Peace on Earth at Your House

Make your holidays happier and healthier (and calmer) with these 15 sneaky strategies. Instant peace!

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Skip the Family Tug-of-War


You want to be thankful. Really. But, sometimes the stress of the holiday catches up with you. Instead of succumbing to that third piece of pie for solace, try these tips for a healthier, happier way to bless—and save—the day.

For starters, refuse to argue about whose family—his or yours—gets you this year. Simply make a two-year plan—alternating households or meals—tell everyone, stick with it, and focus on what matters. "Make spending some time with each family during the holiday the goal, not seeing who gets you for the main event," says family therapist Carleton Kendrick, EdM, LCSW, coauthor of Take Out Your Nose Ring, Honey, We're Going to Grandma's.

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Don't Expect People to Change


You want your mom to say you're the world's best cook, but in your heart you know she'll find lumps in the gravy. "Ask yourself what you can reasonably expect," says Kiki Weingarten, MScEd, MFA, cofounder/coach of DLCECC/Atypical Coaching in New York City. "Managing expectations takes the disappointment and frustration out of the mix so you can deal with what actually happens."

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Have an Advance Battle Plan


Replace Thursday's kitchen meltdown with advance prep, says Rebecca Newell, executive chef of Beehive Restaurant in Boston. Boil the potatoes, cook the cranberries, assemble the dressing's dry ingredients on Tuesday. Pull sides together Wednesday. "They will taste even better since the flavors will have settled," says Newell. "Imagine waking up Thanksgiving morning, throwing in your turkey, and calling it a day."

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Memorize Plan B


"Plan ahead for every age and stage you'll be involved with," says life coach Weingarten. "The more you have prepped and ready, the less there is to do during crunch time." That includes having games set up for kids and supplies for anyone with health issues.

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Take the Terror out of the Turkey


Alas, turkeys harbor bacteria. To keep your meal safe, thaw the covered turkey in a shallow pan in the lowest part of the fridge, says Cheryl Luptowski, consumer affairs expert with NSF International, a nonprofit public health and safety organization in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Stuff the turkey right before you put it in the oven. And make sure the turkey and dressing have reached 165 degrees F. before serving.

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Look for Connections


So, your brother always brags about his kids. He's insecure, says Jill Spiegel, coauthor of How to Talk to Anyone About Anything! "Say, 'I'm so impressed.' And instantly, you'll create a warm connection." As for the uncle with the free advice, give thanks and move on.

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De-Stress Early and Often


Paula Slotkin, mother of two and owner of a PR agency in Boston, survives Thanksgiving by going to a Thanksgiving Day Boot Camp at her gym. "The stress of the holiday is nothing compared to my morning workout," she says. "Anything my family and relatives dish out just rolls over me." Other choices: Sign up for a Turkey Trot, organize a game of family Frisbee, or head out for a walk with relatives you like.

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Pass the Pistachios


Instead of putting out sour cream dip and chips before Thanksgiving dinner, snack on these in the shell. They take a long time to eat, and 30 are only 100 calories. "We call them 'skinny nuts,'" says personal trainer Tammy Lakatos Shames, RD, coauthor with her twin sister, Lyssie, of The Secret to Skinny. "And as the shells pile up, you'll be aware of how many you've eaten so you won't overdo it."

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Make Sneaky Substitutions


No one, particularly the children, will be the wiser if you fold pureed cauliflower into the mashed potatoes. (Use Yukon Gold potatoes—they'll look buttery. Or buy redskins and leave the skins on for more fiber and nutrition.) Another idea: shred zucchini, carrots, or sweet potatoes into the muffins. "Invisible veggies are a great tool," says holistic health counselor Tracee Yablon-Brenner, RD, coauthor (with Jeannette Lee Bessinger) of Simple Food for Busy Families. Cut butter by using chicken broth in the mashed potatoes and even the stuffing, chopping in extra celery and onions as well, suggests Brenda J. Ponichtera, RD, author of Quick & Healthy Recipes and Ideas.

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Don't Talk Politics at the Table


There is rarely a time when a rousing political discourse is going to improve family dynamics, or digestion—especially this year. Death and dieting are also good topics to avoid! Steer the conversation toward gratitude or happy family memories.

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Set Up a Salad Bar


Let the kids help, filling bowls with grape tomatoes, olives, baby carrots, and broccoli flowers, says dietitian Yablon-Brenner. And guess who will be first in the salad line: "If they make it, they will eat it."

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Stop at One Helping


"You don't have to have two to three helpings on Thanksgiving," says Miriam Pappo, MS, RD, CDN, director of clinical nutrition at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "The stuffing and sweet potatoes aren't going anywhere. Have your second helping Friday." And remember, you have a freezer—or better yet, a homeless shelter to donate extras to.

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Offer the Aqua


"Drink plenty of water," says Joanna Dolgoff, MD, a pediatrician and child and adolescent obesity specialist in New York City. "It helps fill you up without adding calories." And for every glass of alcohol, drink at least one glass of water.

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Don't Be a Turkey Day Martyr


Ask guests to bring a dish. And kick the men off the sofa. "Spelling out duties can help couples avoid upsetting each other and suffering from holiday stress," says Edythe Denkin, PhD, a marriage counselor in New Canaan, Connecticut, and author of Relationship Magic. "There is no law that says women have to cook while the men watch football."

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Set the Gratitude Tone


Knoxvillian Brooks Clark and his five siblings begin their Massachusetts homecoming Thanksgivings with a sing-along, a way of bringing the 30 or so relatives to the table. "You definitely have to photocopy the lyrics," says Clark. "But the singing lifts the mood and gets everybody energized." Weingarten suggests asking people to write down—or even share on a video recorder—one or two things they're thankful for: "It loosens up people and helps them transition to the festivities." The answers may surprise you—and ease your grudge against the family grouch.