Thanksgiving Team Clean-Up: It Worked for Us

Will the kitchen be off-base for guests during Thanksgiving or not? To be or not to be, that was the question!

Sure you can download (for free) our handy organizational tips right away.  Even better, find out how to use them first.  You'll find the download link below too.

Preparing Me

Thanksgiving always tends to be at our home which means that we (err, I) do the cooking and, yes, most of the cleaning. We always have guests come into the kitchen to ask to help, and I had previously hesitated, feeling it was a sign of weakness to welcome assistance. What would Martha Steward do? Think about it; she’s hired a staff! Forget the guilt-trips!

Although I love to host beautiful dinner parties, I now desire even more for our entire gang to give thanks.

Preparing the Spouse

And yet, my husband is French and in France allowing visitors into your cuisine is just not done. (In traditional French architecture, the kitchen is a separate room with a door that closes. Kitchen’s which open up into a family or dining area are a recent phenomena...and they are called “American Style Kitchens.”)

About one week before our Thanksgiving reception, I cuddled up to my husband, snuggled in his arms, and laid out the new ground rules. “Darling, you know how I’m the one cooking on Thanksgiving....Well, can we do the entire evening my way...pretty please?” He gave me carte blanche.

Preparing the Guests

We were a total of 15 people (9 adults and 6 children) representing 4 families. Since we celebrate Thanksgiving in Paris, our reunions regroup people who have an American connection, but they don’t necessarily know each other. For this Thanksgiving, three of the families were meeting for the first time. Unchartered territory for us all.

Monday before Thanksgiving, I sent out a confirmation invitation e-mail to all the guests. “You are invited to a Thanksgiving Dinner....and this is how we’ll celebrate.” (Click here for a copy of the e-mail) In a fun way, I introduced the team-help concept and practicalities. We sent out a sign up sheet and families responded.

Preparing our Kids

For me to be credible (to our guests and to you), our own children had to buy in to the celebration-for-everyone evening too. It wasn’t obvious: the boys don’t rave about turkey; they discard the stuffing; sweet potatoes rank low on palate preferences; and they would be responsible for guests (their age) that they did not know and might never meet again. On the other hand, we did have soda (a special treat chez nous); they love apple crumble and there was plenty for dessert; and they chose the movie to watch while parents would linger for hours (four) at the dinner table.

To get our kids on board, I opted for the indirect approach and printed out the "We're All Turkeys" job charts and left it on the kitchen table.(Click here for details.)

Our youngest arrived home from school first. “What is this?!” he exclaimed. While he understood the print-out meant work for him, he also perceived that it would be fair. Everyone would contribute...and the first one to join in got to choose his job!

He’s the one who recruited the other siblings to participate. I presented the need to one child in a personal manner and he made sure the others did their part.

(Note:  I used the "We're All Turkeys" job chart with our family to organize table setting and overal preparation.  The Thanksgiving Teams helped us know who did what during the meal.  All are available for free download.)

No Sweat on Thanksgiving Day

When the festivities rolled around, helpers appeared. I forgot to print out the completed sign-up sheet and it did not matter. Guests and family knew how and when they would participate. I never felt alone or stranded in the kitchen or like I had to entertain those who wandered in. Instead, I was mentally prepared to distribute tasks.

Even the guest appreciated knowing what was expected. No guilt feelings for sitting down and enjoying the feast. They knew they’d have a turn to help so they fully relaxed during their “off” moments.

Congratulations to the gang of youth. All these kids pitched in, almost crowding the kitchen with their helpfulness! They turned the work into fun.  Thank you!

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