Genius Thanksgiving Shortcuts for Exhausted Cooks Everywhere

One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is the one where I don’t cook an entire 10-course meal for our family.  Every year, our relatives all pitch in to create an abundance of food for our entire extended family. 

I guess I should rephrase that and say “used to be one of my favorite traditions.” Because this year, our numbers may be smaller but my culinary responsibilities are bigger as we are foregoing an extended celebration and eating here at home. 

Thanksgiving USED to be my favorite tradition. (Twenty20 @galinkazhi)

This year, the whole meal is on me

‘Tis the season to toss Thanksgiving into the smoldering cauldron of doom that is 2020. While I am grateful for health and family, the harsh truth is that I’ve been nourishing these people for ten months now. I am honestly not sure I have a full-on Turkey Day menu in me at this point. 

So, I took to the interwebs for inspiration and asked the good people of the Grown and Flown Parents Group for their best short-cuts and tips for exhausted cooks, like me, everywhere. 

The overarching theme in the responses was “less is more” which is a philosophy I can solidly get behind. Mostly because, at least for me, there are fewer brain cells left to accomplish this. Many families are not only cutting down on the amount of food, but skipping tradition altogether and creating seafood feasts or steaks on the grill. It is much easier to get excited about a meal when it bucks tradition and targets the taste buds of the entire family.

You do not have to cook, everything, or anything!

If ever there was a year to be the ultimate Thanksgiving consumer, 2020 is it. Mashed potatoes and mac n’ cheese from Bob Evans or Costco were most often recommended. A full-blown seasoned and brined frozen turkey from Target also earned high marks.

Many members commented that they weren’t cooking at all but rather supporting local small restaurants or businesses and purchasing an entire meal. I have to admit, there is something very appealing about sipping a cocktail while reheating all my food lovingly prepared by a stranger invested in my sanity. 

I applaud the parents blessed with children who come to the kitchen for reasons other than asking when food will be ready. A huge number of members will be making Thanksgiving a true family experience. Through delegation and team work, the task is not nearly as daunting.

Note: Those of you with children cooking, please write a book with step-by-step instructions on making this a reality without bloodshed or a rewriting and notarization of the will. 

Planning ahead is the key to success

Planning is huge any time you are cooking but in particular when creating a Thanksgiving feast.  Tips such as using a crock pot or Instapot for not only the sides, but the turkey breast itself, save time. For easy clean up, Turkey Oven bags and disposable pans are the ticket. Pies and mashed potatoes can be made ahead of time and warmed before meal time. Pre-chopping or purchasing chopped vegetables was also an often repeated suggestion. 

I have to admit, I am vexed by the hard stance on cranberry. You people who want your tube of cranberry with can ridges embedded in the sides are adamant that homemade cranberry sauce is just not the same. And vice versa. Since I only eat cranberry in a muffin, I have no dog in the fight and respect both sides. 

No better time than the holidays to dazzle friends and family by expanding your vocabulary. I learned the term “Spatchcock” in my research. Apparently this is a real thing and not something from Urban Dictionary. This method of preparation removes the back bone from the turkey and cooks it flat, saving time. Who knew? I am thinking that the wishbone gets gypped through this process, but we all have to make sacrifices in 2020. 

And then there are the rolls and desserts

I was a little disappointed that no one really mentioned bread or rolls. Yet, also slightly relieved to see that people are not rolling out dough and hand cutting biscuits but more likely laboring over the twist tie on the Hawaiian rolls like I am.  #alwaysthankfulforcarbs

Let’s face it, we are all really in this for the desserts so I know you’re patiently awaiting the consensus on sweets. It was a split decision between homemade pies and store bought. One person even mentioned her big change-up was not making whipped cream from scratch. I am thinking she is invited next year wherever I am.  

And that’s really what it boils down to. It only matters where you are, not what you are eating or how it is prepared. Thanksgiving is in the gathering, small or large, to give thanks even when gratitude is hard to come by. After all, there are no shortcuts to counting your blessings, they each deserve their own space at the table. 

More Reading:

Are My Family’s Thanksgiving Plans Safe? Covid Risk by County

About Maureen Stiles

Maureen Stiles is a Washington DC based freelance journalist, columnist and editor. With over a decade of published work in the parenting and humor sector, Maureen has reached audiences around the globe. In addition to published works, she has been quoted in the Washington Post and The New York Times on topics surrounding parenting and family life. Maureen is the author of The Driving Book for Teens and a contributor to the book Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults as well as regularly featured on Today's Parenting Community and Grown and Flown.

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