Military families celebrate Thanksgiving in many different ways, but no matter where you are or whom you’re with, food is probably involved.
In my family, menu planning falls to me because I’m the one who likes to scour Pinterest and magazines and blogs for new recipes. I now have a few favorites that I fall back on, but I’m always excited to try something new. My recipe collection grew so much that I had to get the Paprika app to manage it. I have fond memories of nursing my newborn in my parents’ living room while shouting instructions to those in the kitchen because I had planned the menu and couldn’t be involved in the process as much as I would have liked.
Here are a few things to consider when planning your menu:
- Who’s Coming to Dinner? – Will there be someone with allergies or dietary restrictions? Will there be lots of children? If you’re hosting, it’s nice to keep the needs of your guests in mind. If you can’t accommodate the special requirements, then perhaps ask them to bring a dish that they can eat. As a vegetarian, I never mind contributing a dish to a meal. One of my favorite vegan holiday entrees is Country ‘Meatloaf’ with Golden Gravy. Macaroni and Cheese is usually a hit with children. I use this from scratch version that has been in my rotation since 2006 when I took it to my husband’s organization day.
- Find balance. – Holiday meals are a time when everybody expects a decadent, filling meal. When I’m planning a menu for friends or extended family, I want to make sure the meal meets their expectations so I make special recipes that make an appearance at my table once or twice a year, like Martha Stewart’s Luxurious Mashed Potatoes (FYI, I have NEVER needed all of that heavy cream) or the Buttery Dinner Rolls recipe that came with my stand mixer. That being said, I always make sure to offer a green vegetable. This Healthy Green Bean Salad from Dr. Weil is perfect because it can be made ahead of time and left to marinate while you’re making the other dishes. It is a fresh replacement for the traditional green bean salad. Coconut Mashed Yams with Currants is a healthier stand-in for the über-sweet, marshmallow-topped, sugar-filled, concoction we grew up with. And, if you haven’t tried making your own cranberry sauce yet, it’s easy to do and extra flavorful. This Cranberry Sauce with Star Anise smells really great while it’s simmering. I always start with a small amount of sugar and add to taste. So, enjoy your holiday meal, but create balance with your offerings and as always, watch your portions.
- Can You Pull it Off? – If several people are contributing to the meal, there’s a little bit less pressure. But, if you’re putting on the whole show, you need to make sure you plan oven and stove top time so you can have everything ready at a reasonable hour. I always do my baking the day before so I don’t have to fuss with it on Thanksgiving Day. I also make a schedule of my other dishes, noting things that can be made in advance like salads, things like dressing that can be made ahead up to a certain point, and things like gravy that need to be made at the last minute. I number my recipes so I know the exact order in which I’ll work on them. Having a plan allows you to focus on the important things, like spending time with the ones you love.