When it comes to Thanksgiving, it is the holiday most associated with food. As a guest, it can be a simple and joyous holiday; as the host, it can be stressful and overwhelming. We want to help ease the stress of planning and preparing. The one complaint that accompanies Thanksgiving most often is, “What do I do with all the leftovers?”. The best way to fight the leftover overload is to simply avoid them. With planning and our tips, we will try to keep your fridge door closing.
Make a list! Whether it is hand-written or a detailed excel spreadsheet, know who is coming to your gathering. Most likely these are individuals you know well, so indicate how many are adults and children. Children tend to eat less and if you just count individuals you are sure to have left overs.Count 2 children as one adult. If they are younger than school age, don’t count their portions at all. The amount they will eat, especially across several dishes will be too small to worry about.
Vary your Dish Temperatures. Plan a meal that includes items that are best served hot, as well as room temperature. This can ease the stress of everything having to be kept warm and running extension cords to kitchen appliances. It can also allow you to arrange the food in a manner that it is least forgotten. Several times over the years, we had leftovers of items that forgot to be pulled out or were in a place where it was overlooked by most.
Appetizers. Depending on your meal, you may want to include appetizers. We often gather at around noon, but don’t eat for a few hours allowing everyone to talk and arrive. This is a great time to have bulk appetizers (such as chips & dips). If you’re going to eat immediately, you can likely skip the appetizers. If you’re going for traditional appetizers, offer no more than 4 different types, and account for 6-8 pieces per person.
The Meat! Deciding whether your meal will be meat focused is the first thing. If you plan to serve Ham or Turkey with a few sides, estimate about 8 oz (1/2 lb) per adult. If you plan to have a large buffet style meal with several appetizers, sides, desserts and more then opt of for only 4 oz (1/4 lb) per adult. While some may eat more meat than others, some will eat less.
Skip the Skipped. Think about your last holiday meal. Was there an item that basically didn’t get eaten? This could be anything, maybe there was a ton of green salad left, or far too many rolls. Think about it, and create a solution to not repeat it. Whether it is to skip that dish all together, reduce the portion size, or put it in a better place. I stopped serving green salad at my parties because many people skipped it not wanting to mix it with other items on their plate.
Minimize the New. Thanksgiving is a traditional holiday comprised of family favorites, but it can be good to try something new. When it comes to introducing new dishes, don’t aim for too many. Humans are creatures of habit and will eat the familiar first and get full. This can leave the new dishes to be tried but maybe not devoured, often the first year I introduce a new dish it is just tasted which results in about half or more being left behind, even if guests said they enjoyed it. I would suggest trying to introduce your new dishes as an appetizer or at the front of the line, where guests are likely to put more of it on their plate.
Side Dish Serving Size. When it comes to your traditional side dishes plan about 3-4 oz per person, for those that are more filling such as pasta, potatoes or bread based plan for 2-3 oz per person. When it comes to how many side dishes, that is your choice. If you don’t want to many side dishes, ask individuals to bring dessert, drinks or tableware instead. Often, these items can fall to the host by default but some guests will be relieved to bring these simple items rather than a covered dish. Think about your college age, single, and newly baby having friends. If they aren’t likely to have the time or kitchen to fix a dish they will welcome bringing cups, napkins or gallons of tea.
Bread! I adore bread, but serving it beforehand will allow guests to over indulge on this fast filling item. Opt instead to serve it with the meal. Estimate about 1 ½ rolls per individual, some guests will avoid it all together while others will eat extra without thinking twice.
Dessert. How full are you by the time you even think about dessert? If you’re having a large main meal, minimize desserts as many guests may simply be far too full to even take a bite. Offer few options, if there is a family favorite make it the main dessert event, offering only one or two other options in smaller portions. Also, having it alongside the meal can help be sure it is eaten. Sometimes individuals return for second helpings without thinking about dessert. By putting it alongside the main meal, they can serve themselves when ready instead of forgetting and filling up beforehand.
We hope these tips will help decrease the leftovers that normally take over your fridge this time of year. If your still afraid of lots of leftovers, consider grabbing a few disposable containers and fix plates for guests to take home. In my family, some individuals will be working so we will send home plates for them. I never count them as guests, but always have enough to make up a few plates with a large variety of good food.