Oh, Thanksgiving. While it should feel like a warm celebration with family and friends, its mention is usually followed by a flood of anxiety and stress. You’re tasked with everything from planning meals to cleaning the house to making sure your cable bill is paid for the big game. How will you pull it all together? We have some tips for a truly stress-free Thanksgiving.
Plan a Simple But Savory Menu
Thanksgiving is all about comfort foods! And luckily, those are pretty easy to make. But you don’t want to skimp on the flavor, either. This year, make your menu a little easier to handle! You can always recruit some help from your guests and make it a potluck, too. Don’t be afraid to ask for something specific! The recipes below are simple (and shareable) for your stress-free Thanksgiving meal. Of course, the easiest way is to hire a caterer, but if you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, you’ll love these ideas.
Sweet Potato Casserole with Maple Pecans
The key to a stress-free Thanksgiving menu is to make things ahead! This Sweet Potato Casserole with Maple Pecans only has 3 ingredients and can be made up to 2 days ahead of time. Knock out this Thanksgiving staple first, and check one more thing off your list.
- Olive oil (for pan)
- 5 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1 1/2″ pieces
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more
- 1 1/4 cups pure maple syrup, divided
- 2 cups pecan halves (about 7 ounces)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, divided
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil a 3-qt. baking dish. Cook potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, about 12 minutes. Drain; let sit in colander 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat 1/2 cup syrup in a large skillet over medium-high. Add pecans, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until the syrup has evaporated and pecans are glazed (about 5 minutes). Transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and let cool.
- Purée potatoes, 1 1/2 cups water, and remaining 3/4 cup syrup, 1 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a food processor until smooth. Transfer potato mixture to prepared baking dish.
- Coarsely chop pecans and sprinkle evenly over potato mixture.
- Bake casserole until top is lightly browned (about 40 minutes). Let sit 15 minutes before serving.
- Casserole can be assembled, without topping, 2 days ahead; cover and chill. Candied pecans can be made 2 days ahead; store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Yield: Serves 8–10. Prep Time: 30 minutes. Total Time: 2 hours.
Best-Ever Easy Stuffing
Let’s face it, those stuffings from a box are basically flavored mush. Not so pretty to look at! Or eat, for that matter. This year, make this Best-Ever Easy Stuffing from Le Creme de la Crumb! And bonus, you can make this on your stove top and save your oven for other things.
- 16 slices soft bread, cut into cubes (I like to use half whole wheat bread and half white)
- ½ cup butter (see note)
- 1 cup chopped celery (about 4 ribs)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2-3 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning blend, to taste
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- salt and pepper to taste
- optional add-ins: dried cranberries, chopped pecans, fresh herbs like thyme or oregano
- Add butter, celery, and onion to a large skillet and saute over medium-high heat until butter is completely melted and vegetables are very tender.
- Stir in bread cubes and sprinkle with Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to stir over medium-low heat until bread is moistened and hot throughout (3-4 minutes).
- Taste, add salt and pepper to taste if needed.
- Stir in any optional add-ins if desired. Use to stuff a 10-12 pound turkey or cover and keep warm until ready to serve as-is.
Note: If you like your stuffing to be a little moister, you can add another 3-4 tablespoons of butter and/or ¼ cup chicken or vegetable stock.
Yield: 6 servings. Prep Time: 5 minutes. Total Time: 15 minutes.
Simple Cranberry Sauce
I’ll admit it, I absolutely love canned cranberry sauce. That gelatinous blob is almost my favorite part of Thanksgiving! However, we’re all adults now. Let’s kick it up a notch and make this super Simple Cranberry Sauce! Again, just 3 ingredients. No excuse not to add this to your stress-free Thanksgiving menu!
- 12 ounces cranberries
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup orange juice
In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the orange juice. Stir in the cranberries and cook until the cranberries start to pop (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and place sauce in a bowl. Cranberry sauce will thicken as it cools.
Yield: 11 servings. Prep Time: 5 minutes. Cook Time: 10 minutes.
