Thanksgiving tips to make your life easier

5 Thanksgiving tips to make your holiday even better and less stressful

With Thanksgiving just a couple of weeks away, I figured this was a great time to share some Thanksgiving tips I’ve learned through the years to make life easier. I have gone other places for Thanksgiving Day, and I’ve hosted. The past two years I was hostess, and I will be again this year.

To be honest, I really enjoy hosting Thanksgiving dinner. I get a chance to make recipes I don’t usually cook, my kids help out in the kitchen and I love food. (Is food considered a love language? If so, it is 100% my love language!)

Of course the biggest Thanksgiving tip is one I have for pretty much everything: give yourself grace. Remember that you don’t have to have a picture perfect Thanksgiving dinner in order to have a good holiday. It’s about spending time with those you love. In fact, I have had great Thanksgiving dinners of tacos, lunchmeat sandwiches and at restaurants. I’ve also had great Thanksgiving dinner filled with delicious homemade food. Even though I do love food, I love my family more. Being together with them is the best part of the holiday. I don’t have to focus on it being picture perfect — and neither do you!

With that in mind, let’s get down to five great Thanksgiving tips to make your holiday even better!

1. Organize your menu and cooking plan.

Because it is a food-centric holiday, Thanksgiving meal planning is important. I am a HUGE list maker and love being organized. In the past, I have used spreadsheets to organize myself for Thanksgiving meal planning, but this year I opted to make that spreadsheet a bit prettier and made a Thanksgiving menu and cooking planner for myself that I shared in the Families with Grace Etsy store.

It’s literally everything I do for menu and cooking planner. I start with the dinner planner and figure out what food we’re having, who is making it, when it should be made and what recipe we’re using to make it. Some foods (like desserts, rolls and cheeseballs) can be made the day before, so I plan for those. Other things have to be made the day of. My dinner planner helps me sort that out.

Thanksgiving dinner planner

Then I move on to ingredients. I like printed recipes, so I’ll print recipes out and look through the ingredients. I’ll make a list of what I have and what I need to buy using the shopping planner.

Thanksgiving shopping planner

Finally, as Thanksgiving Day gets closer, I organize my cooking planner. I list each food, when to start prepping it, when to start cooking it and when it should be finished. I consider my oven space as I do so to make sure I’m not planning to overfill it.

Thanksgiving cooking planner

These three pages are what my Thanksgiving dinner plan relies on!

2. Find the right recipes.

If you’re having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, deciding what recipes to use is important. It can be a good time to experiment somewhat, but for the most part you want to stick with reliable recipes. And you want to go for easy things. I’m big on making things from scratch for my Thanksgiving, but sometimes it doesn’t make sense. Be flexible!

This year, for example, I thought about making pecan pie from scratch. I’ve made it before and it’s good, but I checked pecan prices and found that I could get a frozen pecan pie to thaw and eat for less. And that frozen pecan pie tastes just as good. So I’m saving myself time and money.

I’m also opting to make dressing as a doctored up version of boxed dressing mix this year. My brownies, which my family loves, also start with a box mix.

But other items I am making from scratch like yeast rolls, party potatoes, corn casserole and mac & cheese.

And, I have to add, make food that your family likes even if it isn’t traditional. My husband and son don’t like most traditional Thanksgiving food, so my menu also includes skillet queso with tortilla chips and a Parmesan ranch cheeseball.

3. Shop well.

While we think of Christmas as being the holiday with the most shopping, Thanksgiving can be right up there for food shopping. There are two tips for shopping well for Thanksgiving that I use: shop ahead and use grocery pick-up.

Part of the reason I menu plan early is so that I can start stocking up on what I need. Three weeks before Thanksgiving, for example, I purchased extra butter, flour and sugar knowing that I’d need those things. And they have a long shelf live. Adding in a few ingredients here and there is good for my grocery budget and makes finding difficult ingredients easier. It reduces my stress to know I have what I need and am not scrambling around trying to find a store with canned pumpkin or frozen hashbrowns in stock.

The other thing I highly recommend is using grocery pick-up. I started using grocery pick-up pre-COVID and haven’t stopped. I love being able to shop from anywhere I am (usually at home) with my phone. It gives me more time to think about what I need and consult my list. I can better compare prices and make the best choices. And I end up not buying extra items that we don’t really need! That’s not to mention the time it saves me in actually going through the grocery store.

4. Have some easy family activities planned.

Having some easy family activities is a great Thanksgiving tip for keeping your family happy and hanging out together even longer. But, especially if you’re hosting, you certainly don’t need any more work to do, so go for easy activities everyone will enjoy. These easy activities can be as simple as everyone saying what they’re thankful for or going around the dinner table and having everyone say something they are thankful for about each person.

Some of our favorites are watching the parade together on Thanksgiving evening, watching a movie together or playing games together. Thanksgiving specific games can be especially fun. For those, I love and highly recommend printable games that you can print out a few days before Thanksgiving and pull out for some family entertainment. You can get them in bundles or separately.

25 Thanksgiving games and activities bundle

You can find all sorts of Thanksgiving printables in the Families with Grace Esty store!

5. Keep it simple — and ask for help!

Find what you enjoy and do it, but keep things simple. I love cooking and baking more than decorating. My Thanksgiving décor this year for dinner will include a tablecloth that I found on sale at Walmart for $1 and some paper plates and napkins for dessert that say something about being thankful. I’m thinking I might pull out my nice dishes this year, but they’re dishwasher safe. Simple and effective.

If decorating is more your thing, do that and cut back on homemade dishes. Find shortcuts, make something nontraditional or buy your dinner and decorate away.

Finally, don’t hesitate to ask for help. This is one of the most important Thanksgiving tips! Your family wants to spend time with you. And if we’re honest the version of you who isn’t overwhelmed and stressed is much more fun to be around. (I say this as a reminder to myself, by the way!) Asking for help really isn’t a sign of weakness, I promise. Ask your children to help with food prep or cleaning. You can even ask those coming to dinner to bring along dishes as well.

If you are organizing a large Thanksgiving meal for lots of people, consider making it a potluck and using a sign-up sheet so that you don’t end up with everyone bring mashed potatoes and nothing else!

Thanksgiving potluck sign-up sheet
Thanksgiving potluck sign up sheet

About the Author: Stacey A. Shannon

Stacey A. Shannon is a freelance journalist and blogger who has been published internationally. She's also a Christian, a wife and a mom of two school-aged children. She started Families with Grace in 2019 to encourage Christian moms as they create homes filled with grace, love and faith.

Be sure to get the FREE family devotion book, "Finding Grace at Home: 7 Days of 5 Minute Devotions for Families." It's a great way to help your family draw closer to each other and to God.

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5 Thanksgiving tips to make your holiday even better5 Thanksgiving tips to make your holiday even better5 Thanksgiving tips to make your holiday even better