10/07/2011 11:31 EDT | Updated 12/07/2011 05:12 EST

How to Survive Thanksgiving Dinner


As Thanksgiving weekend is upon us, I would like to share a few tips with you regarding how to have a successful turkey dinner for the holiday.

Anyone who has done it knows that cooking a turkey for a diverse extended family is not entirely without its problems. But there are a few things you can do to avoid stress during this special family time.

The first thing you should do is assign specific tasks to relatives who want to help, being sure to grant autonomy to that relative over that particular task. I learned this the hard way, when one Thanksgiving my mother-in-law blew up at my father for interfering with making the gravy. He just could not fathom anyone wanting to add ketchup to turkey gravy, and felt so passionate about it that he wrenched the ketchup bottle from her hand mid-squirt and wouldn't give it back.

Honestly, if I hadn't been right there I think she might have decked him.

Next important tip: never leave large animals alone in a room with a turkey. At a Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws one year, my black lab nabbed the roasted turkey off the counter and devoured it in a matter of moments, aluminum foil and all. I have to give my mother-in-law credit, she was fairly reasonable about the situation until same dog upchucked the entire thing on the new off-white carpet on her den floor within a half hour of eating it. It's nasty stuff to clean up, that turkey barf.

And it is imperative that you dress appropriately for turkey dinner. I don't know about your bunch, but the people in my family literally salivate in anticipation of turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, and unless you're prepared with an elasticized or drawstring waistband on your pants, the price tag for the ensuing gluttony can be serious discomfort.

In our family, everyone shows up for turkey dinner in their 'turkey pants.' These are generously cut sweatpants or Yoga pants that can accommodate a swollen gut due to a lusty turkey binge. And you don't have to compromise style for comfort.

We've found that turkey pants can be dressed up nicely with a sports jacket (for men) or a pretty blouse (for women). For Christmas turkey dinner, I find a festive corsage really helps to dress up the turkey pants.

Then there's always some Smart Alec in the group with a test for even the most earnest family member. This happened one year at my parents' house, where, as we were all seated around the dining room table enjoying our meal, my well-meaning sister-in-law asked everyone in turn to say a few words about what they were thankful for.

It was obvious to me that she had rehearsed the subject with her own children, because they all came up with impassioned statements about what really had meaning for them in life. Her youngest daughter made an emotional speech about nature, another daughter talked about friends and family, and even her son contributed an impressive comment about good health.

When it came to my kids' turns, I feared their answers were going to completely miss the mark, and I was right.

My oldest son grunted a couple of words about snowboarding. When I pressed him for something a little deeper, he looked at me blankly and burped.

My daughter spent a little more time thinking about her answer. She said with great emotion that she was thankful for the new after leg shave moisturizer she finally found at London Drugs after searching for the stuff for weeks.

My youngest son was champing at the bit to give us his thankful spiel. At 12-years-old, Tommy was, and still is, tremendously thankful for golf. But even more than that, he is thankful for the Golf Channel, and all the joy watching it brings into his life. Why, I believe I saw a tear come into his father's eye as the boy spoke.

Even though my kids are adults now, I try to slide in a few hints before our big family Thanksgiving dinner, just in case the 'I'm grateful for... ' game comes up.

For example, I finish almost all of my conversations with them with a statement something like this: "You should be thankful for your mother, who has sacrificed everything for you," or "You should be thankful for your health, without which you would not be able to play golf," or, better yet, "You should be thankful for having a wonderful family, even if we all wear sweatpants out for dinner."

There. Now that I've shared my tips for a successful Thanksgiving dinner, I wish you and your loved ones a warm and wonderful holiday weekend.

I have to go now, and dig out my turkey pants.