Ah, the headliner! Something about cooking a turkey is terrifying for first-timers. It can be a bit intimidating to imagine cooking such a big piece of meat. Keeping on trend with our simple recipes for a stress-free Thanksgiving, this one only has 3 ingredients. While it does take a little more effort (thanks a lot, basting), it’s still easy enough to keep your anxiety level low and your nap levels high.
- 1 turkey, any size (but works best for birds between 12-16 lbs)
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, vegetable broth, water, or other liquid
- 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted, for basting (optional)
- Roasting pan (or an alternative roasting dish)
- Roasting rack (or something to lift the turkey off the pan)
- Turkey baster, brush, or ladle (optional, if basting)
- Prepare the turkey for roasting. 30 minutes to 1 hour before roasting, take the turkey out of the refrigerator. Remove any packaging and the bag of giblets (check in the body cavity and in the neck cavity). Set the turkey breast-side up on a roasting rack and let it sit while the oven preheats. This takes the chill off the meat, which helps the meat cook faster and more evenly. It also gives the skin time to dry out, which promotes browning and crisping. (Note: Your turkey will likely still feel cool to the touch after sitting at room temperature — that’s fine and you can continue on with roasting.)
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Position an oven rack in the bottom third of the oven, remove any racks above it, and heat to 450°F. If you brined your turkey, as we did, no need to do anything now. If your turkey is straight out of the package, rub it with some salt and pepper before putting it in the oven. We recommend leaving your turkey un-stuffed and un-trussed, both because it’s easier and because the turkey will cook more evenly.
- Add liquid to the roasting pan. When ready to roast, pour the broth or water into a roasting pan.
- Place the turkey in the oven and turn down the heat. Place the turkey in the oven and immediately turn down the heat to 350°F. We recommend roasting turkeys breast-side up. Some people like starting the turkey breast-side down to shield the breast meat, but the idea of flipping a hot, sputtering turkey is not our idea of a good time.
- Roast the turkey. The rule of thumb for cooking a turkey is 13 minutes per pound. So our 16-pound turkey was estimated to cook in about 3 1/2 hours. However, some factors like brining the bird, cooking with an empty (un-stuffed) cavity, and leaving the legs un-trussed will contribute to much faster cooking. Plan on the 13-minute-per-pound rule, but start checking the temperature of your turkey about halfway through the scheduled cooking time to gauge how fast it’s cooking.
- Baste the turkey every 45 minutes. Every 45 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven, close the oven door (don’t let that heat out!), and baste the turkey all over. To baste, tilt the pan and use a turkey baster or spoon to scoop up the pan liquids and drizzle them on top of the turkey. Basting with pan juices cools the surface of the turkey and slows down cooking, which in turn keeps the breast meat cooking at close to the same rate as the legs and thighs. In the last 45 minutes or so of cooking, you can also baste the turkey with melted butter or oil. This helps crisp up the skin and turn it a beautiful deep golden brown. If your turkey is getting too browned, shield the breast meat loosely with aluminum foil toward the end of cooking.
- Check the turkey’s temperature. Begin checking the turkey’s temperature about halfway through the estimated cooking time. Check the temperature in 3 places: the breast, outer thigh, and inside thigh (see photos above). In every case, the meat should be at least 165°F when the turkey has finished cooking. If any place is under that temperature, put the turkey back in the oven for another 20 minutes. Shield the breast meat with foil if needed to keep it from overcooking.
- Rest the turkey before carving. Grab one side of the roasting rack with an oven mitt and tilt the whole pan so the liquids inside the turkey cavity run out into the pan. (These juices are used to make the gravy.) Then, lift the whole turkey (still on the rack) and transfer it to a cutting board. Tent the turkey with aluminum foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. This gives time for the meat to firm up and the juices to be re-absorbed into the muscle tissue, making the turkey easier to slice and taste juicier.
- Carve the turkey. Carve the turkey the same way you would carve a chicken. Remove the wings first, then the thighs, then the breast meat. Once you have the meat off, you can separate the thighs into thighs and drumsticks and carve the breast meat into individual slices.
