How to cook a turkey, and other Thanksgiving advice you did not ask for.

When I was a graduate student at Notre Dame, one of my fondest memories was hosting Thanksgiving dinner for my fellow grad friends, who came from a dozen different academic disciplines and at least six different countries. I made the turkey, gravy, and dressing, and guests each brought a dish to share. These offerings varied from home-baked pie to a bag of chips, all contributions equally accepted and enjoyed. We moved in extra furniture from my neighbors’ townhouses, which we arranged in a zigzag pattern through the dining and living rooms so that everyone had a seat at the table. We ate, and talked, and laughed, and shared stories for hours! I do not remember whether the turkey was dry, or the pie burnt, or any of the other critiques we routinely allow ourselves to accept. What I remember was friendship, generosity, celebration, and gratitude – all made possible by our willingness to spend time together in a shared experience that no one expected to be perfect.

This is good news for anyone lamenting that they will not have a perfect holiday because they can’t be with family, or can’t afford a feast, or can’t cook oatmeal much less a multi-course meal, or….well, any number of things that get in our way of connecting in authentic and beautiful ways. 

So if you are ready to try an imperfect yet delightful holiday with fellow grad students, here are some of the options you can consider.

Tradition with a Capital T for Turkey! Believe it or not, turkey is actually really easy to cook. As long as you follow a few simple rules, you can basically put it in the oven and forget about it for several hours. For example, here is Food Network’s recipe for the World’s Simplest Thanksgiving Turkey. (Just be sure it is completely thawed before putting it in the oven!)

Traditional Potluck, Minus Turkey. Ask most Americans their favorite Thanksgiving dish and it is almost never turkey. Mashed potatoes, dressing, corn pudding, cranberry sauce, candied yams, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, pumpkin pie…it’s a long list! Most are easy recipes made with affordable ingredients, so it is an easy and inexpensive way to host a holiday feast. Here is Food Network’s list of Top Ten Thanksgiving Sides to consider.

Anything Goes Potluck. Ask folks to bring anything at all they’d like to share. This gives your guests the freedom and flexibility to match their offering to their individual interests or budget, and opens opportunities for delightful surprises like homemade German spaetzle or authentic Kenyan tea, which were part of my Thanksgiving potluck feast. 

Support Local Restaurants. Let someone else do the cooking! Meet with friends at a local restaurant, or pick up takeout to enjoy at home. Several affordable options in South Bend include The Skillet, Kitchenette, Perkins, and Kankakee Grill.

Donate Time or Resources. There are many in our community for whom the holidays make lives already challenged by hunger, homelessness, addiction, or loneliness even more challenging. Consider donating your time or your resources to make the lives of others a bit more merry. Local agencies include Hope Ministries, Center for the Homeless, the Food Bank of Northern Indiana, and Our Lady of the Road.

Ask for What You Need. If you or someone you know is struggling with food insecurity, please do not suffer in silence. There are many resources on campus and in the community, and we can help you connect and find what you need. Email gradlife@nd.edu to begin the conversation.

Give Thanks for What You Have. Beyond food, there is so much to be thankful for. No matter what is on the table, take a moment to celebrate and give thanks for the blessings in your life.