8 Thanksgiving Mistakes to Avoid

Thanksgiving table

Thanksgiving is a big deal. The house is packed with your loving but slightly crazy family, everyone’s judging how you cook the turkey, and you only have one chance each year to get it right. (No pressure!) The good news is that although there are a million ways for things to go wrong, we’re here to help you avoid at least eight of them. Stick with us, and this year you’ll earn another (turkey) feather in your cap for pulling it all off with grace.


1. Not thawing the turkey well beforehand. As someone who usually defines “meal planning” as “deciding what I’m going to eat 10 minutes before I eat it,” the idea of prepping food entire days ahead always feels a bit bonkers. When it comes to getting your frozen turkey in shape for the big day, however, make sure you give it plenty of time to thaw (slowly and safely), or this might be the year you end up eating at midnight because the bird took a full 12 hours to cook. Not that that’s ever happened to me. Ahem.

2. Overeating before the big meal. Unless you’re planning to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner at 9 a.m., you’ll want to rein in your pre-feast snacking. Don’t nibble all day, leaving no room for the main event, but don’t starve yourself either. Have some light eats while the serious cooking is underway (think veggie trays and cheese plates), but save yourself for the feature presentation, especially if you want seconds. Don’t let the deviled eggs get the best of you!

3. Trying to do everything yourself. If you’re hosting a crowd on Thanksgiving, you have a built-in team to make it all happen, so take advantage of it! Resist the urge to control every last detail, and embrace the communal aspect of the holiday. Take a deep breath, decide what’s most important to you — cooking the turkey? carefully hand-washing the crystal goblets? — and then graciously accept help with everything else.

4. Setting impossible standards. The more moving parts you have at your celebration (this includes dishes and people), the more likely it is that something will go haywire. Have a master plan, of course, but allow yourself to be flexible within that overall structure. If you don’t expect perfection, you won’t be disappointed when it doesn’t happen. (And it won’t. Trust.) Besides, holiday mishaps make for the best family stories. 

5. Not getting the kids involved. As you’re recruiting helpers, don’t forget the kids —especially when it comes to cleanup. Sure, it can take longer and you might end up with smudges on the silverware, but the more they practice, the better they will get at it, and maybe one day you can leave them to the dishes while you take a well-deserved couch nap. If they whine and resist, remind them that the sooner it gets done, the sooner everyone can convene in the living room with a plate of pie and football on the TV.

6. Poking the bear. Don’t pretend you “innocently” mentioned a certain topic when you know that’s exactly the sort of thing that gets Grandpa riled up. Be on your very best behavior and see if you can start a new family tradition: everyone getting along on Thanksgiving.

7. Not thinking outside the box. The oven box, that is. If you fret about getting everything to the table at the right temperature, it’s time to get creative. What can you cook on the stovetop? What can you cook in the microwave? If you’re worried Great-Aunt Agnes might be horrified to see you heating up her secret-recipe rolls in a toaster oven, send her to the dining room to set the table and then do it behind her back. She’ll never know the difference.

8. Getting too creative. You have 364 other days each year to experiment with the latest recipe trends. (Sriracha mashed potatoes, anyone?) But unless you come from a family of adventurous foodies, keep Thanksgiving classic and everyone will thank you for it. Don’t replace favorite dishes with newfangled creations you found online — especially if you haven’t tried them first. If you want to get creative, do it at brunch the day before or host a dinner party some other time. Thanksgiving is all about tradition; don’t mess with yours.

What are your best tips for avoiding Thanksgiving mishaps and making this the best Turkey Day ever?


Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/Jitalia17

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