- Don’t forget about the leftovers. One final note! Once you’ve sat down at the table, don’t forget about the turkey back on the counter. The leftover meat needs to be refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking, after which the risk of something nasty taking up residence starts to increase exponentially. Be safe!
Effortless Pumpkin Pie
They say you can’t have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. Well, I disagree because I (gasp) hate pumpkin pie! The only good part is the Cool Whip. So this Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake is for my fellow pumpkin-haters out there! Don’t worry, it’s still technically pumpkin pie. Just a little tweak to make it better.
- 2 packages brick cream cheese, softened (8 oz each)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Dash of ground cloves
- Dash of ground nutmeg
- 1 graham cracker pie crust (6 oz)
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition just until blended. Remove 1 cup of the batter; stir in pumpkin and spices.
- Pour remaining plain batter into crust. Top with pumpkin batter.
- Bake 40 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool. Refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.
Use Simple But Festive DIY Decor
For some reason, Autumn brings out the inner interior decorator in me. It always makes me want to buy out Pier One’s entire inventory and turn my house into a Country Living magazine shoot. Then I regroup and realize that nature pretty much provides anything one would want for some stress-free Thanksgiving decor. The Dollar Tree picks up the rest! These centerpieces can be put together in a snap and look like they belong in the Gaines’ dining room.
Pumpkins and Candles
Made with, you guessed it, mini pumpkins and candles! Grab some white pillar candles from the dollar store and line them up on anything from a serving board to scrap pallet planks. Weave some vine throughout for an added touch.
Glittery Pumpkin Placecards
The glam girl in me loves these glittery gourds! (I also love alliteration.) And how easy could these be? A little glue, a little glitter, some printing and cutting, and done!
Fall Centerpiece Box
This is just a tad more ambitious than the crafts above, but can still be done in under an hour! You can probably even just draw some inspiration from it if you don’t feel like building something. Fill a basket, or hey, just arrange the jars and gourds in the middle of your table. Stress-free Thanksgiving decor, check!
Count Your Blessings Centerpiece
I just love white pumpkins. They’re so chic and pretty. And this idea adds a bit of heartfelt sentiment to your Thanksgiving table! Let your guests add to it as they arrive for a unique and creative centerpiece. Talk about the perfect addition to your stress-free Thanksgiving decor. Literally, plop a pumpkin and marker on your table!
Mason Jar Mantle Decor
Don’t forget your mantle! This could work for a coffee table or dining table centerpiece, too. All you’ll need is mason jars, spray paint, stick-on letters, and some votive candles. And a mini pumpkin! In just a few minutes, you’ll have an adorable eye-catcher for your Thanksgiving celebration.
Keep the Kiddos Occupied
While you’re focused on playing hostess this Thanksgiving, make sure the little ones have something fun to do! Here are some quick and easy crafts to keep the kids busy (and ensure your stress-free Thanksgiving).
Fall Coloring Pages
This might even pull some of the adults in! Coloring is so relaxing. And these adorable printable coloring pages have options for toddlers to teens. The kids’ table might be the place this year!
Craft Paper Tablecloth
Keeping on the coloring theme, this effortless idea only requires a big roll of craft paper and some markers and crayons. Done! You could add some extra flair by decorating it first if you’d like.
Super Cute Thanksgiving Hats
What a perfect name for this kid-friendly craft! Turn your little Pilgrims into turkeys with just a few simple art supplies. It will at least keep them occupied through the first turkey basting!
Being thankful is an obvious theme around Thanksgiving! Help teach some thankfulness to your kiddos with this creative craft! This one is a little better for older kids, but is also super easy for younger ones. All you need is some smooth rocks and paint markers. Nothing makes a stress-free Thanksgiving like seeing your little ones show some gratitude for all you do!
Nothing like a good game to keep the kids ocupado! You can either make this adorable Turkey Bowling game ahead of time, or let them help first. Then let the tournament begin!