On Thanksgiving Day how do you get the turkey into the oven and the kids out of your hair?
It’s not as hard as you think, say family dinner experts. A number of strategies – crafts tables, light snacks, and yes, even inviting the kids into the kitchen – will ensure that all is well when you finally sit down to give thanks.
Though it seems counterintuitive to bring the kids into the kitchen while you’re negotiating stuffing, squash and your mother-in-law’s running commentary, giving eager children a job lets them feel like they’re part of the action. Hand little ones a potato masher or an eggbeater, older ones an immersion blender, basting brush or rolling pin.
“If you can give them a dish to be in charge of, maybe you have two kids, and you say, ‘Guys, can I leave the salad to you?’” says Katie Workman, blogger and author of “The Mom 100 Cookbook” (Workman Publishing, 2012). “There’s always enormous value in giving kids that sense of ownership.”
If you just can’t bear to have them in the kitchen – or when they’ve exhausted all their skills – send them to something else they might find attractive. Before everyone arrives, set up a craft table full of crayons, markers (you might want to stay away from paints), jewelry making kits or anything that’s engrossing but not messy. Game tables stocked with board games appropriate for the age of the attending kids can keep a group quiet. You also can send them outside to collect sticks and leaves for a centerpiece, or have them create crafts for the celebration.
“It’s a great opportunity to get kids decorating or setting the table,” says Aviva Goldfarb, founder of the family dinner planning service The Six O’Clock Scramble. “They can make fall oriented place cards, or even a giant table cloth. Get some big fabric and have kids decorate it with fabric markers. Or send them outside for acorns and leaves and pine cones to scatter around the table.”
Keeping hunger at bay also will be a critical part of avoiding meltdowns. No one wants the kids (or the adults!) running into the kitchen a half hour before dinner whining about hunger pangs. To keep everyone sane, but not full, Workman suggests creating a beautiful basket of crudite – bell peppers, carrots, celery and cherry tomatoes with store-bought dip – that people can nibble on throughout the afternoon. Goldfarb packs a cooler of sandwiches and drinks for her crowd so they can help themselves.
But when it comes to cutting down on stress, the experts say cutting back on the work – and your expectations – may be the most important element.
“The key is streamlining,” says Kelsey Banfield, author of “The Naptime Chef” (Running Press, 2011). “A successful and enticing Thanksgiving meal does not have to include 20 dishes. I’ve never heard anyone say there wasn’t enough on the table.”
And Thanksgiving is one meal where even the pickiest child is likely to find something he or she likes, without any special effort on the part of the host. “Why wouldn’t a kid enjoy roast turkey and sweet potatoes and stuffing?” Goldfarb says.
That said, Workman suggests putting bells and whistles – streusel for the sweet potatoes, chives for the mashed potatoes – on the side so people can take what they like and leave what they don’t.
And finally, as with so much about parenting, embrace imperfection. Every dish does not have to be a culinary wonder, these experts say, and does not have to arrive piping hot. And every child does not have to be a perfect angel.
“The younger the kids are, the more you have to build in flexibility so you don’t get disappointed,” says Banfield. “You just have to be flexible and go with the flow. The more you can do that, the happier everyone is.”
Children don’t care if you’ve slaved hours over the Thanksgiving turkey. And they certainly don’t appreciate the nuanced layers of flavor you once extracted from the bird with the help of expert brining and seasoning and rotating and roasting and trussing and fussing.
You know, back before you had kids. Back when you had time to worry about such things.
Balancing a gaggle of little ones with the demands of getting Thanksgiving dinner on the table doesn’t mean sacrificing good taste. It just means you need simple recipes that effortlessly deliver stunning results. Which is why we created this plain Jane turkey and gravy that tastes anything but.
PLAIN JANE TURKEY AND GRAVY
Start to finish: 2½ to 3 hours
Makes a 12- to 14-pound turkey with gravy
6 medium carrots, rough chopped
6 stalks celery, rough chopped
3 large yellow onions, quartered
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
12- to 14-pound turkey
¼ cup white wine
2 cups low-sodium chicken or turkey broth
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Heat the oven to 350 F. Spread the carrots, celery and onions in an even layer over the bottom of a large roasting pan.
In a small bowl, mix together the butter, salt and black pepper. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Rub the butter mixture all over the inside and outside of the turkey, making sure to get under the skin, too. To do this, gently lift the skin over each breast with one hand while working the butter under it with the other.
Set the turkey over the vegetables and roast for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, basting the turkey with juices from the pan every 30 minutes. Remove the turkey from the oven when the breast reaches 160 F and the thigh reaches 170 F. If the turkey darkens too much before reaching those temperatures, cover it with foil and continue roasting.
Transfer the turkey to a serving platter, cover with foil, then set a large, thick towel over it to keep it warm.
Remove and discard the vegetables from the roasting pan. Place the pan on the stovetop over medium heat (you may need to use more than one burner). Bring the juices to a simmer. Add the white wine and scrape up any browned bits in the pan. In a small bowl, whisk together the chicken broth and flour. Pour into the pan, whisking continuously. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Strain the gravy, if desired.
