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Planned Holiday Cooking or How to Not Ruin Family Dinners

Holiday dinners are filled with countless activities. Think about it, you are about to prepare food for a lot of people, and you will try, willingly or unwillingly, to complement everyone’s preferences. It is certainly not an easy thing to do when we have in mind just how different people are in that matter.

The easiest way to describe preparing dishes for holiday dinner is survival. Seriously, think about how many people would have objections. It’s your family, after all, they are bound to have some objections.

Let me show you some methods you can utilize to minimize the damage.

Start with the Menu

Start with the Menu

Lower your expectations.

I would recommend you choose dishes that require minimal effort for maximum impact. Find something that is generally liked, maybe include an innovation or two to boost the taste and that is practically it. If you lack the time for all those things, you can purchase a pie and swear you made it from scratch.

Tackling the Main Dish Without Tears

The main dish will gather the most attention, it goes without saying. So it better be good. You certainly do not want your family complaining about the main dish after the dinner is over, don’t you? Here is my recipe for a Thanksgiving Day turkey to help you:

Thanksgiving Day Turkey Roast Recipe

Thanksgiving Day Turkey Roast Recipe

  • 1 whole turkey (I used a 20-pounder)
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) of softened butter
  • 1 whole orange
  • 2 whole fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper

Give the bird a spa day by rinsing it off under cold water. Next, let it lounge in a cold water bath in the sink for 15 to 20 minutes to leach out the brine’s saltiness, because nobody wants their turkey tasting like the Dead Sea. Pop it on a roasting rack, breast side up. Give its legs a little cross and tie them together with kitchen twine.

Then, swaddle your bird in heavy aluminum foil like you’re tucking it in for a long winter’s nap. Into the oven, it goes for a slow roast for about 10 minutes per pound. Yes, for that 20-pound behemoth, you’re looking at 3 and a half hours. Using a vegetable peeler, channel your inner sculptor and peel off some thick orange zest strips.

After that, slice them into skinny ribbons because we’re fancy like that. For those who prefer a kick of heat, Sriracha is an excellent choice to add a natural and subtle spice to your turkey.

Mix these with butter, rosemary, salt, and pepper. When turkey becomes pale, slather that butter mix all over. Get in there—under the skin, in the nooks, crannies, and crevices.

Crank up the oven to 350°F because it’s time to turn up the heat. Stick a meat thermometer into the thigh because precision is key, and we’re not about that salmonella life. Keep basting it every half an hour.

The Secret to Perfect Timing

Holiday Cooking

I always find myself in a race against time. I have a large family, what can be said? To tackle this issue, you should create a schedule you will closely follow. For instance, the plan should go like this:

  • The turkey will be done at 5
  • The sides at 5:15
  • And the rolls at 5:25

At the same time, you should conduct careful planning, which means you will prevent any sort of rush. Rushing is never a good idea, because it will end in the turkey still being raw, the potatoes being mush, and the green beans not being anywhere near ready.

The way I do this is by embracing the chaos. Dinner’s ready when it’s ready, and not a moment sooner. If guests complain, remind them that they can always order food.

Desserts Worth the Effort

Fruit Pies

There is always room for sweets. Personally, I am not an individual who prepares desserts for holiday dinners.

I am not a confectioner, even though I can find my way around when needed. Therefore, I usually order sweets and that is one of the ways I save much-needed time. When it comes to desserts, the options are practically countless. I usually order fruit pies.

That is somebody I need to work on because last Thanksgiving my family “gave me advice” about ordering something else than fruit pies. Well, you cannot satisfy everyone, as I already said.

Avoid Too Much Politeness

Family Thanksgiving Dinner

The last thing I would want to talk about doesn’t have to do much with food. The thing I’ve learned from countless holiday dinners is that too much politeness is something that will ruin the whole thing.

Sure, we are a family and we love and respect each other, but that doesn’t mean we should go snobby about it.

Feel free to joke, and even share emotions with your loved ones.

The spirit of holidays is doing exactly that, remembering what we have and how much we love our family, no matter how many headaches we get from that from time to time.

The Bottom Line

Even though it may sound cliché, not ruining family dinners really is a work of art. People are extra emotional, and there is usually some tension for whatever reason. Paying attention to all the most important things is what will help you avoid all the potential pitfalls.

Maybe the best thing is to just open a bottle of wine and get everyone in a good mood even before the dinner starts.


Hi there, I am Aleks Robinson. I am a veteran chef with three decades of experience. I worked in numerous restaurants, sometimes abroad, and I believe that my experience will be found useful by many.