Surviving Thanksgiving: relatives post-election, healthy(ish) eating and more

By Carissa Joines

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time of gratitude and reflection, appreciation for all that we have and sharing our bounty with others. It also means travel, hosting, shopping, menus, overeating… and relatives. Add in the post-election cloud hanging over us and you have an even stronger recipe for stress this year.

The extra work that the holiday can bring, and the anticipation accompanying it, can make it easy to lose sight of the basics of dealing with the pressure. But the holidays don’t have to be all misery and frustration – just follow these tips to cut down on the stress and leave more space for the good stuff about Thanksgiving.

Travel

If you are headed west out of Camel City, be prepared to encounter some serious smoke from the wildfires burning in the mountains. The NCDOT has these tips for driving through smoke:

· Plan ahead – Ensure enough time has been allotted to reach an intended destination safely.
· Increase Following Distances
· Monitor Speeds
· Activate Headlamps
· Use Low Beams and Fog Lights if Equipped
· Do not drive distracted

Travelling a long distance? There are some apps that can make the dreaded bathroom stops a little easier by showing you where the rest stops are on most major highways. There are free and paid versions of these apps, just go to your phone’s app store and search “rest stop” to find one like USA Rest Stop Locator. While you are in the app store, check out other travel apps for finding hotels, food or attractions along the way. Having these on your phone before you leave, and being familiar with how they work, can help you out while on the road.

Have pets travelling with you? The Humane Society has a great run-down of pet-friendly travel tips, including information for travel by train, car, plane or boat.

Healthy(ish) eating

Thanksgiving is a time for celebrating with abundance, which makes trying to eat healthy a challenge.

Most nutritionists recommend eating breakfast (and lunch if you have an evening meal on Thanksgiving) normally. While it may seem like a good idea to skip those calories early in the day, that can actually lead to more significant overeating at your big meal. Having a sensible, if slightly smaller portioned, breakfast and lunch can help you approach the dinner table hungry, but not famished, and make it more likely that you will make wiser choices on how much to eat.

There are differing opinions when it comes to those choices about what, and how much, to eat and stay healthy through the holidays. The majority opinion is that having a Thanksgiving plate of small portions of all of your favorites, or choosing up to 3 higher calorie/fat items to eat as full-sized portions will give you the feeling of eating all the bad stuff, without having to worry so much about the end result. Taking a day to indulge won’t hurt most of us, and in many cases actually letting go of the calorie/fat/sugar rules for one day will satisfy that desire and keep you from sneaking those less healthy foods over the holidays.

Have a plan – for meals before and after, and for leftovers. Taking the time to think through healthy meals for the days before and following Thanksgiving day can help you give yourself permission to eat off diet on the big day. Having a plan for leftovers, whether that is freezing them, sending them home with guests, or turning them into another meal, will help you not feel the need to overeat. Have guests bring their own containers, or save or purchase disposables that can be used to share the leftovers. Plan to portion and freeze those you want to store, and put them directly into the freezer as you clean up so you won’t be tempted to snack from the fridge later.

Hosting

If you are the host for Thanksgiving this year, you have a whole different set of stressors! While it may be a little late to pass off responsibilities to family and guests, you can buy yourself some time on the day with a little planning now.

Have activities on hand – and not just for the kids. Planning some things to keep guests occupied will keep them busy and out of your way for those last minute preparations. Think specifically of activities that can take place away from the cooking (and parade or football game on tv). Coloring pages work for kids and adults alike – just put out some crayons and colored pencils and print off some pages (click HERE for printable coloring pages). A deck of cards or some board games can also come in handy. Standard games like Sorry or Clue are easy for young and old alike, or up the competition with a game of Spoons or Spades. MadLibs are a fun way to pass the time, and you can even find Thanksgiving-themed versions you can print at home (click HERE for examples.)

Think creatively when it comes to cooking – make use of the grill, the crockpot and the microwave as well as the stovetop and oven. Slow cooker liners used in multiples can allow you to keep various vegetables and even the gravy warm at the same time. Pour the items into separate bags and use a clip from a bread bag to keep them sealed, then just turn the cooker on warm. Brussel sprouts can be grilled on skewers or on a baking sheet, and heat and serve rolls can be warmed on a pan on the grill too. While doing actual cooking in the microwave won’t win you a cook of the year award, it does come in handy for last minute warm-ups, butter softening and the like. And did you know that coolers can serve double duty as warmers? Placing hot foods into a cooler will help them maintain their temperature (room temperature coolers work best, so bring it in from the garage or basement the night before.)

Relatives

This year presents its own set of unique challenges as our nation transitions after the presidential election. Talk of politics and religion are generally taboo at family gatherings, but with raw emotions and uncertainty looming, just one wrong conversation could ruin the day.

Samuel T. Gladding, professor of counseling at Wake Forest University and an expert on family counseling, offers suggestions for how to prevent political conflict from becoming the main course at family gatherings.

Set ground rules from the beginning. Frame this as a special time to enjoy each other’s company, not fight about politics. If family members have different political views, acknowledging concerns in advance can be helpful.

  • Consider designating a no politics zone. That might be the dining room table or the whole gathering.
  • Appoint a referee. Find the level-headed, neutral person in the group who is prepared to call a time-out or throw a flag on the play if someone tries to steer conversation toward conflict.
  • Be prepared with diversionary topics: Talk about work, children, hobbies, families, and future plans.
  • If politics comes up, leave the topic on the table. Don’t pick it up because responding can quickly escalate into conflict. In other words, don’t take the bait.
    Be reasonable and use comments such as “I know we have disagreement, let’s talk about things we can all be thankful for.
  • Focus on humor and laughing together.
  • Focus on the food.

Not sure you’ll be able to keep the conversation on track? Consider bringing along some conversation prompts to make a game of the time around the table. Make a set of questions that will steer the talk into safe territory and put a question under each plate. Go around the table and have each person answer their question, then let anyone else who’d like to chime in on the subject do so.

Even if they are going to be at the children’s table for dinner, giving kids a heads up about any family members’ differing views on politics, religion or even your favorite ball team could help avoid awkward statements or “Mama said” or “Daddy thinks” comments which might derail conversations.

Having an exit strategy could also come in handy, especially if you have children in the mix. Letting your kids know that your plans are flexible, and preparing them for multiple scenarios can help keep tensions down should you find that making an early night of it is the only way to keep the extended family intact.

Hope these tips help out, and Happy Thanksgiving from CCD!