Are you looking forward to a Thanksgiving with friends and family gathered near, a beautiful table setting fit to make Martha Stewart green with envy, and a gorgeous buffet of culinary delights? Fear your dreams will come crashing down around your ears in a flurry of grocery shopping, under-cooked potatoes, over-cooked turkey, mismatched table linens and demanding house guests? Keep the faith: with just a little planning and surprisingly little effort, this Thanksgiving can be the happy, peaceful holiday you have always dreamed of!
Don’t wait until the Halloween candy is gone before you start planning. There are things you can do one month before the big day to help your holiday come together.
1) Plan your guest list and get your invitations out. Invitations can be as formal or as casual as you like, from printed invites to a group text. For a stress-free invite, create an event on Facebook: you can invite all of your guests, receive RSVPs and communicate pertinent details all in one place.
2) Plan your menu. Determine what you want to prepare and what you want others to contribute, then go back to your guest list and ask them to contribute certain dishes. Is your Aunt Alice’s green bean casserole a holiday tradition? Great. Ask her to make it, and keep it off your list. Other guidelines for a successful menu:
• Avoid using new recipes or recipes with extensive ingredient lists.
• Consider your guests’ food allergies; if cousin Tommy has a nut allergy, skip making pecan pies.
• Skip complicated appetizers; opt for a selection of nice cheeses, olives, sliced fruit.
• Instead of thumbing through multiple cookbooks or searching online while trying to cook, copy or print out all the recipes you will need and keep them together.
Part of a successful holiday is anticipating the what you will need, and prepare ahead of time.
3) Prep storage space. Don’t wait until you bring home the groceries to figure out where to keep them:
• Clean out the freezer: Two weeks before, clean out your freezer and make sure you have room for your turkey and any other dishes you want to make and freeze ahead of time.
• Clean out the fridge: Toss leftovers, expired condiments and anything that doesn’t need to be refrigerated (such as unopened condiments).
• Make sure you have an ice chest on hand for any overflow from the fridge or to cool beverages.
• Check your supply of storage dishes for leftovers and add as needed.
4) Plan your décor and serving strategy. Two weeks ahead is a good time to plan your décor. You can create a simple, elegant table setting with an earth tone tablecloth (or inexpensive fabric from the craft store), a roll of burlap for a table runner and natural elements combined with white or cream-colored candles for the center of the table. Use an assortment of small pumpkins or gourds, apples, clementines, figs, colored leaves or small branches scattered in the center of the table or placed in a simple basket or tray. Gather the items you need now. Also decide how you will serve the meal – seated or buffet-style, plan for seating and decide if you will use china or disposable plates, etc. Collect the items you need now, such as extra chairs, tables, paper plates, napkins, and silverware.
5) Plan two grocery shopping trips. Create two grocery lists, one for non-perishables and one for perishable items. One week before, shop for all the non-perishable items: staples, seasonings, beverages, etc. Pick up your turkey and keep it in the freezer until about three days before you’re ready to cook it. Make a second trip about three days before Thanksgiving to shop for all your perishable items – fresh herbs, produce, cheeses, etc.
6) Plan your cooking schedule. Review your recipes and determine what needs to be prepared the day of and what can be prepared ahead of time. For the day of, consider what time you want to serve dinner, then look at the item that will take the longest to prepare and work backwards, allowing an extra ten minutes per recipe. Review cooking times and temperatures to see what can go in the oven at the same time. This is also a good time to make sure you have all the cooking utensils you will need. When you’re getting ready to make the mashed potatoes is not the time to find that the veggie peeler is missing or broken.
Putting it All Together
The days right before Thanksgiving are crunch time, but if you’ve planned and prepped, the next few days will go smoothly!
7) Start your food prep early. Two or three days before your dinner, begin preparing some of your menu items:
• Turkey: Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator requires 24 hours for every five lbs. Check your turkey’s weight and plan accordingly.
• Chop vegetables: review your recipes then chop and measure the vegetables you will need. This will make prep time go much faster.
• Make pies and cranberry sauce.
The day before:
• Prepare any dishes that can be made ahead.
• Finish pies.
• Prepare garnishes.
8) Decorate and set the table. The day before, set and decorate your table. Make sure all serving dishes are clean and ready.
9) Plan your work and work your plan. Remember your cooking schedule in tip #6? It’s time to put it to work! If you haven’t already done so, chill any beverages, either in the fridge or in a spare ice chest.
10) Have a sense of humor and keep things in perspective. Let’s be honest: the best memories don’t usually include a picture-perfect holiday! Sometimes things go wrong and just don’t work out the way we want. Roll with the punches, knowing you have done your very best to show love and gratitude to your friends and family. So pour a glass of wine, fill up your plate, and grab a seat at the table, because after all, it is the time spent together that matters most.
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