It’s Thanksgiving week, y’all. I love this time of year, not just because of all the extra cooking and baking I get to do. There is something magical about this short season, where we can choose to spend more time focusing on all the things we’re thankful for.
This will be the third Thanksgiving where I’m putting on my big girl hat and cooking up a semi-traditional meal for our little family. One thing I appreciate is that I don’t have to worry about hosting a large group or impressing others, except my dear husband. He’s super easy to please, thankfully. Though, I wouldn’t mind it if I had to do Thanksgiving for a big group. Anyone want to come over?
All that aside, there are definitely some practical things I’ve picked up along the way that make the actual Thanksgiving Day a lot less stressful and running smoothly. I’m certainly no expert and these things might work perfectly for us, but like everything else in life you will find what works best for you. Whether you’re planning for 2 or 20, I strongly believe that all these practical tips will be helpful to make your Thanksgiving meal a success!
Tips for Thanksgiving Meal Planning and Preparation
1. Brainstorm your meal and gather recipes
Search magazines, cookbooks, online for recipe inspiration. I find tabs to be really useful if I’m using a recipe from a magazine (see photo above) so I don’t have to spend time searching for it later. Decide what your main course will be (example: turkey) and how many sides and desserts you will want to make. Once you come up with your numbers (i.e. 1 main, 3 sides, 1 salad, 2 desserts) then you can search for the appropriate recipes. This is also a good place to decide on any beverages you will be having, whether they be store bought or homemade. Make sure to thing about how your beverage choices line up with your meal. For example, you may not want to serve a fruity drink to go along with the turkey. Just think about your preferences (and guests, if you have them) and go from there.
2. Write out all the ingredients you will need
This can be done with good old paper and pen, or you can draft up a document/spreadsheet on your computer. I like going the old school route, particularly since I’m not planning for a big crowd. Look carefully at each recipe, noting measurements and serving sizes. For one of my recipes, I’m actually halving it so I make sure to take that into account when adding it to my master list. I find it helpful to separate my list into sections, such as Dairy, Produce, Herbs, Spices etc. That way, I can then look at my pantry and refrigerator to see what I might be missing or needing more of, or not needing any of at all. Again, I cannot stress this point enough…make sure you write down every single thing even something that might seem small like salt. You don’t want to be mid-recipe making and missing an ingredient.
3. Shop your pantry and refrigerator beforehand
Once you’ve written down (or typed up) your master list of ingredients, you should check your pantry and refrigerator for items. Do this before going to the grocery store and you might find that your list isn’t as long as you thought it was. For example, I know that my spice rack is pretty well-stocked. There are few herbs I might actually need to buy and since I don’t like wasting space or money, I double check to make sure I’m not buying yet another container of ground cinnamon. This saves you time and money, as well as eliminates any waste. Again, make sure to note of any items and the amount on your master list, crossing off anything you already have and adding only what you need. There’s not much fun in having to make a last minute run to the grocery store, unless you really like that sort of thing.
4. Have a strategy for when to cook and bake
This is a two-part strategy for me. The first part is looking at each recipe and writing down anything that could potentially be done ahead of time, meaning not on Thanksgiving Day. For example, you can see in the picture above that I have little notations on what can be prepped ahead of time such as the sweet potatoes or the pie crust. Finding out these things, small as they can be, is a huge help because then you’re not scrambling around on Thanksgiving or running out of oven space. Read all the recipes very carefully and figure out what can and can’t be done ahead of time. If you’re making turkey, make sure you know how long you have to prep and cook it for — it will all depend on a few factors, like the weight, if it’s fresh or frozen, etc. I’ve come to learn that prepping as many things as possible a few days ahead of time is one of the biggest stress relievers to have in place.
5. Plan for some things to go awry
This is just part of hosting and entertaining — nothing is supposed to be perfect. At least, not in my book. I remember the first year I roasted a turkey, it was definitely undercooked. The second year, I didn’t make nearly enough side dishes (we had an extra guest!) and the oven apparently wasn’t as hot as it said it was. The main thing to remember when something goes wrong or not according to plan, is to not let it ruin everything else. In the famous words of Elsa, let it go. Don’t let a ruined dish or even undercooked turkey mess up your day. After all, what people will remember is the conversation and graciousness around the table. Wine and plenty of snacks help, too.
6. Relax and enjoy the day
Ok, so this is not really a crucial component of meal planning and preparation but it is essential for being a gracious and fun hostess. Once you’ve put in all the hard work ahead of time with the above steps, you are setting yourself up for having more time to actually relax a bit once Thanksgiving Day is here. You might have done so well in preparing that all you have to literally do is preheat the oven and put the turkey inside. It’s amazing how much of a difference that makes with your attitude and overall demeanor.
p.s. On a semi-related note, I recently finished reading Bread & Wine and it really inspired and refreshed my spirit. During this time of year when there’s a lot of hosting and cooking and baking happening, it was just the thing I needed to read.
I would love to hear about your Thanksgiving plans! What sort of tips and tricks do you use to plan for a successful Thanksgiving? Do you have a non-traditional way of celebrating?