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Donatella Arpaia Talks Turkey, Family Traditions and Fuss-Free Entertaining

A Q&A Discussion with the Iron Chef America Judge, NYC Restaurateur and Mother 

Can you share a few Thanksgiving traditions that are unique and special to your family?

Thanksgiving is a time for families to gather and traditions—new and old—to be formed. In my family, we always had a tradition where each of us would tell everyone what we are thankful for.  Two years ago, my son, still a toddler, insisted that he should select who gives thanks, so we made him the “conductor” of giving thanks! He alone selects the order of who gives thanks and often provides commentary if he isn’t satisfied with the answer.

I also make the dreaded “kids table” the coolest place to be with arts and craft projects and little presents.  Every year, I provide kids with the task of making place cards for the table. Last year, the place cards were leaves and this year, they will be pinecones!

Let’s talk Thanksgiving prep. How far in advance do you begin planning the menu? What do you do the week before—and also the day before—to ensure the actual holiday is as seamless and stress-free as possible?

Can’t stress this enough – you must plan ahead otherwise you will not enjoy the holiday! Two to three days before, I get all shopping done. As a rule, I try to get all sides, stuffing and gravy done one to two days before. On the day of, I focus on turkey and desserts! For my veggie sides, I measure and organize all ingredients and then label them and put them in fridge. That means that on the morning of Thanksgiving, I am just assembling my veggies with the help of Libby’s canned vegetables. It’s so easy! One of my favorite quick—and delicious—dishes that you can make the morning of are these Sautéed Peas with Honey and Feta!

Sauteed Peas with Honey and Feta

Hosting the Thanksgiving meal doesn’t mean that all the work should fall on you. Many hands make light work, especially many little hands. 🙂 Any tips for getting kids involved in the cooking?

It’s a shame that in rush of trying to get everything done, we miss golden opportunities of making memories with our little ones.  Like most moms, I try to get my son to eat his veggies, I found that when I make him part of the process, he is proud and wants to eat them. I love this easy festive carrot recipe for Southern Candied Carrots with Gingersnap Crunch. I take a large zip lock bag along with a rolling pin and make him crush the gingersnap cookies instead of using the food processor. I then have him sprinkle the crumbs on top! He loves this activity and proudly tells everyone that he made the dish!

Southern Candied Carrots with Gingersnap Crunch

Another great project is to provide small individual cakes.  Provide each child with his or her own mini cups of frosting and decorations! Don’t micromanage or look for perfection – just set them up with their own work station and provide paper “chef” hats. They’ll feel important and proud of their individual creations.

What is your favorite classic Thanksgiving dish and why?

My stuffing! It’s made with Arborio rice, sausage and mushrooms – it brings me back to my childhood. Every year, I say I will do it differently, but I always crave the original that my mom made for me growing up.

Here at Libby’s, we’re all about honoring traditions and savoring those classic dishes, but also love learning new ways to make our meals even more wholesome. What tips do you have to make the big feast a bit healthier?

I think the sides are just as important as and sometimes even more exciting than the main event. Thanksgiving is a time of variety and abundance. The easiest way to make it healthier is to eat your veggies!  Libby’s makes it easy to prepare a wide variety of sides and do it in a fun and tasty way that isn’t boring! Case in point: my recipe for Brown Butter Green Beans with Garlic Almond Bread Crumbs.


Brown Butter Green Beans with Garlic Almond Bread Crumbs


Final—and most important—question: what are you especially grateful for this Thanksgiving season?

This past year, there were plenty of health scares within the family, especially with my parents. I am so grateful that we weathered the storm together as a family.  I am grateful that my siblings and I were able to be there for our parents as our parents have always been there for us.