HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


How do you calm your Thanksgiving cooking anxiety?

Hi- So, I am hosting T Day again as usual but this year for a bigger group with overnight guests. I have my menu planned, food bought, cooking schedule planned. But, I am a nervous wreck. I can't sleep and wake up around 3 a.m with worries about food, making endless mental lists in my head. I agonize over every dish, to be sure it is perfect. I am always afraid i have forgotten some necessary ingredient or will overcook or ruin a dish. I wish I could enjoy the cooking, but I can't, I'm such an anxious mess. How do you chill out and not stress about guests or major holiday meal prep?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
      1. re: baseballfan

        I use gin, but it's the same general principal.

        1. I know exactly how you feel.

          I have to admit, for many years, I felt the same way. Anxiety and worry about cooking this dinner was an overwhelming endeavor. Many years later, 34 years to be exact, I've finally found the magic answer for me and it seems to have come naturally. I realized this meal, the coming together of family and the cooking that is reflective of my *gift* to them, should not be a hardship. Every dish I make has a story behind it for us, it's familiar and they look forward to it and somehow it makes it fun with lots of love put into it. I love setting a beautiful table and rising early on Thanksgiving when everyone else is asleep. When I sit down and watch them I know this year marks another year of the blessings we have. I've turned this preparation into a more calm and reflective time....

          1 Reply
          1. re: latindancer

            Very well said, Latindancer. And I am experiencing a similar peace this year, my 35th (or so) of cooking Thanksgiving dinners for my family. However, I definitely remember many years when I was completely stressed out about making the "perfect" holiday, and felt the way the OP describes. I am thankful this year for the experience of many, many Thanksgivings, and the life lessons they have given me. One of the most important lessons I have learned is to keep the main holiday meal simple and traditional...(that works for my family, anyway)..because I have always wanted to try new and different recipes at Thanksgiving, and that never seems to go over really well with my family. They want the tried and true. So now....I give them what they want for Thanksgiving dinner, and try out new stuff over the long holiday weekend. Fresh Brussels sprouts with bacon, parmesan and cream, and pumpkin bread pudding with spicy caramel apple sauce are a couple of my plans for this weekend:)

          2. 1. Extreme levels of organization (think Excel spreadsheets). Mental lists are a recipe for disaster, at least as far as my memory is concerned. Write EVERYTHING down. Save on the computer for next year, and make notes after the event to remind yourself of little things that go right/wrong.
            2. Do it for a dozen+ years.
            3. Sauvignon Blanc.

            I am cool as a cucumber :-D

            1. I put off thinking about it. F'rinstance, this year it was Saturday when I realized, 'Oh yeah, Thansgiving this week.'

                1. by realizing a few things
                  1. your guests won't know if every dish isn't perfect.
                  2. they will appreciate your effort even if they DO know, because they aren't cooking!
                  3. live will go on, as normal, no matter what. :)

                  at least this is what I keep telling myself when I think of taking all the fixings to my MIL's ill-equipped kitchen to cook dinner there!

                  1. Recognize right now that everything will not be perfect...it is just not possible. If you don't like the cooking, see what you can eliminate or purchase fully or partially made. Ask for help. Think about the fact that in a little over a month there will be Christmas and New Year and whatever went wrong on T'Day will be long forgotten. Oh, and followup on those mental lists with real ones.

                    1. As a family,including close friends we do the big feast often,not just Thanksgiving.So after all this time and practice it's smooth and easy.Perpetuation of the gathering is the be all for us.

                      1. By making more than enough food, so that one or two dishes won't be missed; I also always have some kind of backup from a day or two before (meatballs, stew,spare ribs)....no one will starve. BTW in 36 years I've never needed the back up meal, despite running out of propane in the middle of the turkey once, and other tales of woe. The most important thing is to not let them see you sweat. If something goes wrong, make a joke. And then have another drink! (I start sipping the vermouth used for the stuffing about the time the parade starts....) Anxiety usually causes a chain reaction, so think happy thoughts.

                        1. First time hosting. The only thing I'm really anxious about is the turkey. There are only 7 of us, and I seriously debated just roasting a couple of chickens. Instead, I am pretending that the turkey is just a very large chicken.

                          1. I personally LOVE to cook Thanksgiving dinner, so to me there is no anxiety over it. I've arranged things in my kitchen to fit the way I cook, keep a fairly well stocked pantry, and got myself an iPod dock so I can listen to music while I work.
                            Whether your meal is perfect or not... it doesn't matter. Make what you feel comfortable with, put together a little schedule or checklist before you start to cook, and if something burns, then you can have a good laugh about it and order a pizza.
                            You will have a house full of guests this year--try to have fun and enjoy the company.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: iluvcookies

