It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is almost here. Harder still: the concept of having to host the holiday at your own home. Even if you love opening your home to friends and family, hosting on turkey day can induce stress in even the most experienced home entertainers. To help out, we’ve collected some tricks that make cooking faster, clean up easier, and the whole event less expensive. Bonus: You won’t lose your sanity and snap at a guest (at least not more than once).
1. Stop grocery shopping now
One typical source of holiday stress is lack of space—you need room in your cupboards, fridge, and freezer to accommodate all the ingredients and finished dishes that will soon be filling them.
“Start clearing out the cupboards two weeks before you do your Thanksgiving shopping,” says Beth Hirsch, an instructor at The Cooking Coach 101. Bonus: By eating up your pantry items instead of shopping, you’ll save money to splurge on holiday gifts, or yourself!
2. Go full rental
For a little bit of money, a party rental company can make your holiday a lot easier.
“Even if your dining table is large enough to host a party of 12 or more, the dining chairs may be so wide that it limits how many can pull up to the table,” says Rebecca West, design psychologist and blogger of Happy Starts at Home. “Consider stashing the big upholstered chairs in the garage and renting folding chairs.”
Other things to consider renting: extra glasses, flatware, linens—that way you can laugh off the inevitable red wine and cranberry sauce stains—and a coat rack to keep outerwear from forming an unruly Everest in the guest room.
3. Spend less on table decor
Dressing up a table with fresh flowers gets pricey fast. Instead, buy fewer flowers and break them up into mini arrangements in mirrored bud vases.
“Mirrored vases reflect candlelight and the beauty of the table,” says Bronwen Smith, owner of B Floral. Another idea for affordable table decor: “Spray-paint small pumpkins gold to jazz up your Thanksgiving tablescape.”
4. Fast-track your food
Instead of cooking the turkey for six semitraumatic hours—worrying all the while that it’s drying out or cooking unevenly—try spatchcocking the bird. This involves cutting the backbone out of the turkey and laying the bird flat, so that all the skin is face up.
“It slashes hours off the cooking time, and the turkey will have crispy browned skin on the outside and be moist and tender on the inside,” says Hirsch. Martha Stewart has step-by-step visuals. (God bless you, Martha!)
Another food shortcut is the mashed potatoes. “Potatoes done the usual way [boiled] take a lot of time, so instead I wrap them in damp towels and microwave them,” says Hirsch. “After that, they’re easy to peel and mash.” Note: This works only with thick-skinned russets, which produce a fluffy finished product.
5. Break out your summer cooler
If you’re hosting a group of drinkers that your ice bucket can’t accommodate, fill a large cooler with ice and chill the drinks in it: white wine, beer, bottled water, even milk or juice for the kids. You can also set the cooler in the dining area, which will keep guests out of the kitchen during food prep.
6. Have guests pitch in outside of the kitchen
People will want to help you with the meal, but unless you are game to host a true potluck, it might be easier to take on the main meal yourself and assign guests to bring wine and dessert.
“Making desserts is time-consuming and wine is expensive, so passing off those duties saves you both money and stress,” Hirsch points out. You can also ask guests to bring apps that don’t need to be heated, such as crudités, cheese, and cured meats. Request that they bring food contributions plated and ready to serve, so you’re not fishing around for dishes. This also keeps guests out of your kitchen, which means your sister-in-law won’t try to put her green bean casserole in the oven right as you’re basting the turkey.
7. Occupy the little guests
Since kids don’t like to linger over dinner, keep them seated at the kids table with an activity. For example, lay out crayons and paper and ask them to write their holiday gift wish lists. This can keep them busy for a surprisingly long time.
8. End the night with a next-day buffet
Many people love a fridge that’s full of Thanksgiving leftovers, but if you’re not one of these people, send your guests home with extra food. Set up a sandwich bar, which can be as simple as placing sliced bread on one end and waxed paper sandwich bags on the other, with the turkey, cranberry sauce, and other fixings in between. Have restaurant takeout containers handy so guests can take home individual portions.