Thanksgiving can be exhausting. With all the traveling, overeating and time spent catching up with family, it can quickly turn into more of a mixed blessing than a holiday.
More than 40 million Americans will be traveling at least 50 miles for Thanksgiving this week, according to AAA reports. Along with the pilgrimage come the unexpected challenges of transporting food and children, along with the sheer fatigue of the journey.
Try the following expert advice to ease your travels. Get your kids and pies to your destination in one piece and learn how to eat to boost your energy.
Wine and flowers are easy options to avoid arriving empty-handed, but Thanksgiving is all about contributing to the feast. If you are planning on bringing food, it's important to make sure your goodies don't lose their luster on the way.
Fortunately, most of the meal's fixings travel well. Just don't try transporting the bird itself.
"Let the host do the turkey, gravy, stuffing and salad," advises Sarah Kagan, food editor of Epicurious.com. Your safest bets for road travel are cranberry sauce, rolls and pies (except for custard pies, such as pumpkin). These can all be premade, frozen and preserved at room temperature.
Casseroles and mashed veggies (parsnips, squash and turnips) also hold up and reheat well.
"Soups, mashed veggies and casseroles heat up very well," Kagan says. "Cranberry sauce lasts a long time. Between the tart cranberries and the sugar, it has such a high acidity level that it's difficult for bacteria to grow.
"If you're traveling for longer than an hour, you'll need to pack these items in a cooler with ice," she says.
She recommends reheating casseroles in the oven and warming veggies in a saucepan with a little water (to prevent burning). Mash potatoes will get gluey on the stove though, so don't bring them unless you know your host has a microwave.
Presentation matters, so take care to make sure your pies don't get crushed.
"Wrap them in plastic wrap, then in heavy-duty foil and choose sturdy pie pans, not the disposable foil ones," she says.
Place anything that needs to be kept cool in a cooler with two layers of sealed ice bags, one top and on bottom. Foil will help trap heat, but don't try to keep foods hot unless you're only going a short distance. Instead, warm up things like apple and pecan pies on arrival.
"I like to make rolls the weekend before Thanksgiving. I take them out of the freezer just before I leave, and they defrost in the car," she says. Otherwise the frozen rolls, wrapped in foil, can serve as extra ice in the cooler. For containers, she sticks with classic Ziploc bags and Tupperware.
Amid the premeal kitchen frenzy, the worst thing a guest can do is create more work. If you're planning on finishing a dish when you arrive, warn your host (don't just expect the oven will be available) and try to keep it to a minimum. For example, premake dip at home and then simply assemble on a platter with veggies when you get there.
After the deluge, leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours. Carve turkey meat off the bone and place it in sealed containers. Kagan suggests also packing the carcas into a bag to use for making soup or stock.
"Don't forget to take some gravy to help moisten the turkey when you heat it up," she says.