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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Thanksgiving Plan: doing things a little differently this year

We're a family of adults, now, with the two youngest, both age 21. And even if we don't all have the skills needed to execute preparations for a complicated dish, we can still each contribute a simple portion to the meal.

New times, new rules. Each person in our family (girlfriend, included) is required to bring one dish to our Thanksgiving meal. Everyone is also required to do their share in non-cooking tasks for the day. Putting together a large celebratory meal is a huge undertaking, and no one un-paid person should be expected to execute all of the details of the feast. (Now, if my family wanted to pay me for that service, say about $60 per person, I'd reconsider this whole "everyone must contribute" idea.)

I have proposed a list of dishes needed for the meal, with slots for sign-ups. I have also proposed a work schedule for sharing our kitchen space. And I have outlined requirements for using the kitchen and all the supplies and tools, and last-minute work related to the dishes.

We are a family of 6 this year, 2 parents, 4 kids (including son's girlfriend). So, I have 6 slots for foods to be prepared: turkey/gravy, an orange vegetable, a green vegetable, a starchy side dish, pies, and a wild-card. The wild-card is given to my son's girlfriend, as her cooking reflects her Chinese heritage, and frankly, anything she prepares will be interesting to our palates, and appreciated. In addition, I have requested that all side dishes have 12-15 servings, ensuring that we will have all of the usual leftovers for the rest of the weekend's feasting.

In addition to the side dish preparation, I have also penned a list of chores related to the big meal, both before and after serving. Each of us will sign up for one "before" and one "after" These include setting the table and putting on the salt and pepper, decorating the table, filling water goblets and putting a pitcher of ice water on the table, putting out the butter, cranberry sauce, olives and pickles, making sure the dishwasher is empty before the meal, organizing a game or activity, clearing the table after the meal, putting away all of the leftovers, cleaning the sink, stove and countertops after the meal, making and serving coffee and tea after dinner, making whipped cream for the pies, hand-washing the roasting pan and serving dishes.

These are the rules I have established for side dish preparation. Their design is to encourage thought as to others' work and needs:
  • You may use whatever you find in the kitchen, that has not been set aside for another meal. (Ask Mom if you are in doubt about what's available.) In advance, check for the ingredients that your dish requires. If you need something that is not currently in the kitchen, let Mom know, no later than November 17, so that she can pick it up at WinCo on the 18th. Otherwise, you are on your own for procuring all of your ingredients.
  • hand-wash all bowls, pots/pans and utensils after you finish preparing your dish, so that the next cook has a complete kitchen to work with.
  • For serving, use the serving dish that Mom has set aside and labeled for your use.
  • Stick to the work schedule.
  • You are responsible for bringing your dish to the table in ready-to-eat condition. If it requires last-minute reheating, plan to do so.
These changes to our holiday meal preparation have a couple of happy side-effects. I get an easier week leading up to the big day. My kids and husband have the opportunity to expand their cooking skills, and boost their confidence in their abilities to provide for themselves. And I believe that the whole of this group participation will alter and enhance the conversation and appreciation at the dinner table.

This maturing family unit is forging its way into our future.

For those of you with grown kids still at home, have you requested that they prepare a dish for holiday meals? How else have you managed these big family events?


  1. Wow! This is the best suggestion I have heard in a long time! You are spot-on with this one. May I copy and paste and use this? I would love to use this for any kind of big get-together we may use in the future. All my kids are adults and we are in the same boat that if mom had to do all the prep. it just gets too busy. All three kids live in apartments and prepare their own meals so why not when they come home for a time?!

    I'm not sure if we're hosting a Thanksgiving dinner but Christmas and New Year's is right around the corner too!


    1. Hi Alice,
      Use whatever you like. It just gets to be too much work, doesn't it? I was really dreading Thanksgiving, this year. It sounded like so much work. I just don't have that kind of energy, like I did last year.

      For my family, I think it will boost my kids' and husband's confidence in their own cooking skills. And I think the table conversation will have a new twist, with everyone contributing equally.

      Not everyone in my family has much experience cooking, so I've told them that if all they feel they can do is open a few cans of green beans and heat them, then that's okay. I just don't want to have to be responsible for every detail. And of course, I took the turkey and gravy, as no one in my family has ever done that part, or even helped with that part. No need to make this any harder than necessary for anyone person.

      I hope you have a great day, Alice!

  2. Sounds like a great plan to me! My five range from 6 to 16 so I'll most likely ask for cleanup and table-setting help more than anything else. My 12 YO does like to cook so I may let her make a dish if she wishes.

