Many of us are going from a small Thanksgiving dinner to a full house as covid isolation restrictions have eased. For some, the thought of hosting a big crowd again can be a bit intimidating. But don’t sweat it. With a bit of planning, meal preparations can be broken down into 5 simple, very manageable stages. When Thanksgiving Day does arrive, the overwhelming feeling can be one of relief and not anxiety!
Stage 1: 10 days to 2 weeks prior to Thanksgiving: Plan your menu and think through your cooking space.
- Will you be ordering a fresh turkey or picking up a frozen bird?
- Do you have a roasting pan big enough to fit the turkey, but small enough to fit in the oven?
- What sides will you be preparing and what can be made in advance? Will guests be bringing any dishes? TIP: If guests offer to bring something, don’t turn them down!
- Since oven space is often at a premium – perhaps some dishes might be prepared and served right from a crock pot? Consider swapping in a few dishes that can be served at room temperature.
Stage 2: 1 week to 10 days prior to Thanksgiving: Prepare your refrigerator and pantry.
- Review your menu and recipes.
- Make 2 lists of items needed: The 1st list is for all the staples needed for the big day. The 2nd list is for more perishable items, things needed closer to Thanksgiving Day.
- Check for ingredients: This is also an opportune time to clean out your refrigerator. It is important to make room for all the food that will be purchased and prepared, as well as assuring space for leftovers.
Stage 3: 5 Days to 1 week prior to Thanksgiving: Getting ready for the meal.
- Review your menu and pull serving platters, dishes and utensils that will be used on Thanksgiving Day. If looking to simplify things, consider using aluminum pans for cooking and serving.
- Check for a meat thermometer, a turkey baster, a potato masher, and anything else you might need to pull off cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
- Grab that first shopping list and head to the store.
- Consider when to start defrosting a frozen turkey if in the refrigerator. Allow 1 day for each 4-5 pounds of weight. For example, a 16-pound turkey will take about 4 days to thaw in the refrigerator.
Stage 4: The Weekend before Thanksgiving through Wednesday: Go time!
- Check your shopping list and plan your 2nd trip to the grocery store.
- Review your recipes and create a timeline for food preparation.
- Start defrosting anything made ahead and frozen, like pies, or casseroles.
- Pre-prep vegetables, stuffing, and sides.
- Make salad dressings, cranberry sauce, and desserts.
- Set the table and prepare serving areas so the focus on Thanksgiving can be on the meal.
Stage 5: Thanksgiving Day: Stay focused and organized.
- Review your menu and fine tune your timeline.
- When does the turkey need to go into the oven? The general rule is 15 to 20 minutes per pound of turkey when cooking an unstuffed turkey.
- NOTE: Carve the turkey about 30 minutes before dinner and cover it with foil to keep warm.
- Once the turkey is done, make the gravy.
- Consider precooking vegetables so they can be finished at the last minute, either in a sauté pan or in a microwave.
- Finish up stuffing and casseroles. Place items in the oven based on timeline.
- Make your mashed potatoes and keep them warm in a slow cooker.
- Just prior to guests arriving, plate up appetizers, set up a beverage station and designate an area to serve desserts.
- And DONE: With all the planning and advanced preparation, you should be all set for a delicious and memorable Thanksgiving Dinner!
One last tip – when the first guests arrive, having a tidy kitchen and an empty dishwasher is ideal. Be prepared for clean up as well. Have plenty of dish towels and rubber gloves handy, as well as food storage containers for leftovers or for “to-go” packages for guests.