I love Thanksgiving. Without a doubt it’s my favorite holiday. Perhaps that’s because I love to cook. But I think it’s also because it’s a holiday where family and friends come together, relax, joke, laugh, play games, AND …. there’s no pressure or expectations around gift giving. Phew!
But let’s face it, Thanksgiving can be pretty daunting. If you’re not a confident cook or if you’re trying to eat less processed foods, Thanksgiving dinner can be overwhelming. But stop right there. The first order of business is to NOT be overwhelmed and ENJOY the holiday—no matter what! Regardless of where you are on your real food journey, I think it’s possible. Don’t believe me? Here are my simple tips and attitude adjustment tricks to help you out … PLUS a whole lot of recipes!
3 Tips for Creating the Right Attitude for your Real Food Thanksgiving:
- Start simple—As I’ve said many times, it’s all about progress NOT perfection. If you’re just starting out, pick out one dish that you’d like to create using real ingredients. Or perhaps another strategy is to commit to including some healthier ingredients like grass-fed butter or whole wheat rolls.
- Admit you’re not in control—I definitely have some control freak in me. Over the years I’ve learned to “let go” more and more, and you know what—it feels very liberating! For example, over Thanksgiving you may end up being a guest vs. the host of the Thanksgiving meal. What’s my advice? Enjoy it and don’t ruin your holiday over differences in food values. First and foremost be grateful for the friends and family who are hosting you and sharing their table. And to make things a little easier on you and your host, perhaps you offer to bring a side dish that you know you’ll really enjoy. Also, the reverse is true if you’re hosting, and let your guests or family bring dishes you might not otherwise choose. Believe it or not my son adores this recipe his step-dad’s family makes called orange jello salad. Honestly, there’s nothing healthy about this “salad,” but I think it’s important to be flexible and let him celebrate all his family’s traditions. Again, try not to make the Thanksgiving holiday about being “in control.”
- Being grateful is at the core of living a happy life. All the research shows that developing a daily gratitude practice is truly a powerful way to improve your overall well-being. So why not bring that attitude of gratitude to your Thanksgiving by asking everyone to share what they’re grateful for. I tried this last year, and it really worked well. Rather than put folks on the spot, though, I passed out some index cards when guests arrived and asked them to write down a couple thoughts on what they’re thankful for. Yes, it may sound a little hokey, but I honestly believe it sets a wonderful tone for the holiday.
If you Eat Turkey, Start by Buying a Better Bird!
For most families a turkey will be the centerpiece of their meal. So honestly, if you’re up for it, there’s no better place to start upgrading your holiday meal than to find a better bird. To help you learn more about why you may want to buy a better bird, check out my post “Confessions of a Former Turkey Farmer.” Thankfully, more and more stores are stocking better birds, but here’s a post where I share how to find and cook a better turkey!
It All Starts with a Plan!
If you’re hosting the big event, coming up with a plan is a great way to reduce the stress. It’s amazing how breaking down big projects into little, bite-sized steps helps us feel more confident that we can succeed. Here are some ideas that may help you create your Thanksgiving holiday plan of attack!
- Create your Menu—I like to have this done by at least the weekend before Thanksgiving. That way I have time to get input from my family and guests.
- Make your shopping list—I’m not a huge fan of shopping. I like to get in and get out. Having a list that’s broken down by the stores I shop (my food co-op, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, or regular grocery store) and section of the store really gives me a plan of attack. I try to get most of my shopping done 3 days before the big event so I can start prepping dishes ahead of time. Yes, there’s always a couple of last minute items I need to pick up, but having the bulk of the shopping done in advance really reduces the stress.
- Prepare dishes and ingredients ahead of time—Look at your menu and think about how you can prepare as much as possible ahead of time. Coming up with this plan and writing it down can really be a lifesaver to make Thanksgiving day go much more smoothly.
- Set the table and clean the house in advance—I know, this may be easier said than done, especially if there are small kids around since they love to mess things up as quickly as we clean. However, the more you can get ahead of cleaning and setting up your table, the better off you’ll be!
- Turkey Time—If you’ve completed all the items above, hopefully by Thursday morning you’ll feel much more like “I can do this!” That said, with turkeys taking a long time to cook and lots of different side dishes going in and out of the oven, creating your plan of attack for the day is really helpful. How can you do it? Simply map out when you want to serve your meal and then work backwards to determine when each dish needs to be prepared and put in the oven.
- Ask for help! Do you think you need to do it all? Please, let go of this crazy thinking right now! It’s as simple as asking and accepting help from others. Let friends and family bring side dishes. Also, here’s a brilliant idea a friend of mine shared at book club. Inevitably when guests come over, they’ll ask, “How can I help?” Instead of politely declining, take them up on the offer! Create a chalkboard list or sign-up sheet of simple tasks people can do to help you out. Maybe it’s filling water glasses, lighting candles, or playing bartender. I find most guests genuinely want to help out and feel great about doing it! So tap into your friends and family to make hosting Thanksgiving a less stressful event.
Recipes to Help Create a REAL Food Thanksgiving!
Finally, now that you have some tips on creating the right attitude, choosing a turkey, and planning for the big day, here are some recipes I’ve shared that might work well for your Thanksgiving day table. Just remember, don’t get overwhelmed. Even making one real food dish is progress along your journey to eating cleaner, less processed food!
The Main Event … The Turkey
Vegetables and Sides
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Rosemary & Herb Whole Wheat Stuffing
A Healthier Green Bean Casserole
The Absolutely BEST Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Roasted Delicata Squash, Onion, & Apple Tian
Roasted Butternut Squash & Sweet Potatoes Tossed with Greens
Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad
Whole Wheat Refrigerator Yeast Rolls
Creamy, Dreamy Whole Wheat Biscuits
Skillet Whole Grain Cornbread
One Bowl, No Sugar Pumpkin Bread or Muffins
Crazy Good Cranberry Orange Quick Bread
Whole Wheat Muffins of Any Kind
100% Delicious Whole Wheat Pie Crust
The BEST Pumpkin Pie EVER!
Classic Apple Pie
Country Style One Crust Apple Pie
Almond Shortbread Cookie Crisps
Cranberry Orange Crisp Cookies
Cherry Almond Chip Cookies
Share Your Tips, Recipes, or Other Suggestions!
Have you come up with some strategies for a happier, less stressful, real food Thanksgiving? Are there certain recipes that are your favorites? Let’s help each other out and share more tips, recipes, and other suggestions. Together we can all make a difference!
This post was updated in November 2016 with some additional recipes that will be perfect for your holiday meal!