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.
Traveling With Food
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.
Traveling with FoodKagan also recommends using the trip time for defrosting.
"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.
Traveling With Kids
Juggling children on a family trip is tricky under any circumstances. The added stress of traveling during the busiest time of the year, along with family drama, can make it downright daunting.
"My biggest goal is to exercise my children," says Wendy Perrin, consumer news editor of Conde Nast Traveler.
Whenever she's traveling with her two boys, she looks for an empty corner of the airport or a roadside playground to let them run around. And she says she's always sure to bring an inflatable ball.
"They're going to get restless and squirmy," she says. "It's essential to run them [around] so they will sleep."
You can expect airport delays and heavy traffic on the roads, so be sure to bring plenty of activities to keep kids occupied. Perrin recommends Crayola Color Wonder paper and markers that use invisible ink and spare you stains. She also advised looking for small, lightweight options such as travel-size Etch a Sketch, MagnaDoodle, activity and hidden picture books.
Check out The Perrin Post for dozens of more ideas of games and activities to play with kids on the go. Also, try MomsMiniVan.com for tips and reader-submitted recommendations for everything from guessing games to how to prevent car sickness.
Restless Kids on the Road
If you're traveling by car, don't be too ambitious and make sure to schedule enough stops. Do a little research ahead of time to find children's museums and kid-friendly roadside parks.
If you're traveling by plane, look out for the new family lanes at airport security. TSA rolled out these new specially designated lines earlier in November in hopes of easing the ordeal for those traveling with children.
Regardless of how you get there, the kids will likely be clamoring for snacks along the way. Perrin suggests Z-Bars, the children's version of Cliff's. She likes them because they have protein but not too much sugar, so they won't get hyper.
Most children will get tired, cranky and on each other's nerves over the course of the trip. To keep her kids on good behavior, Perrin came up with a scheme for them to win stickers that lead up to a prize of their choice.
"If they're trying to earn stickers, they will get along," she says.
Eat to Beat the Fatigue
Taking a little care to adjust your diet will go a long way to keeping your energy levels up throughout the Thanksgiving period.
"To avoid jet lag over the holiday, shift your mealtimes a little bit each day for several days before you leave until you're on schedule with your destination," recommends Erin Hobday, nutrition and diet editor of Self. "A mix of carbs and protein will help your digestive system adjust, so try high fiber cereal with skim milk."
If you're having trouble sleeping, try a handful of walnuts or tart cherries a half hour before you want to hit the sack, which Hobday points out are both high in melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.
Need a quick pick me up? Try drinking a cup of coffee before a power nap.
"In one study, people who drank a cup of coffee right before taking a 15- to 30-minute catnap felt more alert and rested afterward," Hobday says. "It takes about a half hour for caffeine to kick in, which may be why this strategy works."
When it comes to the big day itself, don't skip breakfast to make space for the meal. You'll just end up starving and gorging yourself. Lean protein, such as reduced-fat yogurt or cottage cheese, is a healthy option that will help moderate your appetite.
Also stay active on the day itself. Join in on a football game beforehand or at least go for a walk.
"Exercise will boost your mood, burn some calories and make it easier to make healthy choices at dinner," Hobday says.
Even if you do gorge, it's not as bad as you might think. It's a myth that a single day of eating will stretch your stomach.
"If a person with a normal stomach capacity binges, she can stretch her stomach temporarily, but it will return to normal capacity the next day," Hobday says.
Do try to get extra exercise in the days following, though, and return to normal healthy eating habits to get your digestive system back on track.
Alcohol will exacerbate your fatigue, so monitor your intake throughout the holiday. In-flight cocktails will make jet lag worse and leave you dehydrated.
Hobday suggests lower-calorie drinks for Thanksgiving Day, such as a glass of wine, a white-wine spritzer, a light beer or a vodka and club soda.
"For every alcoholic beverage you sip, have a glass of water or club soda," she says. "Alternating between alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages will help slow you down and keep you hydrated."
As for the turkey, it's true it contains tryptophan, an amino acid that induces sleep, but most agree the turkey's worth the snooze factor.