Holiday meals: What’s your role?

Published 10:29 am Monday, November 29, 2021

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Last week, my coworker Michelle Love discussed in her column the questionable taste of turkey and the importance of the side dishes many of us consider staples at Thanksgiving dinner. She brought up some great points to consider, and in doing so, made me think more about not just the dishes we bring to the table, but the people we gather with around said table. I know this column will publish after Thanksgiving, but you could also apply it to Christmas or any gathering where food is the focus. With that in mind, let’s look at the different types of people you might encounter before a holiday meal.

First, you have the leaders. These are often the grandmothers, mothers or other matriarchal figures who plan and execute the big meals. Their ability to cook multiple dishes simultaneously and have them all ready around the same time is truly a remarkable gift we don’t all possess. Leaders not only ensure the meals are well-rounded and served on time, but they also make sure everything tastes delicious and caters to the preferences of their group. In short, we could change the name “leader” to “magician” here, in my opinion.

Next, you have the helpers. These people likely don’t possess the same level of organizational skills—and possibly not the cooking skills, either—of the leaders, but they want to pitch in with smaller tasks that will help the meal come together. The helpers are your vegetable choppers, roll butterers, gravy stirrers, oven checkers and the like. They’re usually cheerful, dependable and eager to complete tasks efficiently. They also provide a second opinion if something needs to be tasted, and they can contribute to friendly conversation throughout the cooking process.

Then, you have the floaters. These people don’t spend as much time in the kitchen as the helpers, but they will come in periodically to check on everything and offer a helping hand, if needed. That helping hand, however, might also try to sneak samples of dishes in progress, so floaters sometimes need to be monitored closely. They are happy to help, but they are also happy to step back and let things unfold without their involvement.

Next up, you have the child wranglers. While these people don’t necessarily contribute in any noticeable way to the meal itself, they have the all-important job of keeping any children present occupied and away from the food preparation area. It might sound like a fairly easy task, but anyone who has tried to keep a little one away from a kitchen full of yummy food—or just a kitchen, period—knows this can be challenging.

And then, you have the TV watchers. Allow me to reference one of my favorite shows, “Friends,” in which Chandler routinely accepts the “task” of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or football on TV rather than donning an apron and helping Monica make the meal. Perhaps this is for the better, though; Chandler stays out of Type A Monica’s way while she cooks, and he keeps himself occupied with a time-honored holiday tradition. TV watchers might not have the most high-profile job, but they have a job, and they’re going to give it a 100-percent effort.

Maybe you don’t see yourself or your people in these roles, or maybe you do. Maybe you could event add several more job titles to the list. Remember, even if your kitchen feels more Griswold than Gordon Ramsay this time of year, the whole point is to be together. And after what we’ve all been through the last two years, I think that counts for even more. So, whether you’re a Monica (leader) or a Chandler (TV watcher) in your pre-meal scenario, soak up these moments with your loved ones. I wish you and the people you share a dinner table with a joyful holiday season.