Thanksgiving: Less Barriers, Love’s Bounty
Thanksgiving: Less Barriers, Love’s Bounty
Thanksgiving brings up images of family gathered around juicy turkeys, full platters of mashed potatoes and a tidal wave of other delectable dishes. A disability or disabling illness should never be a hindrance to yours, or anyone else’s, enjoyment of this traditional day of sitting down for fellowship and fun with loved ones.
But how can you minimize the barriers? Planning in advance is the key. No matter what the challenges are for you or a family member on this day of thanks, it shouldn’t put a damper on the wealth of love and gratitude you all share. Whether you just want to help out in the kitchen, are the host, or just wish to enjoy time with your family you haven’t seen in a while, there’s a place at the table for everyone to take part.
Afraid to tackle that “magazine cover art” of a glistening, fat turkey? There’s always having your Thanksgiving Day turkey delivered to your home by a caterer or going to a restaurant for your Thanksgiving meal. Still, if neither of these meets your taste of tradition, there are other options to make preparations less stressful on you and your guests. From preparation shortcuts not even Grandma will notice, to turning the meal into a potluck, or making kitchen time an opportunity to bond as a family pitching in, Thanksgiving is accessible to all.
Simply do a turkey breast if your family is smaller, or just the drumsticks like you see at community festivals. That will not only cut down on you having to baste and watch over a whole bird for hours, but you’ll also have an opportunity to really focus on a great marinade, or dressing, around the main course that you’ve always wanted to try – plus, some great side dishes and desserts.
Many families love potatoes and good gravy. If you hate peeling potatoes worse than anything, why not try instant mashed potatoes or get the marathon peeler in your family to help? I know, I know, the idea of potatoes in a box may throw Martha Stewart into convulsions — but instant is not that bad. There’s a product out there that cuts out the peeling, slicing and dicing time for you, too, so you can focus on warming the pre-peeled and cut potatoes, adding cream and butter, then mashing the spuds to your liking. Look in your local store and ask the store clerk for this starchy gem. When it comes to the gravy, try a can of turkey gravy or a mix. If you’re a spice monkey anyway, that gives you the freedom to sprinkle and spruce up a pre-done mix and give it that special homey flavor. No matter how pre-done an item is, there’s nothing against adding a little of this or a pinch of that to make it your own. No one ever knows. Like a popular Food Network chef says, “Do it semi-homemade!”
Do you hate to bake or find it just too labor intensive? Visit a local bakery and purchase your Thanksgiving pies or get your “Aunt Opal” to bring her famous “whatever” and sit it front and center on the table with a special garnish, or table decoration, to highlight it. If you prefer making your own delectables, focus on pudding, creamy or nobake desserts usually with minimal preparation. Do what many have boldly done before you and focus your energy in dressing up the end product to give a beautiful, homemade touch with great meringue or whipped cream. Add a dusting of cocoa or powdered sugar in a nice pattern, now there’s some extra love! Showcase your special holiday tableware with the food as well.
The most important thing about Thanksgiving is gathering with your friends and family, many of whom you may not have seen in what feels like forever. Is it your family’s tradition is to do things larger than life? If you’re in a wheelchair or have mobility impairment, this can sometimes be difficult, or even impossible, because Cousin Janice’s house has steps and narrow doors.
Ask around to find out which family member has the most accessible home and have them measure their doorways. Express what your needs are. Ask if they are willing to host the dinner this year and explain why to the family members who may be hurt because you didn’t have them host it instead. If you have an accessible home, why not have the family over to your house for the turkey and dressing?
Before you feel like accommodating every need is going to be a complete nightmare, figure out your vision first. Be aware of seating plans so that those who need more open area to sit can do so, and those who love to stand around and mingle can more easily do so as well. Sit the children, who get along well together, in one cluster and ask the older children if they wouldn’t mind floating between the adults’ table and the children’s table to help out. Make them the Thanksgiving “cohosts” with festive name badges so everyone feels a part of the day.
Worried about your motherin-law’s diabetic restrictions? Explore the options for tasty, dietary-friendly options in sugarfree desserts or gluten-free options for those who don’t eat bread or potatoes. Family members who have dietary restrictions can have several choices of plates, made up in advance, that they can choose from while sitting with the whole group. Or, if you have a loved one who absolutely loves to cook, ask them to bring that traditional dish with their own spin so everyone can sample how good it is and shower them with praise.
Those who have sensory issues with a lot of noise and the clang of utensils, might enjoy plastic, noisefree flatware. Do it for everyone by purchasing economical and colorful options from a party center and then you don’t have dishes because it’s all disposable! Loved ones with Autism and Attention Deficit Disorder, as well as hyperactivity, should feel free to wear their headphones with music, or the option to listen to their favorite stories, so they are still a part of the day, but aren’t over stimulated and get restless. Explain to others the situation beforehand so they don’t feel like they are being ignored or tuned out by the family brat. And what about printouts of coloring book pages as place mats? While children are waiting for dinner to get done, they can quietly sit at the table with crayons or waterproof markers and color their placemats while the turkey is roasting, and then have a contest for the best page. The winner could be given a crown made of construction paper to wear the rest of the day.
Is your grandmother blind/ visually impaired or hearing impaired? Be patient with her and maybe see if one of the older children in your family, or another relative, wouldn’t mind making it their mission to be Grandma’s maitre d’ by offering an arm to walk her to the table or act as a buffet escort helping her get her plate prepared. And with all the conversations flying over the top of the turkey, make time for icebreaker activities over dinner such as going around the table and expressing one thing you are grateful for on this day. This ensures everyone is included, spoken to and heard. You might even consider going around the table sharing three things that are new in each person’s life since you got together last. There may be a new job, new significant other or educational opportunity that has come up. Thanksgiving dinner isn’t just about eating. Share!
If you can’t host your family’s Thanksgiving dinner, each family could enjoy their own dinners and have everyone over for dessert or coffee and enjoy the game. Family members could bring their leftovers and you could all enjoy a Thanksgiving supper together over the best variety of leftovers. Or, if it’s easier, some restaurants are open for a Thanksgiving meal. Let someone else worry about the dishes. When parents have been in failing health in years past, this can be a much easier option and there’s still a great time well spent with love.
With a little planning, the stress that can sometimes overshadow a typical wonderful Thanksgiving dinner can be minimized. The day can be more joyful and all-inclusive instead of a day to dread. You’ll not only be thankful you creatively anticipated various challenges, but also, your guests will be grateful they were included and appreciated for their whole selves.
- Treasured Tradition: Expressing Gratitude and Encouraging Speech Around the Table
- Inclusive Coloring Pages
- Thanksgiving: A Perfect Time to Learn How to Set the Table
- Reluctantly Related: 5 tips to help you be thankful, not resentful, this Holiday.
- 8 Tips to prepare your family members with special needs for the Holiday Season?
This post originally appeared on our November/December 2010 Magazine