Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday of the year…which is kind of a funny thing to say when you are a vegan! But it’s true. I love to entertain. I always have. I love having a house filled with family and friends. I love the chaos that comes from everyone having different sleeping patterns and eating habits. I love the late night card games and daily group walks in the woods for some while others hang out and cook or read quietly or just giggle for a while.

As much as I love this holiday, there are stresses that come with entertaining people who have such different eating, sleeping and playing habits and expectations. Sadly, for some years that stress became my focus and didn’t allow me to fully embrace the best parts of the weekend that I love so much.  At a certain point, I began to think of ways to make the holiday less stressful so that I could focus on the more pleasurable parts of the weekend. I thought I would share them with you today. Maybe you will find these helpful too!

1)    Make it simple. If you try to offer every possible kind of food and drink, you will be overwhelmed and exhausted. There is nothing less appealing than having a meal with a stressed-out host. What people remember most about a holiday is the way they felt during the festivities and the folks they shared it with.

2)    Plan ahead. Take a few hours and think about what you want to serve.  If possible, start planning up to a week ahead of the holiday. Envision what you want your holiday afternoon and evening to look like and write out exactly what you want on your table. Look critically at your list and see if it’s too much. The idea that Thanksgiving has to be excessive is actually unhealthy. Having leftovers is great. Having to throw away food because you made waaaay too much is not.

3)   Shop and store.  Once you have your list, figure out your “plan of action.” Some things can be made ahead of time and some cannot. Organize your schedule so that you have time to shop and prep beforehand.  Remember the stores get jammed and shopping takes longer as we get closer to the holiday. If you take that into account as you plan your week, it might make things less challenging. Think of creative ways to divvy up your “tasks.” Maybe you can combine certain errands that are in the same general location on one day and then get the fresh flowers and vegetables on farmer’s market day. Maybe one day is a prep day and another a shopping day. Figure out what works best for you.

4)    Make foods that you love and want to share. I am a vegan and most of my guests are not. So for them, I will serve a grass fed, organic turkey or turkey breastwhich my (non-vegan) son will most likely prepare. The rest of the meal is my version of traditional and non-traditional foods. My family and friends have enjoyed my new and different preparations and come back year and after year. Repeat customers prove you are doing something right.

5)    Test your new recipes if you can. Cooking for loved ones is a perfect time to try out a new recipe or technique. And sometimes when you are serving a larger crowd, even tried and true recipes need a tweak or a change in proportions. Try and make sure to test out your new or tweaked preparations in time to make an adjustment if necessary. This happened to me last year and it would have been an easy fix if I had thought about it ahead of time. If it turns out that a particular preparation doesn’t work or is better for a smaller group…let it go! Be flexible, not every recipe is a winner.

6)    Enlist the help of your guests. Everyone loves to be part of the action and most people really want to be “in” the kitchen. Ask for help cutting and washing and getting the last few hours of work done. Not only is it a loving and fun way to spend time, it reduces the work you have to do on your own. As with everything, if you think ahead about how you can best use your resources, everyone will feel like they had a hand in creating this memorable meal.

7)    Be thankful and enjoy. Thanksgiving day is not about serving a perfect meal. It’s about getting together with people that you care about and being grateful for all that you have been blessed with. Stop for just a minute (during the meal itself is a GREAT time for this) and share with all your guests how thankful you feel being with them. Perhaps invite them all to take a turn sharing their thoughts as well. This can become a tradition of the best kind.

8)    Most important of all:  Take care of yourself. If you need to exercise, do it. If you feel the need to escape and take a long leisurely bath the night before or the morning after the holiday, do it. Do what you want and need to do for yourself. Get some air, get some exercise, stay hydrated and remember to eat well.  Starving yourself (whether it be food, rest or activity) while you work continually will not make you a happy host. Remember that you set the tone for the day. Your relaxed and loving manner will make your guests feel the love you intend for them to feel.  And it will enable you to feel the greatest level of satisfaction from your holiday efforts.

I hope these few tips help you to stay focused on the most important part of this holiday and enjoy every minute of it! During my holiday weekend, I will also be thinking of you!

With love and gratitude,

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