9 do-able Thanksgiving contributions for rookie moms

Repeat after me: Rookie moms should not be in charge of the entire Thanksgiving meal! Get yourself some real help either with food prep, childcare, or (better!) both.

Hacks for new parents hosting the big meal:

I found myself in this position the first year I had a baby because it seemed easier than traveling to the East Coast. I don’t know if it was really the best call, but once the invitation to parents and grandparents go out, it doesn’t matter anymore. My kitchen was full and I was on stress overload trying to live up to my fantasy meal and my vision of being a Mother. Too much pressure!

  • Outsource. Seriously, if you’ve signed on to invite a big helping of family to your house, DO NOT COOK THE WHOLE MEAL. Farm it out as a potluck or order all or some of your meal from a favorite grocery store. Whole Foods makes this soooo easy that they’ve become my go-to each year.
  • Send everyone for a walk. Decide if you’re happiest with a few precious minutes in the kitchen ALONE or strolling around the block with a stroller in your hand, and make that happen, as often as needed.
  • Prepare only your personal favorites. I only cook or bake what I like best. Stuffing is easy and delicious enough that I can cook the whole bag and eat it if my children turn up their noses. Though Thanksgiving foods are perfect for a baby, little kids have a knack for not caring about this stuff. [ See My rookie mom confessions of Good Enough Holidays]

Easy contributions for a turkey day potluck:

  • Pie. Buy it and done. Or bake an easy one.
  • Roasted veggies. For more of a hands-on contribution, chop and marinate in advance according to my tried and true roasted vegetable formula. Check with the hostess if there will be oven space for you.
  • Beverages. Even easier than pie, bring the wine or beer.

Super simple table decorations:

  • DIY placecards. Create individual name cards for the guests with headshots. I cut out round pictures of all my guest’s faces including the baby and taped them onto folded name cards. These took about 5 minutes to make and another 5 to print and stick together. If I had had the energy, I could have drawn turkey bodies. Perhaps I had the most fun deciding where everyone should sit. #controlfreak
    Place cards for rookie mom turkey day
  • Recycled napkin rings. If you have the crafty bug and a naptime to kill, try these cute recycled napkin rings from MakeandTakes.
    DIY napkin rings for Thanksgiving
  • Just order a crazy centerpiece. This harvest leaf explosion on amazon is about $5. Boom done.
    Thanksgiving centerpiece to make your life easy


I really love Thanksgiving. I love how my mom makes the turkey and all the sides but when I’ve tried it on my own, I’ve had some real mixed results. I hope my suggestions and tips make your holiday happy and relaxed. For more perspective, see the Minimalist Parenting guide to the holidays.

Tales of Thanksgiving past:

Omitting all the times I went to Other People’s Thanksgivings and had to learn to live with another way of making stuffing or cranberry sauce (can of glop? ick!), I can roll down several of my own Turkey Days where I could have learned a thing or two from the Turkey Hotline People.

  • Thanksgiving 1998: first Thanksgiving living out in San Francisco. My sister and I decided to tackle just cooking a turkey breast. We did everything fine, but since we marinated it in red wine — for whatever reason — all the meat was a little pink. And scary.
  • Thanksgiving 1999: big ol’ potluck. Together with my roommate, we hosted about 20 single fun people in our Castro district apartment. All the sides were there, but I miss-judged the turkey timing by about 90 minutes. Oops. Luckily my friend Brad was not a moron like me and he could tell when it was done. We had fun shoving the leftover carcass down the apartment trash chute. Make a wish!
  • Thanksgiving 2007: two kids and a home in Berkeley, hosting the in-laws. I decided to make it easy on myself and buy all the sides from Whole Foods and just cook the turkey. In my enthusiasm I bought a huge bird a week too early, and it went bad. WTF?! The in-laws got us a frozen-solid bird the day before Thanksgiving and we thawed it in the kiddy bath-tub amidst several very heated food safety arguments.
  • Honorable mention: first time I met Whitney was Thanksgiving 1996 and we were both newly dating a pair of best friends from opposite sides of the country. One of her great friend’s brothers made me a wonderful turkey and trimmings in San Francisco. Maybe that’s why I moved here. hmmm.

Please share your tips and tricks for a rookie mom’s first Thanksgiving!