4 Shortcuts to Take the Stress Out of Thanksgiving Dinner

Pulling off the massive Thanksgiving meal requires a carefully written to-do list and a bit of artful delegation. But to actually survive it–and even have fun–take a page from cooks who’ve been in the trenches. Whether it’s mashed turnips from your Aunt Virginia or mom’s stuffed dates, sticking with tradition is the safe bet this holiday. But that doesn’t mean everything has to be homemade or ultra fancy. Read on for some turkey-day insight:

Start off small: The meal to come is enormous, so don’t tempt guests with a big cheese board, creamy dips, or other heavy hors d’oeuvres. Rather than filling them up, consider a few small bites to accompany drinks. Crudites, olives and cucumber rounds topped with a piece of smoked salmon and a squeeze of lemon are nice light options.

Get the can: Homemade cranberry sauce is delicious, but frankly you needn’t bother. Your cranberry-ginger chutney may be impressive, but 9 times of out 10 it’ll be passed over for Ocean Spray’s canned variety. This jellied cylinder is a far cry from “sauce,” but it’s what people secretly crave with their turkey and on leftover stuffing sandwiches.

Buy the pie: Do the math (this one’s easy!). One bird roasting and nine side dishes reheating equals zero oven space to bake pies. Even if you were to make them the day before, this work is still better farmed out to a guest or picked up from your local bakery.

Make a one pot: Got guests for a second night? If they’re from out of town, they ‘ll need to be fed again. Eating out is, of course, ideal, though you could also put together a simple all-in-one dish. A “one pot” just needs bread and a veggie to make it complete: think chili (corn bread, cole slaw), beef stew (baguette, green salad) or lasagna (garlic bread, broccoli).