything will come together exactly at the same time. That’s what the warm setting on your oven is for. Relax and realize that no matter how many hours you spend cooking, the dinner will be consumed (along with seconds) in less than 30 minutes. Make sure you sit down and enjoy that part.

Bonus Tip

Skip all the talk about politics, religion and other conversations that are likely to start the next family feud. Focus instead on sharing moments of gratitude and planning for your next get together.