Hosting Thanksgiving? Dilemmas and Hacks
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday...
No gifts or the pressure of whether you picked out the right present for the right family member- it's just all about the 3 F's: Family time, Food, and Football.
Not having any living grandparents when I was a kid made for very small holidays around our house, as it was usually just the 5 of us. My mom's a great cook and she always did an amazing job, but I always dreamed of having a large family to be around to celebrate the holidays with. Luckily when I married Shad, he came along with just that- a large family- and I couldn't wait to have a home large enough to host the holidays.
About four years ago we started hosting Thanksgiving for 25 people from both sides of our family (mine only makes up 3 of this number) . The first year I was a neurotic OCD mess: I wrote the same lists over and over again- the "week before Thanksgiving" list, the "what's for dinner" list, the "getting the house prepared" list, the "table decor" list, the "whose bringing what?" list, the "shopping list", the "schedule of food and oven times" list, and this "list" can go on and on.
But as the years have gone on I've developed a few hacks to some common dilemmas that pop up when hosting for such a large crowd, some adopted from more "veteran" relatives and some have just come with "experience" (if you can call 4 Thanksgivings experience).
I'll start with Hacks or answers to some common "dilemmas" as my formula this week to intrigue your mind a little in hopes that you'll read further. They include:
Plywood + Your Iphone + Crockpots (lots of crockpots)+ Cheap Tupperware + Crafts & Wifi
1: The "My Table Isn't Big Enough" Dilemma
Hack: A Sheet of Plywood
No one's table is big enough. You will never find a table big enough for more than 12 people (unless Joanna Gaines is having Clint build one for you). Our dining room table fits 8 people comfortably with both leaves in it (btw I googled the plural of table leaf and no one seems to have a straight answer). So this hack we actually adopted from Shad's father and wife. We bought a sheet of plywood and put an actual sheet or blanket on the table top for protection. Then we lay the plywood on top of it and put a table cloth over it for protection and padding. Then on top of that table cloth we stick our "Thanksgiving" tablecloth. This extends and widens our table so much, that we've been able to fit 15 people at a table. Shad's father has even done 2 sheets of plywood for either a super long table, or an even wider table fitting 20 people. When the holiday is over we store the plywood in our basement.
2: The "How Will I Time Everything Right?" Dilemma
Hack: Set Iphone Alarms
In my house, Dinner's got to be on the table by 3:30 the latest so that my father and I can catch the Cowboys kickoff at 4:30. How many of you make a schedule on paper? The turkey goes in at 7am, out at 2pm, the Ham in at 12pm, out at 2pm, etc. etc. Then everyone shows up and your so busy talking you lose track of the time on the clock. It's extremely difficult to keep looking at the clock while entertaining. There's so many working parts involved in Thanksgiving dinner, especially in the last hour when things are the craziest. Things are coming out of the oven, going in to the oven- and then "Oh, S*** I forgot the biscuits!" Last year it finally dawned on me that I could set alarms on my iPhone for everything in my schedule and label them after the food item it's reminding me of. It seems like such a simple hack but it's something most people don't think of and it kept me completely on schedule last year. Here's a sample of what my iPhone looks like on Thanksgiving Day:
3: The "How Will I Keep All the Food Warm?" Dilemma
Hack: Crockpots, lots and lots of crockpots
This hack also goes along with time management. The first year I did thanksgiving, I did pans of everything- a pan of yams, mushrooms, stuffing, green beans, etc. I had the gravy on the stove top 20 minutes prior, while the biscuits are baking, my husband's carving the turkey, and food is coming in and out of the oven. Things were nuts in the last hour before dinner was served and it was hard to have everything warm all at once, especially with limited space in the oven. The following year while googling "great mashed potato" recipes, I came across a "crock-pot mashed potatoes" recipe and it made me wonder what else could go in a crockpot? My thought was that if its in a crockpot it's one less thing I have to worry about in that final "countdown" hour. Last year- almost everything went into crockpots: Mashed potatoes, Corn, Stuffing, Carrots, Buttered Noodles, and Gravy. These were all food items I could cross off my list of having to worry about it. " Just set it- and forget it". That last hour was a breeze with this trick. I only own 2 crockpots myself, but my mom brings 4 of hers over including a small one for the gravy. Everything was warm at the same time for dinner and it greatly helped with space in the oven. In addition- last year when doing our kitchen renovation and being without a sink for a month- I discovered crockpot liners.
These are bags you place in the crockpot before the food- and then it's a super easy cleanup. You just throw the liner out when your done packing away the left overs. (At first I thought this was a little "eh" for presentation- however it saved me from washing a bunch of crockpots so I got over it.) Speaking of clean up- Thanksgiving clean up always serves as a reminder of why I wish I were born male, all the men in our house are glued to the couch immediately after bringing their plates to the counter :P
4: The "Will I Ever See My Tupperware Again?" Dilemma:
Hack: Personal Tupperware
The short answer is: No, you will never see your beloved tupperware again. Chances are most of the family members that take your tupperware- you won't see again until the next Thanksgiving.
After dinner our kitchen looks like a restaurant that's just been slammed. Everyone's everywhere cleaning (and what I mean by everyone is all of the women in the family), packing up food, asking where things go, drying dishes, clearing stuff into the trash. And if you're anything like me- you're worried about which relatives are taking the good tupperware that you're probably never going to see again. My answer to this dilemma is super simple and super cheap: Go out and purchase inexpensive tupperware for your guests and give it out like Oprah's Christmas Special. (Did you ever see the episode when she gave everyone a car?) "And you get a tupperware! And you get a tupperware!"
I count up how many women-heads of families there are (in our case, 6) and then I head to Walmart and purchase super cheap tupperware (Just 88 cents for a pack of two). (Ps- There are very few things that I will venture into Walmart for... cheap allergy medicine in the spring time and protecting my tupperware-tops the list) So for under $6, everyone gets a pack of 2 and this not only solves the dilemma of me losing my good tupperware forever, but it also limits the amount of leftovers one is allowed to take home (cause I just cooked all day- I sure as hell ain't cookin' for at least a week).
5: The "How Will I Entertain the Youngins'" Dilemma
Hack: A Craft Activity + The WiFi Password
If you already have kids in your home- you can probably just skip this hack. My husband and I don't have any children and therefore I always wonder what will entertain them in my house since there's no toys and the coloring books I have in my closet only lasts as an "activity" for a mere 15 seconds with children under 5. So a couple days prior to Thanksgiving (because this is how frugal I am), I head over to Michaels and buy whatever Thanksgiving craft activity they have left on the shelf at 50% off. Usually it's make a plate turkey or a pilgrim hat- and this usually keeps the little ones busy for a good while. (The nice thing about kids under 5 is that they also have short memories- and since most of these activities have enough for 12 kids in the package, I take the same activity out year after year and they can't remember from the year before...haha )
For the teenagers I place the WiFi password on the countertop now- I only thought of this because they ask usually ask me "What's your WiFi password?" within 5 minutes of walking in the door. Putting the password out in the open also prevents you from having to repeat yourself - especially if you have an extremely long password.