How To Cook a Stress Free Thanksgiving Meal

I know how it is. You picture the Thanksgiving meal worthy of a spread in a magazine, but when Thanksgiving Thursday comes around, you are desperately thawing a frozen turkey and sending your husband out to the store for more butter. Meanwhile, your toddler is eating the fake fruit in your cornucopia centerpiece and  the dog just ran away with a pickle. . .which means a mess to clean up now and later.

I know, because I’ve been there. After so many years of graduate school, and living closer to relatives, Thanksgiving was always a holiday spent at other people’s houses. That was great, except I longed to make our own traditions.I couldn’t wait. I just knew that my Thanksgiving dinner was going to be picture perfect, calm, and a foodie’s dream.

The first year that I cooked our very own Thanksgiving dinner went pretty well. The Rev. kept the boys occupied at the church or elsewhere and I cooked and simmered and served up several new, untested dishes. They were beautiful. And. . .nobody ate them. Since then I learned a Thanksgiving dinner truth:

Stick to Traditions

I learned the hard way. While I can experiment with food much of the year, Thanksgiving needs to be predictable. If I want to put something wild and different in the stuffing, I need to do it on some average Monday night when I roast a chicken. That turkey? Just sprinkle some salt and pepper on the top and slide it into the oven, thank you very much. Dakotateen has come to look forward to my super simple and family tradition cranberry relish. Were I to substitute in some cooked, or gelled or frozen concoction I would have a teenage mutiny on my hands. The good news is, mine is super easy, and Dakotateen prepares it! (Scroll down for the recipe!)

Plan Ahead

If you stick to your family’s traditional dishes for Thanksgiving dinner, planning should be easy. Simply list your menu on a piece of paper and then a list of ingredients needed. I no longer need a list! A frozen turkey needs a few days to thaw in the refrigerator. A fresh turkey cost a bit more, but tastes much better and can be picked up the day before Thanksgiving, freeing up fridge space. Me, I roast a large, bone in, turkey breast. It takes up less space in my oven, roasts faster, and we mostly prefer white meat turkey. I also splurge a spiral sliced ham. It warms up quickly and is great left over as well.

Have a Plan of Attack

I do most of my food prep on Thanksgiving day. I have a small (really) kitchen. To do too much work ahead would take up space that I don’t have. So that means cooking day needs to be organized. Now, anyone who knows me in person just giggled a little. I’m not organized. BUT, I can fake it when I need to.

My plan of attack goes something like this:

  • Clear the counters (because I’m not organized).
  • Get the turkey breast in the oven.
  • Begin chopping onions and celery for stuffing.
  • Have a glass of wine
  • Cut up cheese and sausage for the grazing children who will come into the kitchen whining for food. (Your best offense is a good defense)
  • Set our coloring pages and craft supplies for the same children. They can make the centerpiece. Martha won’t approve, but she’s probably not invited.
  • Start preparing the stuffing. Put it in the oven.
  • When the turkey is 45 minutes from done, pop the ham in the oven.
  • Begin peeling potatoes.
  • Put the potatoes on to boil.
  • Call the teen in to make the cranberry relish and cut up pickles.
  • Prepare the green bean casserole.
  • take stuffing out of oven, check on meat and put beans in the oven.
  • Mash the potatoes.
  • Take meat out of the oven and set on the counter to rest.
  • put bread in the oven (We use canned crescent rolls and I have the kids shape them)
  • Make the gravy.
  • Have the kids set the table.
  • Slice the turkey
  • take beans and bread out of the oven
  • Set serving utensils in the serving bowls.
  • Gather the family.
  • Give thanks.
  • Dig in.
As you can see, I serve a fairly simple meal. I serve what we eat. The table is rarely picture perfect. When I was on bed rest with the twins we used paper plates and plastic cutlery. On normal years I DO pull out the china. My point is, we don’t have to fall over ourselves to make the perfect meal. We need only cook with love, and let others help us.

Cranberry Relish

  • 1 bag fresh whole cranberries
  • I navel orange, peel on, washed and quartered
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
Pulse the berries and the orange with peel in a food processor until it is fairly coarse. Put in a bowl, stir in sugar, refrigerate for one hour. Enjoy.
Chime in! What are your tips for a simply enjoyable Thanksgiving? You know I’d love to hear from you!

No Whine With Dinner Review and Raspberry Breakfast Cake Recipe

Raspberry cake
Raspberry cake
Used Under Creative Commons License.

This past Sunday I was scheduled to bring treats to church. I usually end up bringing donuts when it is my turn. However, I am also the Sunday School teacher and I see firsthand what effects donuts have on my students. (I also do a lot of the post-church clean up, and donuts can be messy!)

Saturday brought us what I hope is our last blizzard of this season, so I was not even able to run to the store for easy snacks. I had to turn to baking. In my kitchen. By myself.

Thankfully I have a tried and true resource to turn to when baking–The Meal Makeover Moms! I was introduced to Janice Newell Bissex and Liz Weiss several years ago shortly after their first book, The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeoverswas released. I was looking for ways to improve our family’s nutritional bottom line without having to go to extremes or hiding food in brownie batter. I became a very regular listener to their podcast and I was super excited when they announced that they were working on a second cookbook, in which every recipe would be tested by moms, like me. The new cookbook, No Whine with Dinner was released late last year, and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve cooked so far. The ingredients are easy to find, are healthful, and most of all, very kid friendly. There is also a list of 50 moms’ secrets to getting picky eaters to try new foods. (I’m tip number 19!)

Since I hate to bake, it is surprising that I enjoy baking many of the recipes found in No Whine with Dinner. The trick for me is the fact that the recipes are easy! As a matter of fact, I don’t even have to pull my mixer out. . .which makes dishwashing a snap!

So, back to Sunday. I made a big pan of Chocolaty Pumpkin Bars and two Raspberry Breakfast Cakes. I knew that the raspberry cakes would be tasty, as I’ve made them before. However, the pumpkin bars were a new recipe for me, and some of my Sunday School students can smell health food a mile away. . .

I should never have feared. The bars were gone in a snap, and I even caught one of my own sons piling three at a time on his plate. The breakfast cake was a hit with the women. When I told them that it was not only tasty but really quite healthy as well, they demanded the recipe. So here you go!

Raspberry Breakfast Cake

A moist, delicious addition to your breakfast table!

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup flax seed meal
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (divided)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries (I used frozen!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil or coat a 9 inch round baking pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

Whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, 1/2 cup of the sugar and oil until well blended. Whisk in the milk, lemon juice and vanilla.

Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Arrange the raspberries over the top and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar.

Bake 20-22 minutes or until the cake is golden and toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Try and share this cake!


I think this would be a great cake to make for a Mother’s Day breakfast. I’m guessing that if I can bake it, most older children can as well!

Chime in! What is your go-to treat to bring to events? Is it easy, quick, or healthy? You know I’d love to hear from you!