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  • Plan Your Thanksgiving Menu Now

    I’m a big believer in planning ahead, and I’ve been thinking dreaming about this year’s Thanksgiving meal since the end of October. 😀

    Plan Thanksgiving Now | Chief Family Officer

    I’m off the hook when it comes to the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and dessert, but I make most of the other sides. I’ve been making Streuseled Sweet Potatoes for over a decade (!), but I experiment with just about everything else. No one in our family is really a fan of white potatoes, but everyone loves my pureed cauliflower, so I’m going to make that this year along with a Cauliflower Gratin.

    Whatever your Thanksgiving traditions are, it’s extremely helpful to plan your menu now, so you can start buying ingredients when they go on sale, prep in the weeks and days leading up to Thanksgiving, and schedule your cooking time on the big day so you don’t have three dishes needing the oven all at the same time at different temperatures.

    If you need inspiration, look no further than our Thanksgiving Pinterest Board, which is full of classic, modern and everything-in-between recipes.

    And if you’re curious, here’s my full plan for Thanksgiving:

    Streuseled Sweet Potatoes – I make two of these every year, one to take to the big dinner, and one just for my family in case we don’t get any of the leftovers. I omit the flour and nuts in the topping, and substitute quick oats. I love that the dish can be made ahead of time and frozen, so that all I have to do on Thanksgiving Day is bake.

    Pureed Cauliflower, or as my husband affectionately calls it, Cauliflower Smush, is super easy to make now that riced cauliflower is everywhere. I’ll buy the two-bag pack at Costco, cook the cauliflower in a stainless steel pot with some chicken stock, and use my stick blender to puree it all. I’m thinking this will actually be great to make in my Instant Pot – that would allow me to keep it warm for hours without using the stove.

    Cauliflower Gratin originally calls for colored cauliflower, which I did see a while back at Whole Foods. I’ll probably stick to regular cauliflower for cost reasons, although I might splurge if I can find the colorful varieties, just to add visual interest at the table.

    I want to make some green veggies, so I’m going to make Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta & Sage (the sage makes it seem very Thanksgiving-appropriate), and possibly some steamed asparagus.

    What are you making?

    Get Ready for the Holidays: Decorations

    Get Ready for the Holidays 2015 with Chief Family Officer

    Thanksgiving is over, so most people are at least thinking about decorating their houses, if they haven’t started already. Personally, I’ve been impatiently waiting for Thanksgiving to come and go since late summer because I have boxes of holiday decorations that I want to put through the KonMari method of tidying.

    I didn’t want to drag down the boxes in September, then put them away and haul them back out two months later. So I’ve been waiting to go through the boxes and handle each and every holiday item we own while asking myself, “Does this spark joy?”

    By the time I’m done, I suspect my holiday decorations will take up half the space they do right now, and that’s going to be great. I’m open to adding to my collection, but only when the new item sparks joy.

    Original image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Stuart Miles.

    Get Ready for the Holidays: Have a hosting plan

    Get Ready for the Holidays 2015 with Chief Family Officer

    Are you hosting a gathering for Thanksgiving or another occasion? If so, there are many things you can do ahead of time to reduce the stress. Here’s a quick checklist:

    Determine the number of people you’re hosting. This will affect your menu as well as your seating and serving plans.

    Decide on a menu. A pot luck will reduce the number of dishes you need to prepare – just be sure to make specific requests. For example, instead of “side dish,” ask someone to bring the sweet potato casserole they made last year. If your guests aren’t great cooks, ask them to bring wine, or a pie or bread from your favorite bakery.

    Figure out the logistics of what goes where. Decide ahead of time where you are going to seat everybody, whether the food will be served family style at the table(s) or whether you want to go with a buffet (and if so, know where you are going to locate the buffet), and where drinks will be located (do you want to dispense drinks from the kitchen as guests arrive, or set up a bar where they can help themselves?).

    Create a timeline for the day of. I picked up this tip from Ina Garten, who creates a detailed plan for the day of the party. This includes what dish you’re preparing at what time, what goes into the oven at a specific time, what comes out of the oven when, etc. This is a great way of ensuring that you don’t make one dish that needs to be baked at 350 degrees at the same time that you need to bake something else at 425, or need to use six burners when you only have four.

    Get your serving dishes ready the day before. This is especially true if you are using dishes you don’t use regularly, like a gravy boat. Use post-its to label platters and bowls with what they will hold, so you (or your helpers) don’t have to think about it when you’re getting ready to eat.

    If possible, set the table the day before. If you don’t need the table(s) you’ll be eating at, go ahead and set them a day ahead so you have one less thing to do on the big day. This way, you will also know ahead of time if you are short a glass or silverware.

    Be prepared for the unexpected. There will almost certainly be a hiccup or two on the day of your event, so just know that and stay calm. Most likely, no one else will notice, and even if they do, they’ll think it’s not a big deal if you don’t make it one!

    Original image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Stuart Miles.

    Get Ready for the Holidays: When you’re on a limited budget

    Get Ready for the Holidays 2015 with Chief Family Officer

    So far in this series, we’ve talked about setting a goal for the season, what we need to do to get our house ready for the holidays, and how to make that happen.

    Today, let’s shift gears a bit and talk about celebrating the holidays on a budget.

