Thanksgiving can be a fabulous opportunity to gather together with family and friends to celebrate all the good things in your life. If you’re the host for this year’s traditional family gathering, you may be worried that your usual household management routine won’t be enough to keep up with the extra guests, extra food, and extra mess; but have no fear! With just a few guidelines and prep work you can minimize the pre-dinner rush and the after-dinner agony of clean-up.
1. Pre-Dinner Prep
Hosting a large meal requires planning and preparation. You want to make sure that there’s enough for everyone and that everyone enjoys themselves. You also want to enjoy your holiday too, so try these tips to keep your kitchen and your party running smoothly.
- Prep your food- Anything that CAN be sliced, diced, and par-boiled before Turkey Day SHOULD be. Onions, carrots, potatoes, etc. can all be chopped up and stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator prior to Thursday morning. To make it even easier, measure out your supplies by recipe so that all you have to grab and go to start cooking.
- Pre-Bake- Pies, cookies, and cakes can be made a day or two in advance and stored in a cool place. This will free up your oven for turkey and stuffing, and reduce the amount of cooking you’ll do on Thanksgiving Day.
- Use Slow Cookers- Many tried and true family recipes can easily be converted to slow cooker recipes. Sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing and a variety of other dishes turn out wonderful when cooked this way. The beauty of this method is that you can prep the recipe the day before, pop it in the slow cooker on Thanksgiving morning, and not worry about it until the turkey and gravy is done.
- Use pan spray, wax, paper, aluminum foil, and roasting bags for everything you can. This will save you SO MUCH TIME on clean up.
- Clean the countertops before you announce that dinner is ready. Throw away the trash, get your sister’s kid to take the trash out to the dumpster, run the dishwasher, and make sure your sink is empty of dirty dishes. This will make clean-up faster later in the day.
2. Dinnertime Slow Down
Too often, the host is left running back and forth between the kitchen and the table during a holiday meal. While it might be important to you to have everything “just right”, your guests want to see more of you at the table. Friendship is the best dish you’ll serve, so make sure that you stay for the meal, engage in conversation, don’t worry too much about anything that didn’t go perfectly, and enjoy your day. Say “yes” when a guest asks to help with something, it usually means they just want to be with you.
3. Post-Dinner Clean-up
Big dinner clean-up can be a nightmare or a well-oiled machine, depending on how you handle it. As friends and family begin dispersing from the table to play football, go sledding, or play games in the family room, announce that you’re heading into the kitchen for clean-up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Get your family to carry in dirty dishes, serving dishes, and trash from the dining area. Once you’re there, follow a basic clean-up guide.
- Food first- Taking care of leftovers is the number one priority. Everyone like to snack on the leftovers, but some things shouldn’t be left out at room temperature. No one wants to round out the Thanksgiving meal with a bout of food poisoning. Be sure to stock up on plastic bags, containers, and wrap. Some dishes can be covered and placed directly in the refrigerator. Others should be placed in smaller containers to save space.
- Send leftovers home- Everyone loves Thanksgiving leftovers. Have covered plastic containers on hand and send home “mini-meals” with your guests. They’ll get to enjoy dinner twice and you won’t have too much food to deal with.
- Freeze- Make sure you have some freezer space available before you start your dinner. You can put some of those “mini-meals” into the freezer and have a terrific meal right at your fingertips some evening when you’re too tired to worry about dinner.
- Trash it- Start with an empty trash bin and clean off all the dirty dishes. Throw away empty containers, napkins, etc. Then organize the dirty dishes by type: crystal, china, flatware.
- Dish Washing- If you’ve opted to use your good China for the holiday meal, instead of disposable dishes, you’ll need to plan on washing them by hand. Begin by putting all your flatware into a wash bin of warm soapy water. Those forks can be the hardest thing to clean, soaking will save you time and energy. Wash your crystal and glass first. They are the least dirty of all your items and you’ll be able to get through them quickly. Form a line of workers if you have lots of kitchen volunteers. It can be just as much fun cleaning together as it is to cook together. After your crystal move onto your plates. Change your water after the plates and begin on your cookware. Some items may need to soak, so go ahead and let those items soak first while you clean up the others. Finally, wash up your flatware and wipe down your counters.
- Any food that can be left out for after-dinner nibbling can be arranged on platters and left on the kitchen counter, along with disposable dessert plates and napkins, a drink dispenser, and plastic cups. This more informal offering can encourage the sense of family playtime.
- Last but not least, go put your feet up and enjoy some holiday cheer with your loved ones.