The lazy parent’s guide to a memorable Thanksgiving dinner

Make some strategic swaps to your menu to make life easier, mama.

The lazy parent’s guide to a memorable Thanksgiving dinner
@laurie_marks/Twenty20

If you love Thanksgiving, this time of year is usually that exciting moment when you're gathering recipes, making shopping lists, strategizing over side dishes and pies and figuring out which guest is going to bring what.

But as with so many things in 2020, Thanksgiving is looking quite different from what we're used to. It's likely your celebration may be much smaller than usual. If your mojo to make a huge, complicated meal just isn't there right now, we don't blame you, mama.

Don't worry: There are plenty of ways to take strategic shortcuts but still serve a holiday meal that feels special.


Turkey swap—ditch the whole bird

Instead of roasting a whole bird and ending up with more leftovers than you can manage, roast just a breast or just a couple of legs. Only buy the parts you need—or, if you have to buy a whole turkey, ask the butcher to cut it up for you and freeze the parts you don't use for later meals. If you feel like making the meal more casual this year, you could opt for something like a turkey meatloaf or turkey burgers instead.

Or, if your family isn't so attached to having turkey (does anyone really love it that much?), roast a whole chicken instead. Or make a whole fish, or a beef roast. If ever there was a year to go non-traditional, this is it.

Try it: Herb Roasted Turkey Breast or Garlic Herb Butter Roast Chicken

Pre-made stuffing/dressing (shhh we won't tell)

No matter what you call it, this is one of the dishes many people look forward to. Make it quick by skipping the process of drying out bread cubes. Instead, use a stuffing mix (we won't tell)—or grab that box of croutons in your pantry. If all else fails, crush a box of crackers and toss that in.

Another shortcut: Buy pre-diced carrots, celery and onions; Trader Joe's sells pre-chopped mirepoix in the produce section.

Try it: Easy Homemade Crouton Stuffing

Microwaved mashed potatoes (seriously!)

Save time and extra dishes and make this holiday favorite in the microwave.

Try it: Microwave Mashed Potatoes

Simple cranberry sauce

This dish is pretty polarizing; you either love it or hate it. Skip it if no one in your family really craves it. But if it's a must, make the simplest version you can. Do it a few days ahead and keep it covered in the fridge—it will taste better when it's had a chance to develop, and that's one less thing to do on the day. Alternatively, buy it (get a nice one if you don't like the canned stuff—leftovers are delicious with cheese and crackers).

Try it: 4-Ingredient Cranberry Sauce

Buy dessert!

Store-bought pies are always acceptable (hey, if anyone balks, no dessert for them). Or, get creative and pick up a pint of pumpkin ice cream and some gingersnaps.

As for planning, make and/or prep as much as you can in advance. That way, you can focus on relaxing with your family and enjoying the reduced hassle of a smaller celebration.

Here's a sample schedule to try:

  • 1 week ahead: Create a shopping list. Be sure to include beverages. If you're buying a dessert and need to order in advance, do that today.
  • 4 days ahead: Take your list and grocery shop (or order your groceries online). If you have a frozen turkey (or other protein), defrost in the refrigerator.
  • 3 days ahead: Make cranberry sauce; cover and refrigerate.
  • 2 days ahead: Plan the table settings. If you're using cloth napkins, make sure they're clean. Iron them if you really want to go all out.
  • Day before: Make mashed potatoes; let cool, cover and refrigerate. Chop herbs for the turkey and stuffing. If you don't have pre-chopped vegetables for stuffing, do that today. Double check that you have everything you need for the food you're making on Thanksgiving Day; shop for anything you forgot.
  • Thanksgiving day. Make turkey, assemble and bake stuffing. Warm mashed potatoes in the microwave (stir in more butter if needed). Delegate as much as possible, from cooking tasks to table setting. Whoever doesn't help out is on dish duty.

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