    First of all, everyone should have a budget of some kind. Our budgets will differ according to our circumstances, but it should be congruent with our particular lives as they are right now. After all, everyone’s circumstances are different – not just from each other’s, but from our own past circumstances. We might have gotten a raise, or bought a house and acquired a mortgage, or sent a child off to college, so things may be quite different from last year.

    However, if you find yourself stressing over how to pay for gifts, meals, and other costs associated with the holidays, take a deep breath and know that you are not the only person feeling that way or in these circumstances. And there are lots of creative ways to celebrate the holidays on a limited budget.

    My biggest and best tip is to think consumable gifts. My in laws don’t need any material goods, so for every gift-giving occasion over the last few years, they’ve gotten photo gifts featuring the boys, and homecooked meals and baked goods. (I make good use of the freebie offers from Shutterfly!)

    You can make all kinds of inexpensive consumable gifts, ranging from cookies to breads to bath salts. Even better, you can work assembly-line fashion to whip up a large batch of gifts in a jar very quickly. If you don’t have a favorite recipe, just do a quick Swagbucks search to find recipes, beautiful printables, and wrapping ideas.

    There are lots of ways to minimize gift-giving within families, although you’ll want to broach the topic well before the holiday frenzy really kicks in. Some ideas are to give gifts just to the children, to draw names so each person gives one gift to one other person, or to give family gifts, such as a movie-night or family-game-night themed basket.

    Another idea is to offer a small gift at regular intervals, such as a monthly meal delivery or car wash. You could even deliver a bouquet of flowers on a regular basis – our supermarket Ralphs routinely has large bouquets for $10 that would be beautiful in a vase from the dollar store.

    When it comes to donating, your time is often more precious than your dollars. Bring cookies to a home for seniors and listen to their stories, or spend a few hours working for a favorite charity.

    As for your holiday meals, the tried-and-true grocery saving tips still hold true: Shop for loss leaders and stock up, stick to a list, and make good use of your freezer. Read Money Saving Mom‘s tips for surviving on a $30 weekly grocery budget for inspiration and ideas.

    If you find yourself feeling down about your budget, I strongly encourage you to do some quick internet searches for “zero budget Christmas” or “giving without money.” You’ll find lots of great stories to remind you that you’re not alone in your circumstances, and find inspiration on new ways to do things.

    Original image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Stuart Miles.

    Get Ready for the Holidays: Resources to help you plan and organize the season

    Get Ready for the Holidays 2015 with Chief Family Officer

    If you feel you need more direction, printable planners, more encouragement, etc., to help you get through the holidays, no problem! The internet is full of resources for you. Here are just a few that I’ve come across during my regular perusal of the internet these past few years:

    Living Well Spending Less 2015 Holiday Planner – Ruth’s printables are always beautiful, and best of all, she offers this planner for FREE in exchange for your email address. (She does send a lot of email, but you can easily opt out using the unsubscribe button at the bottom of each email whenever you want.)

    Celebrating & Savoring a Simple Christmas by Crystal Paine of Money Saving Mom – Again, all you have to do is provide your email address and you get this e-book for FREE. (I reviewed this helpful book back in 2013, when it first came out.)

    A Simpler Season by Jessica Fisher of Life as Mom: This e-book will cost you $9, but it’s huge and “provides creative ideas, time-saving tips, and budget-minded inspiration for making the most of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.” Jessica has offered versions of it for free in the past, and you can get a free sampler by clicking on the link under the description of the book.

    Update! Proverbial Homemaker now offers a free 20+ page holiday planner when you give her your email address. (Via Money Saving Mom.)

    Original image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Stuart Miles.

    Get Ready for the Holidays: How to get your house in order

    Get Ready for the Holidays 2015 with Chief Family Officer

    Yesterday, we discussed the need to get our homes in order so that we can celebrate the holidays in a relaxing environment. And we focused on the what we need to do to make that happen, rather than the how.

    So, today let’s talk about the how. You’ll need your list from yesterday, and a calendar of this month and next month.

    The first thing we need to do is prioritize. For example, if you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner, you might want to prioritize decluttering and cleaning the living room, dining room, and kitchen ahead of the bedrooms.

    We also need to break the tasks down into bite-size pieces. For example, as I described in my series about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I implemented the KonMari method piecemeal rather than all at once, as the author recommends. I decluttered and tidied my shoes, then my coats, then my clothes, then my jewelry. In the kitchen, I decluttered and tidied my utensils, then my pans, then my food storage containers. On my to-do list, I would actually write “tidy utensils” rather than “tidy kitchen.”

    There are two major advantages to breaking up tasks. First, the smaller the task, the more do-able it seems. Second, you don’t need a lot of time. Decluttering and tidying some categories, like my clothes, took a lot longer than other categories. If I’d waited until I had time to declutter and tidy the whole house, I’d still be waiting!

    So now that we have a list of tasks we want to accomplish, it’s time to match that list up with our calendar. On the days when you will be particularly busy, plan to do small tasks – for me, that’s things like scrubbing the baseboards in one room. On days when you have more time, you can plan for bigger tasks, like steam cleaning the carpets (I’m not looking forward to this but we’re way overdue). You may find it helpful to work backward from a special event, like Thanksgiving or Christmas. You can also plan to delegate the tasks – when my kids are off from school the week of Thanksgiving, I’m planning to send them around the house wiping their dirty handprints off the walls!

    Original image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Stuart Miles.