15 Habits of People Who Throw Stress-Free Thanksgivings

Laying the groundwork for your most successful Thanksgiving yet is all about your state of mind — and a little extra prep.

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They're Not Afraid to Tweak Traditions

And when it comes to Thanksgiving, that means not being afraid to ditch the turkey — well, not ditch. Let’s say simplify. Cooking an entire bird — and the days-long prep leading up to it — is the most time-consuming part of the meal. But a 6-to-7 lb. set of turkey breasts still feeds 6 to 8 people. The turkey will be faster and easier to cook, you can tailor the pieces to your guests’ white-vs.-dark preferences (look for turkey legs if you’ve got dark meat fans), and you’ll save plenty of prime fridge and oven space along the way.

They Choose Decor That Doesn't Need Tending

The people who choose succulents (easy) over orchids (so not easy) are also the ones that know to skip the fresh floral centerpieces at Thanksgiving. Consider a tablescape that’s equal parts aesthetically pleasing, functional and hands-off. Items like mini pumpkins, festive candles, clementines and, yes, succulents can all be set out several days ahead of time and prompty checked off your to-do list.

They Know That Nothing Is Too Trivial to Do Ahead

Tap into the gene that encourages you to set your clothes out at night when it’s time to set out the Thanksgiving serveware. Using your menu as a map, pre-set the table. "I pair utensils with dishes, arrange them on the table, and put a Post-It note on everything saying what goes inside," says Shauna Sever, author of Midwest Made. "Not only is it one less thing to think about when getting dinner on the table, but it also makes it easy to delegate what goes where when people ask if they can help."

They Don't Overcomplicate Things

Skip the 10-ingredient cocktail and stick to easy classics: beer, wine, sparkling water, apple cider — and anything else that’s already ready and bottled for you. (If you absolutely must serve a special cocktail, opt for a make-ahead punch so you don’t have to play bartender.)

They Know When to Go With Store-Bought Solutions

Every expert we spoke to advised keeping appetizers and snacks simple — so you can save time and energy for the big meal. Some no-fuss suggestions: veggie platters with dip, cheese and charcuterie, toasted nuts, olives, fruit, and low-salt chips or crackers.

They Move All Those Appetizers and Drinks *Out* of the Kitchen

No matter the party, guests love to congregate around both — but in the pre-feast frenzy, a big crowd is the last thing you want in the kitchen. "We’ll turn on a football game and keep the appetizers and drinks there, so guests can relax elsewhere before the big meal," says Maria Lichty of Two Peas & Their Pod.

They Ask About Dietary Restrictions Ahead of Time

This way, you can adjust or add to the menu as needed so everyone feels comfortable. And don’t forget about any kids attending: some may have more selective palates, so ask parents what their little ones love to eat and drink — then make sure to have some.

They Delegate Pre- and Post-Meal Duties

Guests will always ask if they can help — so let them! Don’t be shy about letting friends assist with preparing the meal beforehand or cleaning up afterward. If you find it difficult to ask for backup, remember what often happens when you don’t: the host gets siloed away, and no one wants that. "When the host is tied up in the kitchen, guests aren’t able to relax," says Adrienne Cheatham, chef and host of SundayBest. "They came to spend time with you, and the more you have to do, the more they’ll want to help."

Or They At Least Delegate Social Duties

If you insist on doing all the pre- and post-feast items yourself, assign the (just-as-important) social tasks, says Sever. "My typical reply to 'What can I do?' is 'Make sure everyone has a drink!' and 'Entertain the kids!'"

They Don't Test-Drive Brand New Recipes at Parties

"Don’t let Thanksgiving be the first time you make a recipe. It may seem obvious, but a trial run is critical in preventing stress on the day of the feast," says Kelly Senyei of Just a Taste. "If you’re adding a new side dish or dessert to your list of family classics, try them out a few weeks in advance to make sure you aren’t wasting time, money, or attention on a recipe that’s not worthy of your table."

They're Strategic When Introducing (and Seating) Guests

If it’s a larger gathering, thoughtfully assigning seats can help set the social tone. Before guests arrive, put out placecards — and keep things balanced. (For example, avoid grouping all the extroverts at one end of the table, so the other end isn’t silent.) This also gives you the chance to address any family dynamics that might impact the stressfulness of the day, says Senyei.

They're Not Afraid to Get Creative With Kitchen Tools

How do you keep every part of a big meal warm? Oven and stove-top space is at a premium, but there are easy alternatives. "I'm a big fan of using slow cookers to keep things warm — they’re especially good for potato dishes because they won’t dry out," says Sever. "I also like to put finished gravy in a big insulated coffee thermos." If you have a heating pad, tuck it into an insulated cooler or food carrier for an additional setup.

They Don't Shy From Saying BYOD

The best answer to the inevitable "What can I bring?" question: dessert! Not only does this allow every guest to contribute something (and not arrive empty-handed), but it also takes the second-half stress off the host once the main meal is served. Plus, who doesn’t love a dessert buffet?

They're Always Prepared to Give Away Leftovers

Leftovers are a given, so be sure to stash and fill some to-go containers for guests upon departure. Off-loading leftovers is a two-part win: Every guest loves a parting gift, and as the host, you’ll cut down on the amount of required fridge and storage space afterward.

And Most of All: They Plan and Prep as Much as Possible

It might sound obvious, but it’s worth reiterating: The more you can knock out ahead of time, the easier the big day gets. So start early, take it slow, and do everything you can in advance: wash potatoes, make and freeze pie crust, roll out the cooler. And when in doubt? Write it all out. "I type up all the dishes I plan to make along with a three-day prep list, then stick it on my refrigerator door," says Woldy Reyes of Woldy Kusina catering. "The prep list keeps me on track and organized, and by doing so much in advance, all I need to do on Thanksgiving day is assemble dishes and relax."