Thanksgiving came a little early this year for me: with family members spread all over the country, we seized the moment and celebrated a mini-Thanksgiving during a recent visit to my sister’s in Williamsburg, VA. And after visiting colonial sites like George Washington’s church and beautiful Jamestown, I certainly was in the mood for a good old-fashioned feast! With my sister’s organization skills, my mother’s knack for table décor, and my dessert talents, we managed to have the most effortless dinner in the history of Thanksgivings.
Now, while you’re sitting there gasping because surely I didn’t just pair “Thanksgiving dinner” and “effortless” in the same sentence, I’m here to tell you that having a fuss-free, flawless turkey meal is as easy as 1, 2, 3. With a little bit of pre-planning, recipe hunting, and DIY table sprucing, this year’s Thanksgiving will no longer equal hours (or even days, for some of you) of shopping, spending, and slaving away in the kitchen. Here are a few time-saving and cost-effective tips to ensure your very own easy, breezy Thanksgiving:
Where to start? First, hunt down and compile all of your recipes for Thanksgiving dinner earlier in the week. Whether you’re using traditional family recipes or searching for new ones, print out and collect all recipes.
Review the recipes and double-check to see if you already have the existing ingredients and spices so that you’re not needlessly spending at the grocery store.
Modify recipes to fit your family’s (and the cupboard’s needs): does that spinach soufflé call for cracker crumbs? Crush up a bag of crackers you have in your pantry. Did anyone eat those yams last year? If not, skip them. Once you’re home from the store, place the recipe print-outs on the counter and organize ingredients around each recipe—pans, bowls, and all.
For the turkey, my sister bought a cook-in-the-bag turkey. The bird came already seasoned and cooked to perfection: moist, tender, and so, so delicious! We couldn’t believe how much we got for our buck, and of course, there were plenty of leftover juices to whip up a quick batch of homemade gravy. As for the rest of the meal, we prepped everything in the afternoon and stuck all the dishes in the fridge to pop in the oven later; this allowed us to kick back and enjoy a glass of wine and a movie before dinner, instead of sweating in the kitchen. We used store brand cornbread and stuffing mix (still delightful!), and I whipped up a few online recipes in a little under an hour (thanks to having all of the ingredients and utensils ready to go): Cheesy Corn Flake Potatoes and Creamy Spinach Casserole were our favorites!
Past Thanksgivings always consisted of buying a brand new tablecloth in a rustic color and spending a fortune on new fall-themed candles and centerpieces. Save money and time by using one of your existing tablecloths (I know you have some!) and matching napkins. If you don’t already have napkin rings, use inexpensive ribbon and save for next year’s Thanksgiving. We re-used my sister’s DIY brown bow rings for a touch of napkin elegance.
Got a festive fall scarf? Use it as a table runner! When searching for centerpieces and touches of fall, why not use the brilliant foliage right at your fingertips? Collect leaves from your yard, wash them, and place on the table to add color, and pick some mums to spruce up your place settings. Stick with a traditional fresh bouquet instead of making a ton of fuss about complicated centerpieces and candelabras. Simple Thanksgiving table décor is just as stunning.
I’m a self-proclaimed pumpkin cheesecake queen, and I’ve got this recipe to prove it. I made and cooked the dessert immediately after I prepped the casseroles. That way, I could let the cake cool and forget about it while I enjoyed time with the family. This fall cheesecake is the perfect post-Thanksgiving dessert and even appeals to those a little iffy about regular pumpkin pie: the rich cream cheese balances the pungent flavor of pumpkin just enough, and mixed with nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla, it’s sure to be a family favorite.
This year, don’t think of your Thanksgiving meal as a daunting task. With a little bit of preparation and resourcefulness, you’ll be able to spend more time enjoying the holiday with loved ones than a cooking marathon in the kitchen! After all, Thanksgiving is about being grateful for your family. You deserve to spend it that way.