Surviving Thanksgiving away from home—Quick and easy dinner ideas

With a few helpful tips, you're sure to have the best Thanksgiving ever.

With a few helpful tips, you’re sure to have the best Thanksgiving ever.

The Thanksgiving holiday is fast approaching. If you aren’t able to make it home to engage in the all-day turkey fest followed by a glutenous shopping trip that commences in the wee-small hours of the morning, never fear. Surviving Thanksgiving away from home is possible, from quick and easy dinner ideas that even you can manage to tips on meeting your significant other’s family. Whether you aren’t able to make the trip home because of time or budget constraints, or because you have plans to go to a friend’s, you can make it through the long holiday weekend away from kith and kin.

Create a home, away from home

Maybe you love hanging with your family, from your crazy Uncle Herb to your cousin who talks to her chia pet. Or maybe you can’t get far enough away from any type of family bonding. Let’s face it—families can be challenging. But if you are away from yours during the holidays, it’s easy to start to feel a bit nostalgic for them. The key to surviving Thanksgiving away from home is to create your own tradition to mark the occasion. The Onion mocked the idea in a post on November 19, 2012, “Only College Student Staying On Campus Planning Saddest Thanksgiving Meal Of All Time.” The mocking post detailed a freshman who, unable to get a ride home, had planned the “saddest little Thanksgiving meal in history of the world” of “a small package of sliced turkey and a box of Stove Top stuffing.” In reality, on some campuses, professors may invite students who stayed behind to their homes, and some universities try to help those who don’t leave by hosting traditional dinners or pairing students with local families. Check out what options are available to you on your campus. 

Taking it to the dorm

Other students brave Thanksgiving and its much lauded dinner on their own. Unlike the student in the Onion, it doesn’t have to be sad. What you need are quick and easy dinner ideas that fit your budget and your cooking space. Some tips to remember:

  • Focus on seasonal ingredients—they will be cheaper.
  • If you can make it from scratch think pie crust, cranberry sauce you will probably save money and be healthier.
  • Know when to buy frozen and canned ingredients—generic brand pumpkin makes a great pie filler and frozen peas will be less expensive than fresh.
  • Don’t be afraid to alter a recipe, no one will notice if you cut a few corners.
  • Make it potluck—if everybody contributes one dish, you will have a feast for less cash and effort.

Jenna Johnson took the idea of a Thanksgiving feast on campus to heart, sharing her own Thanksgiving meal, all totally prepared in a microwave, in a post on the Campus Overload blog for The Washington Post on November 23, 2010, “Cook a Thanksgiving feast in your dorm microwave.” Her meal included all the traditional items—turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, mashed potatoes, rolls and pumpkin pie—all cooked without a traditional stovetop or oven. Of the meal, Johnson said, “Everyone kept commenting that this didn’t look like a dorm Thanksgiving, and that the food was not only edible, but surprisingly delicious.” How’s that for quick and easy dinner ideas?

Meeting the family

Perhaps even more intimidating than cooking a turkey in your microwave is meeting your significant other’s family. Bobbi Misick wrote “Meet The Parents: The Do’s & Don’ts of Meeting His Folks” on November 23, 2009, for Essence, but the same rules apply for both sexes. If you have skipped out on Thanksgiving with your nearest and dearest to meet his/her nearest and dearest, here’s what you should know:

  1. Smile. You will seem more approachable and friendly, but smiling may also help make you feel calmer.
  2. Do your homework. Find out everybody’s names, of course, but also some details to help you connect.
  3. Arrive on time. Being late is not the way to make a good impression.
  4. Bring a gift. This isn’t required, but it will make surviving Thanksgiving in a strange place just a bit nicer.
  5. Dress appropriately. You are a guest in someone’s home, so keep your look together.
  6. Find a common interest. This will help stimulate conversation, but now is NOT the time to bring up politics or religion.
  7. Have a toast. It’s ok to raise a glass at dinner, but don’t overdo it with alcohol (if you are old enough to drink, that is).
  8. Help clean up. You are a guest, sure, but you want to show you are a team player, so pitch in.
  9. Be yourself. Your significant other likes you for who you are, so be that person and hopefully his/her family will feel the same.

Surviving Thanksgiving away from home is doable, and may, in the end, even be fun if you approach it with the right attitude and a good plan. So enjoy your turkey wherever you are!

Get your inner Martha Stewart on and share your tips on what to whip up this Thanksgiving in the comments below. Already survived the first meeting with the significant other’s ‘rents? Impart your suggestions on how to make a good first impression as well.

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