Maybe your family—of birth, marriage, choice or blended—gets along so well that even when they get into a political argument after drinking too much, everyone is civilized. Maybe you can let them mix and mingle without worrying about who will say what to whom: even if it weren’t a holiday, they know how to let bygones be bygones. And you know they will keep food requests to the minimum necessary, that everyone will coordinate with the hostess or host about how to help—and do what they’re asked.
You feel relaxed, knowing no one will criticize what someone else has brought to the table, and that you and your significant other will be doing equal amounts of work so you can both enjoy the holiday.
We’ve heard about such families.
We also know that some of you, like some of us have, are wondering if you can just abscond with the turkey and maybe some wine and go hide. Or enter the federal witness protection program.
But we like Thanksgiving so much we instituted new regimes at our own homes and we’re sharing our best tips with you. Not all of these tips will work for everyone, but those of us who use them—swear by them.
They boil down to one word: planning. Lists are going to be your best friend.
The only thing worse than running around trying to pack on the morning of your flight is trying to put together a shopping list on Thanksgiving morning. None of us here at the Trim Down Club would have ever done such a thing. Never. Not in a million years. (That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.)
If You’re Traveling, Expect Delays
Wear comfortable walking shoes so you can burn off any stress by…walking in the airport. Make sure you’ve brought your books in hand or on your electronic devices, along with your movies and music. If you’re a knitter or needleworker, bring a project to work on. On the plane, be sure to get up and stretch periodically, since your metabolism slows down when you are sitting for long periods of time. Even simple wrist and neck stretches in your chair can help alleviate the aches and pains of air travel.
If You’re Hosting Thanksgiving…
Make a guest list. You don’t want to learn that inviting your spouse’s parents means also inviting their siblings, their spouses and their children, for a grand total of 27, after you sent out invitations. You may have to be diplomatic when dealing with personality conflicts: use assigned seating to separate trouble-makers.
Cook What You Like
Just because you’re hosting Thanksgiving and your family has traditional recipes, you don’t have to cook anything you don’t enjoy. If you’re dying to try that fantastic caramel-pumpkin pie recipe your best friend gave you—we tried it in our test kitchen and it’s incredible—and your uncle insists upon grandmother’s pecan pie, tell him you and the other guests would be delighted if he made it and brought it. You can also try some of our tried-and-true Thanksgiving favorites.
Make Another List!
Once you’ve made the menu and know what you’re cooking, make a shopping list. Go over it once, twice, thrice, and have everything necessary on hand before Thanksgiving. Because the last thing you want to do is battle the hordes on Thanksgiving eve.
Reinforce Your Borders
Strong boundaries are the key to enjoying Thanksgiving. Remember: your roof, your rules.
Most of us here at the Trim Down Club actively enjoy cooking good food. It can be an act of creative expression and a way of showing love—but it’s also work that can be shared. No need for lectures, just ask for help if you need it, especially from those who aren’t particularly busy. If need be, use the ultimate bait: arrange for a television to be in or visible from the kitchen work area (just be sure you get the desired channel!)
Taking Care of Guests Without Going Crazy
It’s one thing to accommodate guests who suffer from celiac disease or food allergies and to make sure your vegetarian and vegan guests have food they enjoy—especially if they help you out in other ways, like bringing good food for people to share, or helping with cleaning or preparation. That’s just being a good host and guest.
It’s something else if someone blames his health problems on gluten when he’s been gluten-free for ages and his health hasn’t improved, then screams that you contaminated his fork because you touched bread before doling out the silverware. Or someone recently discovered their fur allergy but forgot to tell you, the Crazy Cat Couple.
Just take a deep breath and remember that you are blessed to have company in your home on a major holiday. If need be, ask as nicely as possible that highly allergic guests bring antidotes with them, just in case—you will do your very, very best, but you want to ensure they have a worry-free celebration.
Now, About Alcohol…
When drunk in moderation, alcohol is not just a gentle social lubricant, it can be a really beautiful grace note at the Thanksgiving table. Red, white or sparkling wine, alcoholic and non-alcoholic ciders and club soda are best for such a family event. Hard liquor is rarely a good choice for family gatherings, and beer can make drinkers bloated and gassy. But if you’ve got a family member or three who can’t handle their liquor, perhaps it is best to forego it entirely. If you’re worried that a “dry” Thanksgiving means they won’t attend, just remind yourself: one less hassle.
Planning is Essential but Plans are Useless
Because Thanksgiving revolves around food, it is almost impossible to stick to a meal plan. So don’t try. Give yourself permission to eat everything you enjoy. Just don’t stuff yourself—or fret about what you’ve eaten. Enjoy any exercise you like at the beginning and end of the day, be it a walk or touch football, and save the time. Assign those early morning and late afternoon chores to someone else: it’s your holiday too.
Generally speaking, it won’t be the Thanksgiving meal that derails your weight-loss goals, it’s the leftovers. And there can be a lot of them. Leftovers should be portioned out and stored almost immediately. Left out, they practically invite seconds, even after a huge meal.
But If All Else Fails, Feed the Ravenous Masses
If, for example, you hear an ominous silence from the kitchen and come in from the living room to find your shoulder-high Russian wolfhound has liberated the roast turkey from its platter and is standing over it, trying to figure out to eat something so hot? We won’t tell if you pick it up, wipe it down, cut out the fang marks, carve it and serve it forth. There were no complaints because none of the guests knew—or even noticed. (Yes, this happened.)
A New Thanksgiving Tradition
We’ve been kinda-sorta joking all through this, because we know all about unpleasant, stressful Thanksgivings. And we think Thanksgiving is just too wonderful an idea for any more of them.
Every family has Thanksgiving traditions. We hope these tips will help you create your own tradition of a rich feast, enjoyed without guilt, acrimony, stress or gorging, with those you love, during the cold, hard splendor of the late autumn.