How to host Thanksgiving with lots of little kids and out of town guests
I am hosting Thanksgiving, and it’s really special this year because my best friend and her family are driving out from the east coast to join us in Ohio (any time my friends tell people they are going to Ohio they are asked, “What’s in Ohio?!”).
This Thanksgiving we’ll have four kids ages four and under and house guests. It seems like this would be a stressful situation, but I feel calm.
Why I’m not stressed – choose your guests wisely!
I am welcoming the easiest house guests EVER because our families blend together seamlessly. #6 on my “Things I have gained since having kids” on this blog post perfectly explains why- I have a deep appreciation for helpful friends. When my friends come to visit, it’s actually less work to have them as guests because we all pitch in to help take care of our gaggle of children. It takes a village.
Pay attention to what matters
Since my best friends live nearly 450 miles from me, this is really our opportunity to have quality time together and enjoy each other’s company. This is what Thanksgiving is really about. With the right perspective, any holiday can feel happy and successful.
The holiday is not about making everything the most magical experience, presenting only perfect dishes, and the most memorable experience ever. Thanksgiving is about being with friends and family, actually feeling thankful and not stressed. And if all else fails, WINE!
What do you do about nap/bedtime schedules?
My kids really need their nap (and so do I), so we adjust our Thanksgiving feast according to their sleep schedule. It’s necessary for my sanity. So, we’ll have a much earlier dinner to accommodate their early bedtime.
In the past, we have traveled to the east coast for Thanksgiving and ate at someone else’s home. We came equipped with a pack ‘n play and requested a quiet room for all three of my kids to sleep in while dinner is taking place. My girls eat a big breakfast and lunch, they are not chowing down at dinner, so I don’t expect them to belly up to the table at 7 or 8pm (when they would have normally been sleeping for at least an hour on any other night). If we forced them to eat with the grown-ups they would be cranky and good behavior would go out the window. I adjust to what they need, which in this case is a regular bedtime.
As the host, and mother of small children, I keep the schedule very fluid and flexible. This is a theme for most of my life actually! Little kids need structure, but they don’t need to be told when to eat a giant meal if they are not actually hungry. If my girls are more interested in playing while the adults linger over their plates, it’s totally fine by me.
Moreover, I don’t anticipate how other kids are going to behave when they are away from home and out of their own familiar environment. I know how hard it is to keep my kids on a routine when travelling, so if they need to take a nap at a different time, or need to chill with a video for a while; it’s not a big deal. I am not putting expectations on the holiday beyond just going with the flow and adjusting our schedule accordingly.
My Thanksgiving Menu:
Turkey & gravy
Roasted yams and veggies
Sweet potato pie (a change from pumpkin)
Cherry pie with crumb topping
In the past I would have a HUGE feast with more food than one plate could possibly handle, but I don’t need a ton of food to feel satisfied and content. I need my favorites, which is what dictates the menu. My favorite dishes make the cut, and everything is homemade because it’s just how I prefer to prepare a meal, and ensure it tastes just how I like it. There are plenty of shortcuts to make life easier, like buying gravy, ready-made pie crusts, or the whole pie from the store! There’s no judgement here, cook to your comfort level.
How I prep the dishes days before and the day of Thanksgiving and involve my kids too!
My girls get very excited when they see the Kitchenaid mixer getting plugged in. If I want a kid-free cooking zone, I need to occupy them with a video, or wait until they are in bed. This means I must incorporate my kiddos into helping me cook.
Days before: defrost the turkey (it’s currently in my deep freezer in the basement and it’ll take a long time to thaw.
Thanksgiving Day: After breakfast, I start working on the turkey because I’ll need the oven later in the day. First I put Montreal Seasoning on the bird (and anything else I have in the pantry, but Montreal Seasoning provides a lot of flavor), put it in an oven bag, follow directions on oven bag box, and cook in the oven. Oven bags are great because they keep the turkey moist (juices gather in the bag, this will be handy when it comes to making gravy) and I don’t have to do anything with it. Stick it in the oven and forget about it for a few hours – I usually move on to making cranberry sauce and playing with my kids and hanging out with guests.
Thanksgiving Day: Once the turkey is out of the oven and cooled for a while, we cut a small slit in the oven bag and capture all the juices gathered at the bottom with a really big container (at least 4 cups). I use these juices to make homemade gravy on the fly.
Make a roux with a few tablespoons of flour mixed with turkey juice (instead of butter, keeps the fat to a minimum) in a small pot. Then add garlic powder, salt, lemon juice and another cup of turkey juices while whisking continuously on the stove. The sauce will thicken as it bubbles. You can play around with how much or little sauce you want by adjusting the amount of turkey juice you add. If you want a lot of sauce, make a lot of roux to start with to keep it thick. If you want thinner sauce, just add more turkey juice. It’s quite delicious.
I use my mother’s recipe and it’s my husband’s absolute favorite part of Thanksgiving.
Days before: Chop the onion and celery and cook on the stove at medium heat for about 5-7 minutes to soften. Pour in enough broth to cover the veggies and then some. Then mix in breadcrumbs and sausage (I tear up and add any bread I have laying around and craisins too). Pour mixture into a baking dish and bake for a LONG time at 375 degrees. The kids help me with mixing and pouring, but little fingers need to stay away when I’m chopping! I make this days ahead.
Thanksgiving Day: Reheat in the oven after the turkey comes out, or just microwave it. No biggy.
Thanksgiving Day: this is the EASIEST cranberry sauce recipe ever known to man and it’s the best in the world (next to buying the jellied kind in a can – which I love.)
Kids can help by pouring fresh cranberries into a pot (a bag or two depending on how much you want). Add half a cup to one cup water, add a quarter cup of brown sugar, add a splash of red wine (optional) and set to boil. Once at a boil, lower the heat to simmer for 45-60 minutes.
The cranberries will disintegrate and soften and a sauce forms over the course of 45-60 minutes. You can stir and easily smush the cranberries with the back of a spoon. This is beyond scrumptious and just SO darn easy! You can adjust the flavor and thickness of the sauce by adding more sugar or water to your liking. Versatile, easy and yummy… this couldn’t get better.
Days before: I bake this with the girls on Monday or Tuesday the week of Thanksgiving (it’ll keep). Cover with foil or put a lid on it; it’ll be waiting for me come turkey day.
Roasted yams and veggies
Days before: Prep veggies by washing and chopping. Put veggies back in fridge. Yams are wrapped in foil and roasted at 350 degrees for at least an hour to let them soften and caramelize (they are unbelievable sweet and this makes great baby food too)! Let cool to room temperature and put in the fridge (still in the foil).
Thanksgiving Day: After the turkey comes out, put the veggies on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes depending on the veggie and how well you like them done. Unwrap the yams in the fridge and heat in microwave.
Sweet potato pie & Cherry pie with crumb topping
Days before: Pie crusts can be made a month in advance and frozen. The kids can help pour ingredients into the bowl, but I’ll do the mixing since they have a tendency to get overzealous and flour ends up on the floor when it should stay in the bowl. The crumb topping can be made far in advance and saved in a Tupperware in the pantry.
Tuesday night before Thanksgiving: bake the sweet potato pie
Wednesday night before Thanksgiving: bake the cherry pie and cover lightly with tented foil. I bake this pie closer to Thanksgiving because I don’t want the crumb topping to sit out too long and risk it getting soggy.