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A Long-Forgotten Pilgrim Secret to Hosting a Hassle-Free Thanksgiving Dinner

How can it possibly be only a week until Thanksgiving!?!

Yes, that time of year is nigh. The one in which we give thanks, stuff ourselves more than the bird that graces the table and of course, if you are the host, completely stress out about the whole affair.

If it makes you feel any better, Thanksgiving dinner has stressed out people since the very first one held at Plymouth in 1621. Lacking few skilled cooks, they found the solution to the stress was throwing a Thanksgiving Potluck Dinner.

What is a potluck dinner? It is a get-together where everyone brings a dish to be shared, thereby allowing the host to enjoy the holiday and avoid the cost of an extra therapy session.

A potluck dinner gives guests the opportunity to showcase their mad culinary skills or, at least, add to the rich and amusing history of holiday mishaps to be retold for years to come.

If you are ready to put aside the stress of years past, come along with me on a short trip to putting together a successful, and mostly stress-free, Thanksgiving meal.

Step 1: Embrace the Chaos

Perfection, especially during holiday dinners, may not be a myth, but it is a lot of work to get there. Instead of going for perfection, maybe, just go for enjoyment.

The turkey may not look like the picture in the magazine. Some of the dishes that turn up might be indescribable. It’s okay though because you got out of doing all the work and get to enjoy the holiday with your guests.

Step 2: Plan and Delegate

Now that you are on board with not having to do it all yourself, I don’t recommend leaving everything to chance.

A great way of ensuring you don’t wind up with 5 dishes of green bean casserole, is creating a sign-up list. Set it up with categories like side dishes, desserts, appetizers and of course, the star of the show, Tom Turkey.

You, of course, have the right as host to claim Tom for yourself. But if cooking the turkey gives you the collywobbles (a fun word for stomach upset) here’s your opportunity to give it away to someone else.

Another Thanksgiving potluck stress saver is limiting how many people can bring a certain type of item. Maybe three sides and two desserts are enough. You can also add a few harmless items for the cooking challenged to bring.

Step 3: Communication is Key

A good way of decreasing mishaps is to create a group chat or email chain. I find that the chats work better as most people respond quickly to text messages. Emails, not so much.

The group chat is where you can discuss who’s making what. It’s a nice way for everyone to see what recipes are being used and try to make dishes that are complimentary to each other.

Step 4: Prepare for the Unexpected

This harkens back to the Perfection Myth. Actually, this solidifies it with the age-old, anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

So many things can happen. Someone forgets their dish, or overextends themselves with an untried recipe.No worries. Just be prepared with a few simple back-ups like a quick salad, extra rolls, or a standby dessert. Holiday dinners are more about the people you get to spend time with than what’s on the table.

Just to tip the stress-free scale in your favor though, check out this article you can share “34 Easy Thanksgiving Potluck Recipes” by eatwell101. They have recipes for appetizers, sides and desserts leaning toward the healthy-ish.

Step 5: The Setup

Your house and table don’t need to look like they’re straight out of Martha Stewarts Living. Props to you if they do though!

Making your guests feel welcome and comfortable is far more important than the décor. This will be easier with a little planning ahead.

The first thing to consider is where are you putting everyone. You can do the formal Thanksgiving dinner table or, for those hosting in smaller spaces, the grab your plate and find a good spot version.

Either way, make sure you have enough places for everyone to sit. Bring in extra chairs if needed. A little side note here: don’t go with paper plates if doing the sit anywhere option. I’m just saying…

Don’t be put off by the time-honored folding table in the living room. No one minds for that couple of hours and it makes for a great kids table, a time-honored rite of passage.

Next thing to consider is where the food will be. If you want all the food to be on the table, set up places for each dish beforehand to be sure you have enough space for everything. If serving buffet style, set up an area where the main meal items will be.

Regardless of which way you choose to serve, designate areas for appetizers before and desserts after dinner. Maybe go one step further and reserve an out-of-sight spot for storing desserts so they don’t become someone’s main course.

Step 6: Don’t Forget the Drinks

It is easy for the bar bill to become quite steep for holiday gatherings. A money-saving option is providing the basic beverages like sodas and then asking everyone to either bring the makings of a drink to share or, go with the even easier BYO (Bring your own).

Another idea is a themed mocktail for the those too young and those choosing not to imbibe. You’ll find some holiday recipes at The Kitchn in their article “The 12 Best Non-Alcoholic Drink Recipes for Thanksgiving”. These recipes make great use of produce that is plentiful at Thanksgiving.

Step 7: Remember to Enjoy Your Own Party

Again, the whole point of hosting the Thanksgiving potluck dinner, is for you to enjoy the holiday too. You can give a little direction throughout the day as to where to put things and when things are happening. Otherwise, this is a team event. Take time to sit down and appreciate the food, company, and fun. You deserve it.

Last Step: The Aftermath

The main feast has been devoured. Now, before the food coma has set in, ask for help with the clean-up. Once most of the clean-up is done everyone, including you, gets to enjoy the rest of the day. Continue catching up, watch some football or a head out together for a good walk to burn some calories and make room for those desserts that were hidden for later.

Hosting a Thanksgiving Potluck may not eliminate all the stress of the holiday dinner. It will, however, make it more manageable and a lot more fun for host and guests alike.

Wishing everyone a Happy, and less stressed, Thanksgiving!

We’d love to hear how your Thanksgiving potluck dinner turned out. Share the highs, lows, and hilarity in the comments.

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