Thanksgiving family meal

Thanksgiving Mistakes You Won’t Make

We all want to create perfect holiday memories, but what happens when the day goes awry?

If your recipe for a perfect Thanksgiving brings to mind a Norman Rockwell painting, you may want to rethink your idea of perfection. “It’s kind of a myth,” says Dan Kish, head chef at Panera Bread®.

It’s true. Most of us are faced with a holiday that is one part excitement, one part anxiety, and two parts something in between. But the key to eliminating stress and unexpected outcomes in the kitchen or at the table is a matter of planning, Dan says. Here’s a look at some common scenarios and what you can do to keep them from spoiling your day.

Your son forgets to mention he’s invited his college dorm mates

Unexpected guests don’t have to be a cause for alarm. “I always cook more food than I know my family can eat,” says Dan. “First of all, Thanksgiving leftovers are a must in our house, and second, knowing I have more than enough food, I can extend last-minute invites to family and friends who don’t have other plans.”

Dinner is ready, but the turkey is not

The secret to having the complete dinner ready at once is to time everything well. “Decide when you’d like to serve the meal, and then back into the timeline,” says Dan. “The turkey should rest [covered with foil to keep it warm and moist] for at least an hour before slicing, so it’s a good idea to use that hour to cook or heat up your side dishes.” Remember, many of the sides can be prepared a day or two ahead of time.

Your guests have filled up on appetizers

Scale back. Thanksgiving dinner is a big meal. You don’t need to serve a lot of snacks ahead of time. “Cheese and crackers will fill people up prematurely,” says Dan. Opt instead for a relish tray with pickles, olives, and fresh veggies. “You want your guests to come to the table hungry but not too hungry.”

Aunt Cathy and Uncle Bob refuse to eat at the same table

Have a seating plan. If you have enough room at the table to seat all of your guests, arrange them accordingly. If you are serving buffet-style—like Dan does at home—make sure you have enough chairs for everyone, even if it means allowing your guests to take their plates into the living room or the backyard if weather permits.

Your mother shows up with an ambrosia salad no one wants to eat

Don’t get frustrated or overwhelmed by relatives who insist on bringing an unwanted dish; call ahead and assign guests a specific task. Ask your mother to bring the green-bean casserole or bread from her local Panera bakery-cafe. Allowing your guests to help frees up more time for you to enjoy the day!