WESTPORT, Conn.-- Stressed out over serving a large crowd this Thanksgiving?
Westport resident Neena Nandagopal, a lifestyle/food blogger at AlmostPractical.com who hosts a crowd of at least 20 each year, offers the following tips for a stress-free holiday.
"There really isn't a secret," she said. I just do two things: Keep my expectations low (my guests are not demanding either) and plan ahead."
Her other big secret? Being realistic.
"If you have this storybook image in your mind of what the perfect Thanksgiving dinner should be like – scrap that right now," she advised. "That vision will be your undoing. Instead, understand your limits and work within those.Not enough space? Bring out the folding chairs. Low on time? Buy the pies. You get the idea."
What follows are her top Thanksgiving tips:
Decorate with Flowers: "Flowers are a warm and welcoming way to bring a little holiday spirit into the home.
"I love holiday decor, but I don’t have enough surfaces to accommodate decorations and plates and cups too. My end tables and coffee tables are virtually empty when guests arrive, so they have a place to put their appetizer plates and wine glasses. Placing a one or two pretty bouquets throughout the house sets the holiday mood."
Make a Playlist: " Music is also a good way to set the mood and break the ice when the very first guests arrive. If I don’t have a playlist ready to go, I end up scrambling around my iTunes for good music at the last minute. Also, if I don’t plan this ahead of time, my technology will always (read Murphy’s Law) decide not to work."
Go Buffet Style: "In my small house, 20 people is a tight squeeze. I have long given up on having everyone seated around one big table. It’s a great plan for a small group, but it doesn’t work for us.
"I happen to have a long counter space in the kitchen – so this becomes the buffet. People can serve themselves and I don’t have to keep popping up from the dinner table to refill serving dishes. I put large quantities of food right on the buffet and my work is done."
Anywhere Seating: "We have one dining/kitchen table in our home. It seats eight people. So, our holiday dinners are more like an open house. People take food from the buffet, they mingle and they move to different groups. Usually the kids eat first and sit at the table. Then the adults join in taking the vacated seats or taking plates into the living and dining room.
"It is casual and maybe not the ideal way to enjoy a holiday meal. But everyone seems to have a great time, and they come back year after year. So, I guess it works."
Go With Paper and Plastic: " Oh the horror! There, I was brave enough to say it. Yes, we use paper plates at our Thanksgiving table. Not just any old paper plate, though. I get the Thanksgiving themed oval platters with matching napkins.
"The oval platters are sturdy and perfect for loading up with Thanksgiving yumminess. I also use plastic utensils – but go for the ones that look like silverware (the first time I used these – people thought they were the real thing).Our spread still looks classy, yet practical."
Real Wine Glasses: " This goes against the grain of my other Thanksgiving entertaining tips, but there is something about drinking wine out of a real glass vs a plastic cup. I got this set of 12 wine glasses for under $10 at Bed Bath & Beyond. Since not everyone drinks wine, that quantity was perfect for my crowd."
Keep the Menu Simple: " Finally, if you don’t want to be cooking throughout the entire evening – keep the Thanksgiving menu simple. Choose recipes that you can make ahead of time and if your guests offer to bring something, take them up on the offer."
Enjoy the Company: " By lowering your expectations, planning ahead, and following some of these Thanksgiving entertaining tips you can serve dinner to a large crowd with very little stress."