    1. Hi Cat,
      one of these years, you're going to have a great crew contributing to your big family meals! That's nice that your 12 YO likes to cook. I always enjoyed baking when I was a girl, so my mom usually gave me the "job" of making cookies or cinnamon rolls, at that age. Not a bad job when you get to eat cookie dough!

      Yes, I think clean-up/table setting help is most appropriate for your age-range of kids. In fact, I would think that if you're doing almost all of the cooking, maybe after the big meal, you could put your feet up while the rest of the family cleans up the kitchen!

      Have a wonderful day, Cat!

  3. When we get together with extended family we do this, too. However, if we eat at home my daughter in law and I do most of the cooking. Everyone helps with set up though. My daughter helps with the table setting, my husband helps keep the kitchen clean up done as we go along, and my son entertains his son while we work. My grandson usually helps decorate the cake. Everyone helps with the after meal clean up so we can make quick work of it.

    1. Hi Busy Bee,
      It sounds like you have it worked out for your family. I bet your grandson is the cutest cake decorator, ever!

      Have a wonderful day, Busy Bee!

  4. What a wonderful idea! I may incorporate some of your ideas into our Thanksgiving dinner. We are a family of 5 (husband, me, 14 year old son still at home, grown son and girlfriend).

    I'm thinking I may ask my grown son and his girlfriend to make a side dish. I'll even send the ingredients home with them since they are college students, working part-time, and living in apartments. Then I could asked my youngest son to make one of the easier side dishes. My husband will help with the turkey, and he always will peel and cut potatoes. That will lighten my load tremendously!

    Thanks for the idea!

    1. Hi Angie,
      Oh, good idea to provide supplies to your son and his girlfriend. It sounds like you have a crew there to help significantly. I'm glad my post can offer suggestions.

      have a lovely day, Angie!

  5. I absolutely think that everyone should be kicking in to help. Some day your kids will be on their own and will need to know how to entertain a crowd for a holiday. This is a great experience for them, both in learning the skill set needed to host a meal as well as giving them an idea of just how much work goes into it. Kudos to you.

    As usual, we are going to my in-law's home for Thanksgiving. I always take homemade bread. My MIL hasn't been feeling well the past few months so I anticipate we will all be helping more in the kitchen. I find it challenging to work in someone else's kitchen, but I'm sure we will get it figured out.

    1. Hi Kris,
      Good point. Not just learning to cook for themselves, but someday they'll be hosting holiday dinners.

      I hope your MIL feels better, soon. She's fortunate to have you to help out for Thanksgiving dinner. I agree on working in someone else's kitchen. Finding everything. Not knowing what they're comfortable with you doing. And everyone seems to have a slightly different way they like things done. But I'm sure your MIL will really appreciate the help this year.

      Have a lovely day, Kris!

  6. This is a great idea!When we eat holiday meals with the family. Everyone helps down to the littles. Sometimes the
    the men deep fry the turkey Yum!Chris will normally volunteer for the potatoes,that is a huge job. Lisa often does the roasted veggies(butternut,onion,garlic,salt,Olive oil and ?)Everyone contributes with making food,cleaning before and after. Cami(age 12) will set the table with a seating chart it is very offcial and may not be changed.Sometimes non family members find this interesting. She will come up with some conversation starters. Very cute and sweet. She also does all the table decor she is very artistic and it always amazes
    me what she comes up with. No cell phones are allowed at the table or they will be confiscated for the day.
    Not a hit with teenagers or some of the young military men that are hosted for the holiday. Last holiday the young military man on his phone was texting at the table and the teenagers warned him you will loss your phone for the day you better put it away. He says oh man this just like at home. It made us all chuckle. I do not think you have people texting at your dinner table. Then we say what we are thankful for. Make some
    toasts. Have a lovely meal and start with the clean up.
    All dishes are done by hand. My sister does not have a
    dish washer.Sometimes we have 20 or 30. We will be at a friends house this Sunday for an early Thanksgiving family will be out of town. She has requested that I bring an appetizer.I wonder what I will make? I love that you split up the cooking and the chores.

    1. Hi Patti,
      How's your kitty doing today? I hope all is well.
      I love the "no cell phones" rule. I also love how well-divided the work is in your family.
      I hope you enjoy you early thanksgiving this weekend. And please let us know what you chose to bring, and how it went over!

      Have a wonderful day, Patti!

