Holidays can be stressful for anyone.
But being in a military family often makes creating meaningful memories a little more challenging. Going “home” isn’t always an option. Your family rarely lives nearby. A holiday doesn’t always mean a day off work, and deployments can make the day feel lonely for the deployed and those left behind.
So, before you fall into a pit of holiday-hating isolation, I present to you: How to Host a Fantastic Fuss-Free Friendsgiving!
In the military, friends become family. So why not make plans with those friends and create some meaningful memories that you’ll all cherish for years to come?! You don’t need an amazing house, heirloom dishes (more on that later), or a gourmet chef in the kitchen. Just grab your friends, your husband’s friends, your kids’ friends, your neighbors, or whoever you can find that is also planning a family-free Thanksgiving. Come up with a simple menu. And have fun with it!
Fuss-Free Friendsgiving Guidelines
If you want a fuss-free Friendsgiving, I highly suggest you make your expectations and requests clear well in advance. Are you cooking everything, or should everyone bring a dish? Is everyone dressing up or dressing down? Are you planning a traditional Thanksgiving meal or Friendsgiving fiesta? Can your bestie bring her granny that is flying in for the weekend? Are you going to do some early Black Friday shopping after the meal? Think through your plan and make sure you communicate it clearly with everyone you’re inviting … including your spouse! There’s nothing worse than finding out your husband told everyone a different time or that they can’t bring a “plus one” when all of your friends brought a few extras. Make sure everyone is on the same page and keep the lines of communication open.
#2 Plan the Menu
If you tell everyone just to bring a dish, you may end up with seven pumpkin pies and no mashed potatoes or stuffing. THAT would be tragic. Start a group text, message, chat, spreadsheet, or email and tell everyone what you are going to provide. Then ask everyone to reply with what they would like to bring. If they don’t cook, assign them something like paper plates, cups, ice, drinks, or a store-bought pie.
#3 Keep it Simple
Seriously. I know we say that, and then we spend hours fussing over a table cloth, a Thanksgiving tree, or any one of the fifty amazing ideas we found in Martha Stewart Living that will make this Thanksgiving more amazing than any Thanksgiving since the Pilgrims sat down for that first feast. But if we really want to enjoy the holiday, we need to set those lofty expectations aside and focus on the fuss-free aspect of this event. Focus on your friends and your family, not the china or the place cards.
#4 Don’t Forget the Kids
When planning everything from the food to the fun, don’t forget about all the kids who are coming. Have someone bring some mac and cheese. Have a folding table and chairs in the kitchen so you don’t have to worry about them dropping food on your carpet in the living room. Have a stack of games for them to play while the adults watch football. With all of your planning, make sure you’re incorporating fun for all the littles who will be celebrating with you.
#5 Have Some Fuss-Free Fun
Laugh. Play. Sing. Dance. Do what makes you happy. Incorporate traditions from every family that comes, and start new traditions. Give thanks together. Last year, we hosted Friendsgiving, and all of our guests were friends from church. Our teenagers are in the youth praise team together, so they pulled out a guitar and led us in a song of thanksgiving before we ate. My heart swelled up from all the love that filled that room.
An hour later while we were washing dishes, a friend admired my grandma’s heirloom platter. She found the company stamp on the back of it, did a quick search on Google, and we found that Granny stole the platter from a Steak N Shake years ago. You can’t make this stuff up! I will giggle every Thanksgiving for the rest of my life as I serve appetizers on that stolen platter. For a truly fuss-free Friendsgiving, you just have to laugh and roll with it, no matter what happens.
Fuss-Free Friendsgiving Foods
Now, let’s cut straight to the important stuff: the food.
Every fuss-free Friendsgiving requires a fuss-free menu. I’m not suggesting you can’t show off your mad homemade pie crust skills or your grandma’s prize-winning stuffing recipe. But focus on a few things that you’d like to showcase, and keep everything else simple. Here are a few recipes that I’ve come to love and you might enjoy, too.
I’ll be honest: I’m not a huge fan of turkey. Fortunately, we have a great friend who smokes meat, so last year he brought two smoked turkeys to our Friendsgiving feast. They were a huge hit! But if you’re lacking a smoked-turkey-making friend, you can do what I’ve always done in years past and rely on Butterball for everything you need to know about roasting a turkey. Their website covers everything from thawing times to stuffing the bird. The people over there know a thing or two about making turkey magic.
I know I said to keep it simple, but I almost always make two kinds of stuffing. My kids like the traditional Stove Top Stuffing that my mom always made. I happen to love this recipe that includes cornbread, sourdough bread, mushrooms, apples, and sausage. It’s one of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes from my favorite food blogger, Ree Drummond aka The Pioneer Woman.
Ree also makes the most amazingly creamy mashed potatoes. For me, the best part is that I can make this recipe the day before, put it in the fridge, and heat it in the oven or a slow cooker on Thanksgiving Day.
When it comes to simple dishes, you can’t find a recipe more classic than this pecan pie recipe found on the back of the Karo Syrup bottle. It’s always a crowd-pleaser and so darn easy.
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
If you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary that still nods to the traditional Thanksgiving flavors AND you’re wanting to show off just a little, I’m happy to introduce you to Bobby Flay’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipe. The spicy caramel apple sauce and vanilla bean crème anglaise are a bit of work — but worth it. For a fuss-free substitution, drizzle caramel sauce and cream cheese frosting (or another favorite cinnamon roll frosting recipe) over the pumpkin bread. Your guests will be seriously impressed either way.
Yes, you can buy store bought rolls. Yes, you can make everyone’s favorite canned crescent rolls. But for a homemade touch that isn’t super complicated, there’s nothing better than my great-grandma’s Dual Bowl Wonder Roll recipe. You can make the dough a few days ahead of time, pull it out Thanksgiving morning, work down the dough a bit, and make beautiful, fresh rolls that your guests will swoon over.
In the big picture of life, it’s not the homemade rolls or the store-bought pie that fills your heart; it’s the people that you are fortunate enough to spend life with.
Whether you spend the day with one special family or a hodgepodge of people you know from here and there, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on all the many blessings we have to be thankful for.
Military life can be hard but it doesn’t have to be lonely. Holidays, just like all other days, are what you make of them.
So, this Thanksgiving, I lift my virtual glass and salute each of you – the military mamas in my life that I am so thankful for.
The ones who laugh when they burn the bread.
The ones who invite single soldiers into their homes to give them a place to spend the holiday.
The ones who bake Daddy’s favorite pumpkin pie even though Daddy is deployed.
The ones who love and laugh big and embrace others with open arms. To all of you and all of us.
Here’s to sweet friends, sweet desserts, and sweet memories. Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!