Manners Matter: Thanksgiving Dining Dilemma

by Mary Pat

Dear Mary Pat,

My mother-in-law has passed over the reigns to me for Thanksgiving dinner. I’m feeling a lot of pressure to cook for 23 people. She always made it look easy, but I know it won’t be for me. My mom passed away when I was young and I was never taught how to cook a big meal like that. If it were up to my husband, we would order everything in from a caterer. That seems like taking a short cut and I’m sure my mother-in-law would not be impressed. HELP! I don’t even know where to begin. My two sisters-in-law have said they can help, but they are both so busy with their kids and I want to try to do this on my own.



Dining Dilemma

Egg Harbor, Wis.


Dear Dining Dilemma,

The first thing you need to do is take a breath. It is all going to be ok. The second thing you need to do is to come up with a menu. Take a half an hour, a pencil and paper, and map out what you will be serving. You’ll probably have turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and cranberry sauce. Those are usually a given. Now think about the dishes that might have always shown up on your mother-in-law’s table. Was there always a green bean casserole? Or sweet potatoes? Whatever those dishes were, you have the option of delegating. I’m sure your mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law would each bring a dish if you asked and now you’ve got three sides covered. And forget the notion of “doing this on your own.” Even if you have people bring a couple of sides, you are still hosting and will be doing the lion’s share of the work. Also, if you don’t have time or the gift for baking, order a couple of pies from a bakery.

After you come up with your menu and assign (three) side dishes to your relatives, make out your grocery list. Go this weekend if you can so you can get this out of the way. You can always run back for a couple of little things. Decide how you will prepare your turkey (to brine or not to brine) and make sure it is defrosted in time (or fresh if you’re so inclined) and ready to go.

Set your table the night before. Start prepping the day before. Anything you can chop and/or prepare ahead of time will be a lifesaver on Thanksgiving Day and will allow you to even possibly visit with your guests. Also, set your beverages up the night before. Get your glassware set up with a makeshift bar on a counter and set all the wine, soda, water, etc. out along with an ice bucket.

The more you plan and prep, the easier it will all go. Keep your recipes simple until you have the hang of it. No one expects you to be Martha Stewart. Take advantage of all the information that is out there. Go to Martha’s website or or and look for recipes. Again, simple ones. The one website that you might find the most helpful is They have lots of helpful advice and they also have a hotline you can call on Thanksgiving Day from 7 am – 7 pm Eastern.

Good luck,

Mary Pat

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