Nutrition information per 6 ounce serving plus gravy: 460 calories; 220 calories from fat (48 percent of total calories); 24 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 200 mg cholesterol; 1 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 56 g protein; 480 mg sodium.
Roasted chestnuts, pomegranate seeds and oysters are fine stuffing accoutrements for a classy Thanksgiving feast. But if a mess of children will be dining with you this year – whether you own, borrow or merely tolerate them – you might consider tossing notions of classy.
A simpler – but no less satisfying – recipe will be easier on their palates and your patience.
This recipe for cheese-laced stuffing isn’t dumbed down in flavor, but it is easy enough for you to assemble from scratch while also refereeing the little ones playing hide and seek under the holiday table.
Start to finish: 45 minutes (15 minutes active)
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 cup chicken or turkey broth
8 ounces shredded Monterey jack cheese
Salt and ground black pepper
1 large loaf (about 18 to 20 ounces) stale bread (such as challah), torn into pieces and lightly toasted
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 350 F. Spray a large casserole dish or a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, celery and carrots and cook until softened and the onion is translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the flour and stir to coat. Stir in the milk, then the broth. Stir continuously and bring up to a simmer, cooking for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Monterey jack cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the torn bread into the mixture, then spoon into the prepared baking dish, arranging it in an even layer. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, then bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly and golden.
Nutrition information per serving: 340 calories; 150 calories from fat 44 percent of total calories); 17 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 33 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 15 g protein; 590 mg sodium.
For a family-friendly Thanksgiving dinner, the sides matter. A lot.
Because if the mashed potatoes aren’t truly wonderful, you’re going to have some seriously upset children at the table. Which is to say, this isn’t the time to experiment by spiking them with blue cheese or a 50-50 ratio of garlic to potato, or to test whether mashed cauliflower really does taste just like the real thing.
This is the time to make wonderfully fluffy, buttery, salty, peppery, delicious mashed potatoes.
By the same token, if you want those green beans and carrots to go anywhere near the children’s mouths, you might consider a bit of enticement. To help you, we’ve come up with a kid-pleasing but adult-friendly sweet-and-sour glaze. And if that doesn’t work, you can always threaten to withhold dessert…
BUTTERY MASHED POTATOES
Start to finish: 45 minutes
4 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and halved
6 tablespoons butter
½ cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Ground white pepper
Place the potatoes in a large saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover by about 1 inch. Add 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 20 minutes, or until very tender but not falling apart.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 F.
When the potatoes are just tender, drain them and spread them in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Return the potatoes to the saucepan. Add the butter, half-and-half, mustard and garlic powder. Mash the potatoes until smooth, then season with salt and white pepper.
Nutrition information per serving: 220 calories; 80 calories from fat (36 percent of total calories); 8 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 35 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 3 g protein; 220 mg sodium.
SWEET-AND-SOUR GLAZED CARROTS AND GREEN BEANS
Start to finish: 30 minutes
4 ounces bacon
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch thick rounds
1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
In a large deep skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-line plate to drain, leaving the drippings in the pan. Once the bacon has cooled, crumble and set aside.
Return the skillet to the heat and add the carrots. Cook for 8 minutes, or until just starting to become tender. Add the green beans, then cook for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Add the brown sugar, molasses and vinegar. Stir until a thick glaze forms. Cook until bubbling all over and slightly thick and sticky. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve topped with the crumbled bacon.
Nutrition information per serving: 160 calories; 80 calories from fat (50 percent of total calories); 9 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 19 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 13 g sugar; 4 g protein; 300 mg sodium.
For this Thanksgiving pie, we decided to see what would happen if we transformed that classic treat of autumn – the caramel apple – into a pie. The result was a crazy good no-bake apple pie.
It’s also totally versatile. We opted to top our pie with a blend of crumbled shortbread cookies, chopped toasted peanuts and mini chocolate chips. But feel free to cater to your crowd and top the pie with whatever you prefer to coat your caramel apples with. Just aim for about a total of about 1 cup of toppings.
This pie should be assembled just before serving. The apples can be cooked ahead of time. Then when you are ready for dessert, it will take just 15 minutes to finish the recipe and get it to the table.
CARAMEL APPLE PIE
Start to finish: 40 minutes
6 baking apples (such as Fuji or Gala), peeled, cored and sliced
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
14-ounce package caramel candies, unwrapped
½ cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon apple pie spice
9-inch prepared graham cracker crust
½ cup crumbled shortbread cookies
¼ cup chopped toasted peanuts
¼ cup mini chocolate chips
In a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, toss the apple slices with the vinegar. Cook until the apples are tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the apples and any juices in the pan to a large bowl. Set aside.
Return the skillet to the heat. Add the caramel candies, half-and-half, apple pie spice and salt. Heat, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Pour the caramel mixture over the apples and stir until well coated. Spoon the apple-caramel mixture into the graham cracker crust. Sprinkle the top with the cookies, peanuts and chocolate chips. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 510 calories; 170 calories from fat (33 percent of total calories); 18 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 85 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 63 g sugar; 6 g protein; 310 mg sodium.