10 Tips for Juggling Multiple Thanksgiving Day Dinners
Thanksgiving means family. However, in these times “Family” is more than mom, dad and two kids. It includes aunts, uncles, grandparents, honorary family members, friends, and neighbors. With our families expanding to greater proportions it makes Thanksgiving Day dinner a juggling act.
Thanksgiving at my house means a lot of preparation and multiple visits. So my sister, Dee, and I have devised a plan on how to ‘make the rounds’ without offending anyone and without stressing out our nerves and diets. Balancing visits to our respective boyfriends’ homes, our friends, parents and extended family can be very daunting, so we start early and put everything on paper. Try the following 10 suggestions for mastering your own Thanksgiving juggling act.
1. Planning. There is nothing like a good plan to help you get organized. You can’t know how you will spend Thanksgiving, if you are not sure how many stops you have to make and which parties are the “must go to” affairs. Starting at the end of October my sister and I make a list of Thanksgiving Day dinners and invites that we get every year. Leaving room for changes in case of a spontaneous invite should come later in November, we separate each visit into three categories: 1) Short appearance; 2) Trade off; 3) Must go.
The first two categories we use to trim down the amount of visits we need to make on the actual Thanksgiving Day. These are the invites that we can either stretch out over the week, trade for another holiday or trim all together, leaving only the “must go” section to juggle.
2. Weed Out. Using our list we tackle the first two categories. Short appearances will be friends and neighbors who we can go for just drinks or stop by for coffee after dinner. The second category is a little tricky. It holds all the people who would be grateful, not to squeeze another plate in at their table and would enjoy some more one on one time with us.
For example, my friend Candy invites us every year, but her apartment is so small that her family overflows it. Instead of cramming us in, we have a “preparation party” where we go shopping the night before, then back to her place. We open a good bottle of wine and laugh while doing all the preparation work for the next day. It helps her out and we all are a little less stressed going into Thanksgiving. Then there’s Pat who would rather shop than eat, so we trade Thursday dinner for Friday shoppin. This leaves us with about 5 places we must go to on Thanksgiving day.
3. Potluck Thanksgiving. Since we start this process early, we try to get everyone to agree to a potluck dinner at the largest house. While it doesn’t work all the time, on the years that we have done so it worked well. It’s simple and clear. The family member with the largest home hosts and everyone brings an element of dinner. One central coordinator is designated to keep track of who is bringing what and make sure we’re all on track. This works especially well if you love Aunt Marie’s stuffing but your dad makes the best mash potatoes. You can request those dishes from each. They will be proud to show off their culinary chops and you will get a meal that pleases all.
4. Divide Up The Day. If you cannot get the potluck dinner to gel. Then you will need to coordinate your visits. Remember, just because you are invited to 5 parties, doesn’t mean you have to stay from drinks to dessert at each one. You would be more stuffed than the turkey!
Divide up your invites to match each course: Drinks at Deb’s, First Course at Brian’s, Main Dinner at the parent’s, Dessert at Barb’s; and coffee and games with the neighbors. Make sure when you accept the invites that each hostess knows that you love being invited, but you can only stay for the designated time period. This will allow them to plan their menu and prevent any misunderstandings when you arrive late or leave early.
5. Pace Yourself. When you divide up the day, you need to make sure that you give yourself enough time at each spot. Dee and I have developed a “loop” system that has us starting and ending close to home. We have drinks with friends down the street, followed by the first course with our boyfriends’ families, dinner is at the furthest point, about 45 miles away, then its on to our aunt’s house for dessert. She makes the best apple pie in the Northeast and everyone agrees that hers is the dessert stop! Her house is midway between our dinner stop and where we live, so our final stop is coffee and parlor games at our neighbor’s house. Ending the day only three doors from home, we can park in our own driveway and walk. Letting us work off the big meal.
6. Portion Control. You don’t need to eat everything that is displayed, even if it all looks good. Knowing that you will be there for only one course, helps you decline extra helpings too. For example: When we go for drinks, we stick with non-alcoholic beverages and limit things like eggnog to a single glass. For the first course, which usually is appetizers or salads, we use smaller plates, but if they aren’t available, try using half the plate. That will help you visualize your portion control and keep you from getting filled up before you make it to your main course destination.
7. Doggie Bags. My family has nothing against doggie bags. In fact, they get insulted if you don’t “take a plate with you”. This works out well in helping us control our portions. We eat a small sampling at each place and then take some home with us. Usually by the time we get home we have enough food to feed us both very well over the entire weekend.
8. Hostess Gifts. I recommend a hostess gift for two specific reason. The first is etiquette. It’s just nice to be thanked for going to all the trouble hosting the party. The second is more strategic. We all have that one stop in our Thanksgiving Day tour where the food is bland at best. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but you also don’t want food poisoning. By preparing a specific dish you know that your host would like, adding a good bottle of wine or sparkling beverage, you now have a gift. It will please your host and allow you to eat.
9. De-stress. We get too wound up over the holidays. We forget that the whole idea is to be with people that we enjoy. So, when planning our visits we make sure we give ourselves enough time at each destination, where we can talk, laugh and catch up with those we haven’t seen in a while. We also make sure to keep the ones that cause us stress shorter.
That doesn’t mean wear a stop watch it! It just means to have an exit plan to help avoid arguments. If you find that your friend’s husband always corners your boyfriend into an argument halfway through dinner, don’t have the main meal at their house, opt for drinks instead. Then you can spend about an hour with them and leave before the ‘boys” can argue.
10. Have Fun. Thanksgiving was instituted to give thanks. This means you should remember why you are grateful to have these people in your life and allow yourself to let loose and have some fun. At my aunt’s house, we always have a disco dancing session to break up the meal. This allows us to dance with the kids, sing badly and act silly. We may not remember Uncle Joe’s stuffing, but we will always remember him trying to do the hustle across the living room carpet.