Thanksgiving is a meal that can strike fear in the heart of even the most organized homemaker. These 15 ideas should help you plan not only for Thanksgiving, but for any holiday meal you may be hosting.
Make a Game Plan
Get out a notebook, your calendar, and a pen (and maybe a stiff drink) and brainstorm Thanksgiving. Taking 20-30 minutes now will save you a lot of stress later. Start thinking about a tentative menu, figure out when you need to go shopping, and contemplate what prep can be done on what days.
Cross Dishes Off Your List
Eliminating dishes is always the first step in meal planning. Who is going to bring what? There's no need for you to make every single dish. We like to use the "whoever said it, makes it" rule. If a guest says they love sweet potato pie, that's the dish they'll bring.
Another option is to delegate an entire course to a guest, like appetizers, drinks, or dessert.
Make Your Menu
Now that you know what the guests are bringing, you can begin planning your own shopping, prep, and cooking. Once you've decided on what you need to make, print out the recipes and clip them together on a clipboard or in a folder for easy retrieval.
Stick to the Basics
If you're hosting Thanksgiving, you know full well the dishes that people expect to see, like turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pie. Make sure you cover these basics and then, if you want to get creative, you can concentrate on spicing up the sides. Here are a few ideas:
Make a Grocery List
Once you have your recipes set, use them to create a grocery list. It's easiest to organize your shopping list the way the store is laid out: produce, meat, dairy, canned goods, grains, baking, and snacks. The best option here to keep a list that can become a running-flexible list as you have those light bulb moments "oh, I forgot the cranberries!" Keep in mind there may be more than one trip, as you will most likely have to make runs to the liquor store, etc.
Get Your Appliances And Serving Dishes Ready
What appliances do you need on hand? Are they in storage? Do they need to be washed? Where will they "live" until the big day? Pull out all of the necessary serving dishes and utensils, too, and make sure they are ready to go.
Figure Out Prep
Tasks like chopping vegetables and baking pies can be done a day or two ahead of time. Whatever you can do ahead without sacrificing quality, do it. It'll save you time, effort, and stress on meal day. If you plan to brine your turkey you'll need to get that started the day before, too.
Schedule Your Shopping and Prep Work
Make sure to block ample time off on your calendar, like the Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night ahead of the big day. Try to leave Wednesday open for anything you might have forgotten, and then get to work that evening.
Inventory place settings, linens, the room around the table, and chairs. Do you have enough for the number of guests you're expecting? Double-check your serving dishes too.
Are you going to set up a separate area for soda, water, and wine? Since you'll be busy on Thanksgiving day, it might make sense to let your guests help themselves. Think about placing bottles on a tray with an ice bucket. If you're having a large crowd, fill some coolers with ice and let people grab bottles outdoors and out of the way.
There's no need to go overboard since the food is the star, but a little decoration is nice during the holidays. Add whatever you need to your list, like flowers, candles, and mini gourds.
Make a Thanksgiving Day Timeline
Include, at a minimum, the following elements: breakfast, appetizers, sit-down dinner, and dessert. Here's a sample timeline:
- 9:00 Breakfast. If you have overnight guests, make an egg-based one-dish meal ahead of time. Something you can prep the night before is ideal.
- 1:00 Appetizers and drinks. Starting the day at 1:00 means you won't have to prepare lunch for anyone because they can help themselves to some appetizers. This will buy you some time to finish up dinner and keep everyone snacking and entertained.
- 2:30 Dinner. The main event begins.
- 5:00 Dessert and coffee. This will give guests some breathing room between the main meal and the dessert course. This also guarantees you won't need to make an additional meal for dinner. Anyone who gets hungry later on can make their own sandwich.
Label Serving Dishes
This is one of our favorite time savers. Match up each recipe to a serving dish and label it with a post-it note. This way if someone asks how they can help on the day the labels will make it easier to delegate some tasks.
Keep Recipes Within Reach
Try printing out the recipes and then taping them to a cabinet. This way they're always in the same spot and you'll know where to look when you need an assist. If you're working from older, more delicate hard copy recipes, put them in a clear plastic sleeve and tape that to a cabinet. Regardless, keep them in an easy-to-access place as you cook.
Plan for Leftovers
Rather than hand out your precious Tupperware, invest in some disposable containers for guests to take home leftovers. This way you don't have to worry about getting your containers back.
And have a plan to put that turkey in another dish the next day. Try making a large pot of turkey soup with the rest going into sandwiches. Or get creative with pizza, dumplings, or burritos.