Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year because it’s all about food and family and stuffing; life just doesn’t get much better than that. It’s a generally low-pressure holiday, especially because I’ve made it that way: As a working mom, I’ve found ways to not let the cooking completely consume my holiday. (I haven’t yet discovered any genius ideas for getting your mother-in-law to quit nagging you about how you do or don’t discipline your children, but if I do I’ll be sure to let you know.)
These are the strategies that always make the day fun for our family:
1. Have a Thanksgiving Day Parade picnic. I love seeing gigantic Snoopy and Kermit and Buzz Lightyear as much as the kids do. So I make some breakfast burritos with whole-grain tortillas, scrambled eggs and salsa, then we all gather in front of the TV with chocolate milk boxes to watch the floats and bands.
2. Focus on dinner picks that matter most to you. Some people take great pride in making the entire meal themselves. We buy a pre-cooked turkey and focus on the sides; I say nobody’s going to remember your turkey (or tofurkey), but people will most definitely recall the amazing sweet potato pie.
3. While you’re at it, make dinner potluck. This year, just for fun (and, admittedly, for a break), I’ve asked guests to each bring a side. I didn’t suggest what to bring so we might end up with 12 tons of mashed potatoes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
4. Let the kids in on the cooking. Studies show that the more kids are involved with preparing a meal, the more likely they are to eat it. I let the kids make goofproof turkey fruit plates—melon for the body, cranberries for the legs and eyes. No worries, I am not considering a career as a food or craft blogger (but you should definitely check out Festive Side Dishes for Thanksgiving, 20 Over-The-Top Thanksgiving Dessert Recipes and these genius Thanksgiving crafts).
5. Create your own tradition. Every year, mid-November, we bring Tom The Turkey out of hibernation from our linen closet. I picked him up for maybe $7 at a discount store, and he’s been our T-day centerpiece for years. At dinner, everyone has to tell Tom one thing they’re grateful for; one year, a little kid somberly said “Tom, I’m sorry I ate your friend for dinner but I liked how he tasted.”
6. Grab the kids, head to a gigantic inflatable turkey… and pop it! Tee hee, kidding.
7. Find a Pied Piper. This is the house guest you will ask/beg to entertain the kids so you can finish prepping food and not have anyone dipping their fingers or other body parts into the gravy. Each year, my cousin Jeremy plays games with the kids before dinner and generally makes them laugh. So what if it’s all about fart jokes?
8. Escape for a post-dinner walk. Once everyone’s happy and stuffed, my husband and I duck out of the house for 15 minutes or so. We’ve got plenty of babysitters to watch the kids, the fresh air always feels great after being cooped up inside, and it’s a way to at least feel like we’re working off some of what we ate.