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Thanksgiving is just around the corner and the thought of entertaining family and friends may be creating some undesired stress. Whether your stress comes from trying to cook to please everyone or just the thought of getting all that food on the table, these tips have you covered. With a little preparation and some simple ingredient swaps, you can get a nutritious Thanksgiving Dinner on the table while still joining in on the party.
  1. Plan your menu a couple weeks ahead of time. Whether you’re cooking up Aunt May’s green bean casserole or decide to try out a new vegetarian mashed potato recipe, make a list of all the recipes you’ll be cooking for dinner so you know what ingredients you’ll need to buy. The NY Times has a cool Thanksgiving Meal Planner that allows you to filter recipes by guest count, experience level and dietary preferences.
  2. Consider revamping some old favorites to make them more nutritious. As Dietitians, I think we can all agree that fiber is often missing from a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. To fix that, consider leaving the skins on mashed potatoes, adding walnuts and mushrooms to traditional stuffing/dressing, or prime the meal with a nice spinach salad. Check out Cooking Light for some healthier Thanksgiving side dishes.
  3. Know your headcount. This can change by the day so embrace the uncertainty and try to be as flexible as you can. You typically have a core group of people you know will show up and then a certain number of people who might show up. Plan for the greatest number of people; it’s always better to have more than not enough. Leftovers are the best part anyway. allows you to change the serving size of all recipes, making it easy to determine how much food you need to buy.
  4. Plan your space. Again, plan for the greatest number of guests. Organize everything you will need to serve your guests – seating, dishes, utensils, tablescapes, etc.
  5. Prioritize your cooking. Determine which dishes can be cooked or semi-prepared ahead of time – either day before or morning of – so you’re not attempting to do it all on the big day. You’ll stress yourself out and everyone else around you.  
  6. Make room in the refrigerator. If you’re preparing things ahead of time, you’ll need more room in the fridge so clean it out. You’ll also need room for all those leftovers.
  7. Enlist the help of others. Thanksgiving is such a warming holiday and there’s no better place to catch up with old friends or bond with a new family member than in the kitchen. Food brings people together so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Even if it’s setting the table, taking the bread out of the oven, or slicing the turkey.
  8. Take some white space. You will have planned everything from the menu to the tablescape to the guest list – give yourself 30 minutes of uninterrupted downtime. Get some exercise, lay down and close your eyes, or read a book. You deserve it and your body will thank you for recharging its batteries to take on the rest of the night.
  9. Join the party. Just as you make a plan for when to cook certain dishes, plan some time to be OUT of the kitchen. If you spend all day in the kitchen, you’ll be so drained by dinner time you won’t have the energy to enjoy the dinner and conversation.  
  10. Make the best of your leftovers. Make some doggie bags for guests to take home, keep some for awesome leftover meals, and freeze the rest for later. Eating Well has some great recipe ideas for turning those leftovers into healthy meals for the week to come.
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