10 ways to keep your Thanksgiving stress-free

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Filled with family, friends and delicious food, Thanksgiving is a great holiday -- unless you're the cook. If you signed up to host Thanksgiving for the first time this year (or are frazzled by it every year), don't panic; get strategic.

Create a plan

Sit down and make a guest list. The number of guests you invite will determine your menu and quantities. You may want to start small if it's your first year hosting Thanksgiving, but planning ahead so that everything doesn't demand your attention at once will help ensure a simpler meal to prepare.

Plan a potluck

A potluck can be a great way to share the load, and with just a little planning you can avoid 15 green bean casseroles at your dinner table. Ensure menu variety and head off an all-deviled-egg buffet by assigning food categories to your guests. Don't be shy -- this eliminates the guesswork for them, too. Give non-cooks a chance to participate by including categories such as beverages, paper products or decorating items.

Shop early

Grocery stores tend to get busier closer to Turkey Day. Plus, by waiting, you run the risk of something on your list being sold out. You can often reserve key items (such as your turkey) ahead of time, too.

Prepare as much as possible in advance

There are plenty of side dishes, desserts and breads that can be made ahead of time. For instance, measure seasonings and store them in labeled bags or containers; cut and store vegetables; and roast garlic a week in advance, then store the cloves in olive oil in the refrigerator.

Practice makes perfect

If you're braving a new recipe or using ingredients that you aren't quite familiar with, try them out beforehand so you'll be primed for success on Thanksgiving Day.

Let your family help

Have the whole family help clean house and put up decorations. Children will gobble up the chance to make place cards, fold napkins and dress up your holiday table. This will also keep them out of the kitchen while you attend to the food. Just be sure to designate a relative to head up the kids' activities so you can concentrate on the menu without worrying under which couch cushion you'll find the glue stick your 3-year-old nephew is currently wielding.

Use your microwave oven

Take advantage of this appliance to reheat food before serving when all the burners on the stovetop are occupied. You can often jump-start cooking by starting a dish in the microwave, then finishing it in the oven or on the stovetop.

Let the turkey rest before slicing

To avoid a last-minute crunch and ensure tender turkey, let the bird rest out of the oven, covered, for about 20 minutes before slicing. It'll be juicier that way, and you'll know you have 20 minutes to prepare other side dishes while it rests.

Serve buffet-style

Serving dinner buffet-style saves on both space and cleanup time. Also, with pretty serving bowls and silver utensils, guests can help themselves to seconds whenever they want without you playing host.

Relax

Remember that Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day full of family, relaxation and reflection, so don't let one burnt pecan pie sour your family's annual football game or movie marathon.

(Better Homes and Gardens is a magazine and website devoted to ideas and improvement projects for your home and garden, plus recipes and entertaining ideas. Online at www.bhg.com.)

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