                              Make almost everything in advance, saving the turkey, stuffing, and gravy for T-Day itself. Almost all the sides can be refrigerated for a day or 2 then reheated. The microwave is your friend! If you're doing candied sweets just don't put the brown sugar and butter, marshmallows, or whatever else on top until you're reheating them in the oven while the turkey is resting. While the turkey is cooking you can be doing last minute stove top things like potatoes, creamed onions, Brussels sprouts, whatever your favorite sides are that do best with last minute cooking.
                              Make a time-line/list so you know what time you need to get things going. That'll also help you in checking things off as you go, making sure you don't forget something in the fridge until it's too late.
                              You have house guests so get them involved. I enjoy cooking with other people so had a wonderful time when I was visiting friends in D.C. at Thanksgiving one year. I baked pies in the morning, the wife and I did everything else over the course of the day, and she had an impromptu dinner party She hadn't called anyone until the day before and was surprised at how happy they were to be invited - they had been planning on staying home alone or going to a restaurant. At the end, all went well, the food and company were great, and everyone got to take home some leftovers (which they wouldn't have had from a restaurant) for the next day's sandwiches.
                              You don't have to have a perfectly set table, stunning floral arrangements, incredible sides, and a Norman Rockwell turkey. People appreciate that you've made the effort. The only thing I insist on is being left alone to make the gravy. For some reason if the kitchen's full of people my gravy comes out lumpy, too thin, or otherwise messed up.

                            2. I understand the situation but fail to see a problem................

                              Relax, have a drink and get to work. You will have more food than necessary, it will all look beautiful and taste wonderfull. You manage to get meals on the table 364 other days a year and there is no reason to get anxious about Thanksgiving.

                              No one will make negative comments about your food or service, they are all giving thanks that they didn't have to do the work and host.

                              1. Delegate! I'm serious. Ask everyone whose eating to do something to help. That's the only way. Then it's a team effort. When everyone feels they are part of making a great TD most will step up. Those that don't? Who cares. You concentrate on making sure 'Mr. Turkey' gets to the table on time. You must have guests that would be proud to be asked for their help.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Puffin3

                                  Actually delegating is what gives me the most angst. So I barely do it, except for (a) people that I know won't screw it up, or (b) items that I neither care about nor eat.

                                  I once asked friends to bring a dessert and they showed up with four Safeway apple pies.

                                  1. re: travelmad478

                                    Every time I ask my SIL to bring dessert, she either burns it or drops it upside down on the way. Just hands it to me to figure out and then gets mad when I announce she brought it. Lately she "forgets" to bring whatever it is she offered, usually an integral part of the meal. Some store bought pies don't sound half bad compared to that!

                                      1. re: coll

                                        that passive-aggressive behavior is about way more than dessert. I'd give her store bought items like soda and have backups.

                                        1. re: binky1

                                          I know, now I tell her to bring wine which I always have plenty of on hand anyway. But never goes to waste, whenever.

                                  2. I hear you and used to be the same. After several years, I have found a few things helpful.
                                    I have found a way to 'let go' that isn't whole hearted letting go, given that I like the meal to be a certain way.

                                    I delegate out the things I don't care about and have backups that my family enjoys. I.e. soda in the garage and fancy dishes of jello in the fridge)Then it's covered and I won't be worried, disappointed, or resentful if someone forgets.
                                    I make a list of every food that will be served, including appetizers, drinks, and dessert. I try to keep it very simple.
                                    I make a separate 'to do' list and think about things that can be done days in advance. Ex. I dusted and ironed my tablecloth today; tonight I will get out all of the serving dishes and mark them with post it notes and stack them on one end of the table. Tonight I will also set the table with glasses turned upside down.
                                    I put the list of foods and my recipes out. From there I make a shopping list. I let it sit a day, and make additions as necessary. I also write a separate 'to do' list for Thursday. Like Thursday morning I will put the butter on the table so it's soft when we eat.
                                    Recognize everything doesn't have to be just so. Do you remember the food or the company at your past Thanksgivings?

                                    1. Be frank with your guests: are you a person who expects guests to help or a person who gets even squirrelier (my term, not yours) when guests are in your kitchen? Just make your style clear. If you need/want help, be explicit--please stand over there [i.e. away from me!] and chop the onions about 1/2 inch. Quite clear. OR: just sit over there, have a glass of wine and keep me company; I'm a little weird about helpers in my kitchen.

                                      The food will be delicious, unless you're a terrible cook 364 days of the year. Deep breaths, glass of wine, a prayer of true Thanksgiving for all these wonderful people at your table and the bounty thereupon, and all will be well. Best wishes!

                                      1. Don't worry about perfect. Enlist help to run to he store case of a forgotten ingredient.

                                        1. Aw, I feel bad for you. Please try not to overstress. People, almost every last one of them, are happy to be invited to your house for a meal. Try to enjoy the process and don't think about perfection. Chances are, your food will be delicious, whether perfect or not. And the less than perfect things are the ones you laugh the hardest about later.

                                          Personally, I keep the menu simple and do as much of it as possible in advance. Usually just the turkey and stuffing are getting cooked at the last minute; other sides are warmed as the turkey rests. Also, I prefer a communal, convivial cooking atmosphere. Many people do want to help so use them. This isn't performance art. Good luck!

                                          1. First of all I only invite people who while I would like to impress I don't *have* to impress, kwim? These are loving friends and family who wouldn't care if served KFC. It about giving thanks and having fun. Not having to worry about the "drama" is the best anxiety reliever.

