Divide and Conquer: How to Prepare a Great Meal with Many Cooks in the Kitchen

I’m lucky. My husband is an incredible cook (he’s owned and operated restaurants and catering companies) and my son inherited hubby’s cooking genes. While hubby won’t go near the kitchen on a day to day basis, when it comes to cooking for a crowd – he’s ALL IN. The downside of having 3 cooks in one house is that everyone thinks that THEIR recipe, method, etc. is the BEST. Add to that the fact that our kitchen is galley style (and the working area is small), and the potential for disaster is MAJOR.

So, how do we do it?

I could lie to you and tell you that we do it with ease, but in reality it takes patience.  Whether you have a 3 year old toddler, or like me a 59 year old who expects someone to clean up after him (and yes, he leaves a HUGE mess), getting your family to help can be a positive experience for everyone involved. By dividing up the projects and getting the ENTIRE family involved, it may actually help your Thanksgiving Day to run smoother.

For example:

Rather than the kids being bored and wanting your attention. Letting them make their FAMOUS cheese & crackers as an appetizer or get their hands messy stuffing the mushrooms is a great way of getting them comfortable in the kitchen. Tearing lettuce for the salad and adding the veggies that you’ve already cut is an easy way to have them help (you’ll be hearing them proudly say “I made that” during the dinner & I’m betting there’ll be NO problem getting them to eat their veggies).

If your kitchen is laid out for it, divide the workspace. Hubby can use a cutting board next to the stove, while your son uses his near the sink. You can work peacefully at the table rolling out the pie crust and staying out of their way.

Separate the chores. My husband makes incredible Beef Wellington. For Thanksgiving I give him plenty of time and space to make MINI versions as appetizers. I can easily run the vacuum through the house getting my cleaning done while he cooks (one less appetizer for me to make).

Setting the dinner table, making the decorations, creating place-cards, etc. are all things that even YOUNG children can do on their own to be a part of the preparations.

For adult children like mine, give them a full course to make in advance that can be popped into the oven and heated just before dinner.

MY ONLY REQUIREMENT when it comes to everyone helping on the big day? Allow me 45 minutes of “alone time” in the kitchen for my last minute efforts.  I do this by asking other family members to play bartender, greet guests, take coats and pass the trays of hors d’oeuvres.

The reality is that you’ll all cherish your Thanksgiving memories when the ENTIRE family is involved in the process.

For recipe ideas that the can be made by various ages in the family – check out Butterball.com.



  1. Posted November 23, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink | Reply

    Great advice!

    When I prepare a huge meal I post a chart with what time the recipes need to be started, go in the oven, etc. I also label the serving dishes so people don’t have to ask me when I’m busy counting out cups of flour or what have you. 🙂

    • Posted November 23, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I LOVE the idea of labeling the dishes, it will certainly cut down on people asking “where can I find a serving bowl for my (blank)” and help keep me organized as well.

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