    2. She seems ok so far. I am still watching her closely. :) The bad side effects can be a week out. So in Jesus name she will be fine. She had
      a bladder infection sun the 6th,the first one ever. Blood in urine and going potty constantly and she was crying. So off to the ER Vet we went. They did a sample with a needle in her bladder and told us no bacteria
      was found but they really did not know how to use their new machine so maybe that was right.They wanted to do Xrays for $350 dollars. We said no! We had them send the sample off to have a culture another like $250 dollars. They said the cat was fine and did not need anything go home. We said no,we need to treat the symptoms.We need antabiotics,pain meds this helps if it is idiopathic and a bag of IV fluid to flush out the bladder. They said
      ok but you do not need it. So about $500 out the door. We started her on the meds that night
      the symptoms seemed to clear up. Then day 3 or four a mild reaction to anatabiotics(clavamox) Took her
      off. Then this Tuesday I called for culture results and she did have a bladder infection.
      So I picked antabiotics and gave her one dose of Batril. I should of Googled first. Side effects causes blindness and organ failure in some animals. So the short answear is she seems good so far thank you for the prayer. :) Some side effects are a week out so just waiting now. Thank you, Thank you for the prayer. She is a cute, chubby, calico named socks.It is amazing how attached we get to pets.:)
      Thank You

    3. Oh, Patti. This must be so stressful for you. I'll keep praying for you and your kitty.

  7. We haven't celebrated the holidays with family for such a long time (been away). It just worked out that way, for work reasons, and also my husband especially didn't want our grown children with family to have to choose sides or worse to have to go to both sides of the family on every holiday. Since we're not into holidays, we made it an across the board, no need to visit us policy, just a phone call would be appreciated. We see the grandkids so often, that a day missed would not be a big deal. Since we're not going on a winter vacation this year, we decided to be babysitters for our grandchildren on Black Friday.

    I think it is great that you are asking your family to each participate with an assigned dish. I think the key here is not feeling so responsible for the entire event, down to every last detail. This is always the most draining part about holiday preparation. We want the holidays to be perfect and the stress that goes with it can be too much.

    I just spoke to our daughter and it seems this year, for whatever reason, everyone will be open for a meal on Thanksgiving. We will treat them to a holiday meal at a local diner near to town where it will be more convenient for them to, yes, go shopping.

    Have a great day!!


    1. Hi YHF,
      So you will have a Thanksgiving family meal after all! That will be fun. And a diner offers everyone something they might like, which means no fussing over special dietary wants or needs. I hope it all works out!

      Have a wonderful day, YHF!

  8. We go to my step-daughter's for Thanksgiving and the three adult women (my sister, me, and set-daughter) make the food. Amanda goes all out and I only need to bring three items. Now I have Christmas eve and think I will ask for more help this year. I was so tired last year. My daughter wasn't living at home and there was just me. My poor son did all the running up and down the stairs for chairs, food, and extra table. Unfortunately my daughter is living at home but works in a bake shop so she will be working lot of hours there.

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      Yes, I agree. It does sound like you need more help for this year's Christmas Eve family dinner. When you think about it, hosting a large gathering is much like running a small cafe. And you wouldn't consider running a cafe with a staff of one, yourself, would you? I think it's very reasonable to tell family that you are happy to host, but that you need a little extra help this year with setting up the tables/chairs, the day before, or something like that.

      Even if your daughter is working a lot of hours in the week leading up to Christmas, maybe you can still put her in charge of a bunch of last-minute details, like the relish tray, making coffee/tea/punch, putting butter, salt and pepper out -- all of the non-cooking things that take up mental space as you're trying to get the meal made. And your son could definitely set the table, take out trash, wash the pots and pans as you cook. But I think the key is to establish who will do what, ahead of time, and leave them to their part while you do your part. Good luck with this, Cheryl.

      Have a lovely day!

  9. My MIL is really good about giving cooking assignments to her adult children. When we get together, there are nearly 30 of us, so it really does help when everyone contributes. She just sends out an e-mail about a week before the planned family dinner & assigns each person 2 items (i.e.--bring 1 veggie & a dessert). So there are choices within a category, but no categories get overlooked.

    On the other hand, Christmas Eve dinner on my side of the family falls almost entirely on me (although my immediate family helps). Most of my side of the family does not cook, so if assign something, I know it will be store bought. Appetizers from the store are o.k. by me, but especially on Christmas Eve, I prefer to have homemade dessert, rolls, etc. I suppose that if I loosened my expectations, I could assign more to others.

    Next week I am hosting Thanksgiving. Just my in-laws will be joining us. I have made many turkey dinners before, but have never been entirely responsible for the big day. I did ask my MIL to bring a pie, cranberry sauce and an app. I didn't want to overburden her as she's had health problems this fall. My big kids & my husband have no problem helping for big meals, so we'll do just fine. Melissa


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