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10 Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday

Thanksgiving brings us together to celebrate some of the best qualities of human existence: family, friends, food, football and naps. However, the joy of celebration is easily overcome by the strain of preparation. Don’t let your Thanksgiving holiday become an obligation; follow these ten tips for a stress-free event that will leave you feeling organized, grateful and ready to gobble.

1. Set plans early.
Are you traveling or hosting this year? Talk with friends and family members well in advance and figure out your plans. Once you establish where you’ll be celebrating, you can begin sorting out logistics such as travel arrangements and accommodations for out-of-town guests.

2. Establish your list of must-do’s and like-to’s.
Figure out what absolutely must be done this year–finding time to clean out the guest room or digging up your stash of fancy China–but also think about what you’d like to accomplish this Thanksgiving. Are you itching to try a new pumpkin pie recipe? Do you want to DIY a table centerpiece? Prioritizing your tasks will help you make time for things that have to be done while also being aware of what fun extras you might have time for.

3. Create your menu in advance.
Craft a menu that’s special, but simple. You don’t need to make eight different side dishes, and you probably won’t have room in your oven for all that anyway. Keep your “game day” plan in mind–what can you make beforehand? How many casserole dishes do you have? What can you serve cold? Taking time to create a commonsense menu will give you the chance to spend more of your holiday outside of the kitchen.

4. Short on storage? Start with a clean slate.
Unless you own multiple fridges, deep freezers and pantries, chances are you’ll need to make some space for your Thanksgiving grocery haul. Before going shopping, clean out your kitchen and start with a blank slate. In the process, you’ll probably discover that you already have certain ingredients you might have doubled up on unintentionally (hello, sixth can of pumpkin!).

5. Next up, make your shopping list.

Once your menu is set and your fridge is reasonably clean, work on a comprehensive shopping list. Sort it by grocery store section (dairy, meat, produce, canned goods, etc.) and highlight the items you can buy in advance. By giving yourself extra time to shop for everything you need, you won’t force it all into one stressful grocery run. You’ll also give yourself the opportunity to shop around, clip coupons, and find the best deals in the area.

6. Prep food ahead of time.
Most of the dishes you’re making can be prepped in advance, at least in part. Many sides, especially bread (rolls, stuffing, etc.) can be frozen up to three weeks in advance, and other sides like mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes can be made and refrigerated the day before. For the items that must be served fresh, there is likely some amount of prep you can do to make the process faster and more efficient, be it chopping vegetables or pre-measuring spices.

7. Set the table in advance, and keep decor simple.
If you can get away with not using your dining room table for a few days, set your Thanksgiving table in advance. Not only will this enable you to enjoy the table setting for more than a few hours, but it will save you time and stress in the end. Another thing not to stress about? Decor and table setting. Stick with simple and natural–a basket of fresh fruit and a pair of elegant candlesticks make a beautiful centerpiece. Better yet, get children involved and have them work on fun holiday decorations. They will love being involved!

8. Delegate!

Have guests fill in the gaps and ask them to bring an appetizer, drink, side dish or dessert. They’ll be happy contributing to the special meal. (FYI, having Marie Callender make your apple pie totally counts as delegating!)

9. Consider family dynamics.
There’s nothing like an intimate family meal to bring out the best–and worst–in our loved ones. If you anticipate contention, consider having a seating plan and separating guests who are most likely to cause drama. Worst-case scenario, you can break down your celebration into different parts and invite guests to one or the other. It’s not your responsibility to ensure everyone behaves, nor is it in your control, but you can try to see that things run smoothly. And if the drama is directed at you? Do your best not to take the bait and let it ruin your day.

10. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Lastly, the most important thing you can do to have a stress-free Thanksgiving is let go of the idea of hosting a “perfect” event. Thanksgiving is ultimately a day to practice gratitude, and the best means of doing so is relaxing, rolling with the punches, and embracing the day–and your loved ones–with a smile on your face.

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