If you've decided that the safest way to spend Thanksgiving in a pandemic is at home with your roommates instead of back home with your family, public health experts and your at-risk relatives appreciate it. Many of the hallmarks of a typical Thanksgiving — traveling home, spending time indoors with extended, elderly family — overlap with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) call higher or highest risk of spreading COVID-19 events, particularly if people don't socially distance or wear masks. (And let's be honest, very few people are going to put their masks back on between bites of turkey.) That's why you might want to have Thanksgiving with your roommates — or local friends you're properly podded with — instead.
But holidays where control of a communal kitchen is at stake can be fraught even outside a pandemic. To ensure that you and your housemates make it through the holidays without turning on each other, feel too isolated, or give each other food poisoning, you'll have to bring some empathy to the table.
"We all need to let go of our expectations for a great holiday and start thinking about having a good enough holiday," family counselor Dawn Friedman, M.S.E.d, tells Bustle. The people that you spend Thanksgiving with this year might need more support than they let on, so it's important to go into the holiday with as much patience and compassion as possible.
Here's how to make the most of your pod's Thanksgiving feast.
To manage your expectations before the big day, take the time to plan out your Thanksgiving festivities with your roommates or podmates ahead of time. Will you be dressing up? Will you be sharing the cooking responsibilities? Will you order take out and wear pajamas instead? How many kinds of pie will you need? If you're going to try to scrape together the semblance of a traditional dinner, you might need to order a turkey in advance or do food shopping ASAP to avoid crowds and empty shelves.
"You need to ask yourself, what do I need to make this holiday meaningful for me? When I go to bed Thanksgiving night, what's something that will make me look back and say, 'Today was OK'? What is the bare minimum I need to have a good holiday?" Friedman says. These answers might vary greatly from person to person, so it's important to think about your needs individually, then come up with a plan that works for everyone under the same roof.
Practice Safe Food Prep
Whether Thanksgiving will be your first time using your apartment's kitchen, or you are a seasoned home cook, you'll want to make sure you're being efficient with your food handling practices, as cooking for others is a big responsibility. "The most important things to know about food safety during COVID are to wash your hands frequently, avoid tasting food with your fingers or a spoon you are using to stir or plate, and wear gloves while handling anything that is ready to eat," says chef and restauranteur Zoe Schor. Meaning, if you're not about to put the dish in the oven (which can kill off germs), you should be extra careful about how you interact with it. Serve uncooked foods with tongs or spoons so that no one has to touch shared dishes directly.
Delegate responsibilities and dishes, and ensure everyone who's cooking has appropriate kitchen access, which might mean baking pies or sides the day before. As for food that will be cooked, particularly meat, you'll want to use a food thermometer so that you can ensure your Thanksgiving turkey is cooked fully according to its size, weight, and your oven's sensitivity. Note that if you have a lot of different dishes crammed into the oven, they will each require more cook time. A food thermometer will verify the internal food temperature more accurately than a timer.
Be prepared for tension or testiness from your roommates or yourself, Friedman says. "We're more likely to fight during this time — sadness, worry, frustration, grief — they can all make us more irritable and angry," she explains. "Acknowledging that can go a long way to help us give ourselves and each other some measure of grace." To increase the chances of a peaceful day, Friedman suggests having a conversation with your roommate to discuss your needs. If you're having a hard time coping with the fact that you're missing your family, share that with your roommate and let them know if you need space, or support. If your roommate seems withdrawn or depressed, ask them what they need. If you or your roommate plan on Zooming into Thanksgiving back home, you might want to ask for some privacy or space to ensure that you can make the most of it.
Try to incorporate some kind of activity outside of the house together, like an early morning bike ride or an evening stroll. "If possible, it can be helpful to get out of the house alone or together. If we're working from home with roommates, we may be really sick of each other. Heading out to get some sun or at least some fresh air can remind us that we like each other," Friedman says. This kind of mindful activity will give you and your roommate a chance to connect and make the day special, so it doesn't just feel like a pandemic-induced fallback plan.
Celebrating Thanksgiving with people you already live with can reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to otherwise healthy communities — and that's something to give thanks for. Plus, you won't have to fight a crowd for the marshmallows on the candied yams.