Stress-free Thanksgiving dinner

Keeping It Simple

A stress-free Thanksgiving dinner?  Is that what you keep hoping for?

Why do people always get stressed at the holidays?  Is it the rush to get everything done?  Is it wanting everything to be "perfect"?  Is it having to deal with family members that know how to push our buttons?  Do we want to make it special but worry about the cost?  Most likely it is a little of each.

I admit I was one of those who aimed for perfection, each year bigger and better than the year before. After all, my mom did it effortlessly. Or so it seemed.

Then after breast cancer and chemo laid me low and took away my energy, we decided to make our holiday meals the simple way. We simply had to make it a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner - there wasn't an option.

My daughter and I would (and still do many years later) pre-plan the entire menu. Who shops for what, who makes what, who brings what. We have our holiday meals orchestrated perfectly. Admittedly we have almost the same menu each year – we have our favorites – but that’s by choice. Enjoying time together has become much more important than having one person stuck in the kitchen so we have learned to make choices.  There’s still the last minute (hour) pressure to get everything timed just perfectly but each year we are thankful that we are more relaxed at meal time.

Stress-free Thanksgiving dinner

So how do we have a stress free Thanksgiving dinner?  Here are a few simple tips that might help you to have a more enjoyable Thanksgiving dinner.

1. Plan ahead - While planning the Thanksgiving meal, do you plan who is going to help?  You don’t have to do it all yourself.  Recruit your family to help.  Children are good at setting the table.  One person could be in charge of making a salad. One gets the serving dishes out. Not only will the work go faster, it's more fun working together. 

Make a list of what needs done before everyone arrives.  Give everyone something to do and assign things that are age appropriate to the children.  Before you know it, the leftovers will be wrapped in foil and everyone will have had a great time.

2.  Covered dish meal - If you are having a large group get together for Thanksgiving, divide the menu among all those attending.  The host family can provide the main dish (turkey or ham) and the drinks. Each family brings a favorite side dish and dessert. If you want to make sure there is a variety, provide a menu and mark things off as people chose what they want to fix. 

3.  Simplify - One huge step in creating a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner is to simplify. Instead of having a huge feast, prepare a smaller meal.  We all tend to overeat at Thanksgiving, so make an effort to make fewer dishes.  Not only will the preparation be smaller, so will our waistlines. 

Another option is to prepare as much ahead of time as you can.  Slow cookers can be used to make all kinds of foods, even desserts.  Many things can also be made as "freezer meals" and stored for weeks before re-heating them.  The less actual cooking you need to do on Thanksgiving, the lower your stress levels will be.

4.  Family harmony - While you can't make everyone happy, there are ways to promote a peaceful, relaxing dinner.  Use place cards to bring order to who sits where. Children together or children separated. Both plans can work. Seat the kids to avoid disruptions during the meal.  This will help alleviate some of the tensions.

Sometimes we’ve prepared little activity packs for the children – or even quizzes for the adults. The children’s activities worked like a wonder at one meal with all pre-teens. They were seated at the table while the last minute serving was done but no moans and groans as they each had a little bag at their place settings. Just small games or toys (nothing expensive at all); just enough to keep them busy until the adults sat down and during any lulls in the meals when they got a bit squirmy. Coloring, word search and make-a-word puzzles, like how many words can you make for the word, THANKSGIVING, grab their attention and it’s fun for teens and adults, too.

Our wish for you is that you will have a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner and reap a Plentiful Harvest in all the good things you do.

5. Feel Thankfulness - Simply taking the time to be thankful for all your blessings can reduce your stress level.  Before everyone arrives, take the time to list all that you're thankful for over the last year.  Have everyone share their blessings before dinner.   Having a better attitude will help everyone enjoy the day more.

(I know this tip should say Be Thankful. That's what most people would say. But sometimes it's hard to be really be thankful when we are struggling, so to me there's a tinge of "guilting" involved in telling someone to be thankful. Instead I want you to feel some thankfulness. It is your feelings that will help to reduce the stress, your feelings inside that will help you to be able to set new guidelines for how your holidays will be played out. My guess is if you are reading this, then you are the one most imposed upon, you are the one struggling to not carry all the burden of the family feast on your shoulders. You just may be the one who would like it to be a holiday you get to enjoy, too.

So what I want you to do is to feel thankfulness. Just take a break for all you are doing and  allow yourself to feel thankfulness. This isn't a pressure to be thankful.

Here's one way to do it: Lie down where you can be comfortable and free from disturbance, let your body relax, and think about the feeling of thankfulness, what it looks like, what it might sound or look like, is it a color. If you can imagine someone who is a thankful person, then picture what they look like. I like to take that image and imagine it as a "cloud" above my head. So you try that, too. Pretend there is a cloud of thankfulness above your head. Then after you have finished filling the cloud with feelings and images, when you have, in this case, created "thankfulness as a feeling" let it flow down over your body, slowly, very slowly, enjoying the relaxation and comfort as you absorb it into your mind and heart.

If you, like so many of us, struggle to handle stressful occasions well, then make this the year you become motivated to learn how to manage your stress. When you become comfortable asking for help, for one thing, suddenly you will find yourself feeling not so overwhelmed. 

One of the best things you can do to have a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner is take a 10 minute Power Nap before all your guests arrive or an hour or two before dinner will be served.

Stress doesn't have to ruin the holidays.  It really is possible to have a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner! If you stop to smell the turkey, plan ahead, allow others to share the work load and give yourself a chance to feel thankfulness, you can have a wonderful stress-free Thanksgiving dinner.  Planning and organization, while not great fun, can help you enjoy things later once all the guests arrive.

I feel thankfulness for you.

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

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