                                            After that I keep the stress level down by having a lot down in advance, and being really organized. For example it is Tuesday and the table is already set. The cranberry sauce and veggie lasagna are made. The onions, celery, bread and herbs are prepped for the stuffing. The turkey is in the brine.

                                            Tomorrow will be last minute shopping/cleaning with built in down time-I take my son to Plymouth Plantation every year so he understands the "real" Thanksgiving.

                                            Thursday the turkey will go in the oven by 9 AM, Ill finish off the stuffing, and all the other sides and leave myself an hour to shower, put up my feet and have a cup tea before the maddening crowds arrive.

                                            1. I'm struggling with this too, but I agree w/ the others that you should keep written lists, not mental. I've been carrying a notebook around with me to write things down when I think of them, and I did make a color coded google docs spreadsheet to figure out oven/stove time for Thursday, and I have all my recipes printed out and I plan on taping them to the cabinets in order. I also already set the table and I made a list of each thing I'm making, and put what actual dish I'm going to serve them in. Tonight I will probably lay out the empty dishes with postit notes on the buffet to make sure there's room for all of them. My table has a nice centerpiece and I'm squeezing 6 adults and 2 kids onto a 3x5 table, so no room for food on the actual table. Tonight I"m going to the store to do the last minute shopping. I had a list of each dish I'm making, along with the ingredients, so I could cross off the ingredients I already have at home, and then I used those lists to make my grocery list, organized by the way I walk through the store, that way I don't miss anything.

                                              I'm still just stressing out as it's my first time cooking dinner for more than like 4 people, I have 8 coming. I woke up at 230am this morning and realized I forgot to put the sausage had out to defrost back in the fridge and freaked the hell out and ran downstairs to put it in the fridge. I also haven't been sleeping well. My mommy (yes I call her mommy in instances like this LOL) shows up tonight and is staying at my house so I'm hoping having her around will help calm me down. She's going to be doing most of the prep work tomorrow since I have to work til 6pm.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: juliejulez

                                                The one thing that always takes the pressure off is having the dining room and living room completely set days in advance. Just add centerpieces and you can just focus on the cooking.

                                                1. re: DaisyM

                                                  If only I could. The cats would destroy it in about 5 minutes......sigh.

                                              2. Thank you for all the tips and empathy! Am a bit calmer now, but still unable to sleep. Made the cranberry sauce and rutabega casserole yesterday and got the cleaning done. Today is a big cooking day. I should feel a lot calmer tonite, hopefully.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Kat

                                                  Don't feel bad, I am as cool as a cucumber but still waking up around 3 every morning myself. Too much to think about, even though I have lists for everything. I know for a fact that I will not only be up early tomorrow morning without an alarm, but by 4AM I will be in high gear with last minute tasks (I'm sort of a procrastinator but when push comes to shove, I get it all done). Thanksgiving night you will sleep like a baby, dreaming of the wonderful feast you served your friends and family.

                                                2. half a tab of Xanax. (ask friends for sourcing)

                                                  and it really is just a dinner. stop over-thinking it for you own sake. it really HAS to be fun for you too.

                                                  the overnighters? ehh we are not the Ritz. this year the hosts have to bugger off at 8 AM on Friday for a funeral. so for the usual suspects/stragglers "here's the eggs, here's freezer waffles". done.

                                                  1. Pharmaceuticals: Best way to deal with insecurity issues.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. Put all those mental lists on paper or computer.

                                                      There are a lot of online recipe programs that can help you make grocery lists.

                                                      Make a time line from when you prep the first dish to putting the meal on the table.

                                                      Make labels from post it notes designating what serving dish/plate/bowl is to be used for what you are making. For example a mashed potato label would be put in the bowl for mashed potatoes. Do this ahead that way you know you will have enough serving dishes.

                                                      Start with a clean sink and an empty dish washer. I don't like others cooking in my kitchen but wash and drying dishes is a god send. Also keep a running clean. Keep the counters cleared leads to less confusion.

                                                      You are not perfect, so you cannot make a perfect meal. Don't sweat the small stuff.

                                                      Avoid alcohol. It can make you loopy and dehydrated. Afterwards is a different thing.

                                                      1. It went fairly well! I took the good advice here and wrote down the schedule for the day. I started cooking two days in advance, which was the biggest help as I only had the turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes to do on T Day. Everything else just had to be warmed. Two minor disasters: I accidentally set myself on fire when I leaned over the gas burner and my scarf caught on fire. Lesson learned: do not wear long scarves when cooking. Second, I used a disposable aluminum roasting for the turkey. Just as the bird started cooking, I started to hear a hissing sound and then black smoke started to waft out of the burner tops. I panicked, then realized that the monster bird had caused the metal rack to poke a hole in the aluminum pan and all the good drippings were dripping onto the oven bottom and burning. Happily, I was able to dig around and find my lost metal roasting pan to salvage the day.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Kat

                                                          Congratulations, you kept your cool and I'm sure everyone was amazed! You almost went up in smoke, and so did your turkey, and you showed your chops. You don't want to make it look too easy anyway.