No matter how much you plan ahead, feeding your extended family--bottomless teenage nephews, out-of-town uncles, and wild munchkins included--is going to be a massive undertaking. These clever strategies will help you do it with less stress and more sanity.
Don't Fret the Table.
News flash: You don't need to iron the entire tablecloth. If you're low on time (uh, who's not?), just iron the corners and sides. Once the dishes and centerpiece are in place, no one will see the wrinkles. Have the kids help you set the table the night before, too. It's one less thing to do.
Splurge on Pre-Chopped Veggies.
Scan the produce section and salad bar for prewashed, pre-chopped veggies, like carrots and celery. They might be a little more expensive, but it is totally worth it.
Fill Your Freezer.
Check the supermarket freezer section for bagged ingredients that won't sacrifice flavor, like peeled sweet potatoes. Frozen piecrusts have fooled many a guest, too. Pretty much any casserole or fruit-filled tart, crumble, or pie will freeze beautifully. (You can bake it when time allows, either before or after freezing.)
Store Items in the Dishes You'll Heat Them in.
Freeze or refrigerate your creations in the same oven-ready dishes you'll heat them in. On the big day, just bring the dish to room temperature, then toss in the preheated oven for the quickest cooking. If you break Aunt Bertha's ginormous casserole recipe into two or three smaller dishes, it will cook even faster.
Utilize Your A.H.D. -- Alternative Heating Devices.
Not enough oven space? You can put together a veggie or bean dish days in advance, then pop it in the microwave; just be mindful of the size. For example, put our Green Beans With Glazed Onions in two glass pie pans, which will fit nicely in the microwave for a quick zap. Also, keep soup hot in a Crock-Pot and extra gravy toasty in a large thermos.
Don't Overdo It with the Turkey.
You may be tempted to spend hours on sauces and seasonings for the bird, but hear this: it's all about knowing how long to cook the thing. Just give it a salt-and-pepper treatment and use an instant-read thermometer. When in doubt, call the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line (800-BUTTERBALL) or the USDa Meat and Poultry Hotline (800-535-4555). You don't have to cook the stuffing inside the turkey: It's safer and faster to cook them separately.