Be Less Stressed This Thanksgiving: A Dinner Planning Guide

Gratitude is good for your mental health – so says Harvard, Forbes and Psychology Today. It stands to reason then that Thanksgiving should deliver a high-dose of concentrated well-being. True maybe for your guests, but if you’re orchestrating a multi-course meal, Thanksgiving can feel pretty stressful.

No matter how grateful you are for friends and family, there are those moments where it all seems like too much. Too much shopping, too many dishes and way too many last minute pressures.

Does it need to be so stressful?

When the dishes are cleared and you’ve had a glass of wine, you realize, ok, maybe some of that pressure was self-imposed. Maybe it didn’t need to feel so crazy.

So how can you skip the stress and get straight to the cheer?

Well, of course, before you pull on your apron, prep yourself a nice bubbly cup of Natural Calm – the anti-stress drink. Breathe deep, and take what tips you may from this guide to calmful dinner planning. Here’s part one – stay tuned for part two.


Before you so much as price check turkeys, reach out, by which I mean check-in with your invitees. A quick note to confirm plans should get the conversation rolling.

If your guests offer to bring a dish, don’t be a hero: accept, and while you’re at it, be strategic. Resist the urge to say, ‘Oh, just bring anything at all. Maybe an appetizer?’

Appetizers are fabulous, for cocktail parties, but you are about to feed your guests in a substantial way. They don’t need hot cheese dip, or phyllo-wrapped brie.

Your best bet is to ask your volunteering guests to bring a salad or dessert. These are time-intensive, but keep well and don’t generally need to be served at a perfect temperature.

What you don’t want are last-minute contributions that require your attention or appliances. That’s just too stressful.

And you may be in charge of the meal, but you shouldn’t have to do everything else. If you share your home, get very clear on what roles your partner or kids can play. Here are a number of tasks that you should be able to delegate well in advance of the main event:

  • Grocery shopping
  • Cleaning the house
  • Washing the dishes made during meal prep
  • Making a music playlist
  • Spot-checking (or polishing) silverware, dinnerware, and all glassware or crystal
  • Setting the table
  • Garbage duty, before and during the party
  • Greeting guest, taking coats, getting drinks
  • Lighting candles
  • Setting out hot dishes
  • Carving the turkey
  • Keeping drinks filled
  • Making and serving coffee and tea

Even if their only job is to steer clear of the party zone, get that agreement signed-off so that you’re not raging with frustration on the day-of.


If the majority of the food prep is up to you, you’ll want to approach it strategically. Here are a few ways to tame the madness:

  • Go with what you know – at least for 50% of the dishes. Trying new recipes can fire up your creative juices, so we get it if you want to mix things up a bit. Just choose a few tried-and-true dishes that you can pull-off in your sleep. Save your mental energy for the uncharted recipe territory.
  • Plan the menu when you’re full. If you’ve ever made the mistake of opening Pinterest on an empty stomach, you know why. A hungry stomach will create a mad, mad menu that no reasonable human could comfortably consume.
  • Think make-ahead. The biggest challenge with holiday meal prep is around oven logistics. What with all of the gorgeous casseroles and roast veggies, it can be easy to forget that we’re not working in a studio kitchen. In the resources section below you will find links to make-ahead recipe compilations.
  • Avoid crazy-making ingredients. Before you add a recipe to your definitive menu, check to see whether sourcing the ingredients is going to be an exercise in frustration. Need chorizo? Saffron? Don’t assume your 50,000 square foot grocery store will have these on hand. Heart set on a statement recipe with hard-to-get ingredients? See if the tricky items can be bought well in advance.
  • Outsource strategically. Is baking your own rolls really adding value? Unless it’s a labour of love, let the professionals take care of breads and buns. It’s so easy – and inexpensive – to buy really excellent bread, there’s little reason to DIY. Some people might say the same about dessert…but hopefully, you’ll let your helpful guests take care of the sweet finale.

Look out for part two of this topic in our next blog post. We’ll tackle strategic shopping and tips for day-of party sanity.

Until then, check out some of the fabulous resources we stumbled on in the making of these posts.

Further Reading: Thanksgiving Recipe and Planning Resources

– See more at:

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