Tips for Planning Thanksgiving Dinner

By Tracey Dowdy

Just thinking about Thanksgiving dinner has me distracted and drooling. I love to plan and prepare the meal – entertaining family and friends is one of my greatest joys. Not everyone feels the same way – in fact for some it’s a source of stress and more like punishment than a celebration.

Whether you’re energized by the opportunity to host or the thought gives you heart palpitations, these suggestions can help you put together a special dinner that will be memorable for all the right reasons.

A month to 3 weeks out:

    • Finalize your guest list. The number of guests will determine the size of the turkey but also the number of sides and desserts you’ll need.
    • Plan your menu. Are you serving a casual buffet or a more formal dinner where guests will be seated around the table? Any allergies, sensitivities, or dietary restrictions? Look to sites like FoodNetwork, Epicurious, Food and Wine, or Southern Living for inspiration and menu planning suggestions.
    • Take inventory of your supplies: Do you have a roast pan large enough for the turkey? A gravy boat? A corkscrew? Take stock of what you have, what you need and what you can ask your guest to provide.
    • Delegate where possible. Not crafty? Ask someone to bring the centrepiece. Have a guest that hates to cook? They can bring plates, cutlery, or wine.
    • Once you’ve set the menu, go step by step through those recipes and create a comprehensive shopping list of everything you’ll need. Divide your list into perishable and non-perishables.
    • Decide on your décor. Of course Pinterest has a million and one options, but HGTV has great suggestions for simple Thanksgiving centrepieces, and Parents Magazine has fun crafts you can do with your kids.

Two weeks out:

    • Start clearing out freezer and fridge space.
    • Confirm your recipes. Ree Drummond’s site Pioneer Woman Cooks is a great resource for recipes that use pantry staples and ingredients you may already have on hand and Real Simple has dozens of options for easy-to-prepare recipes.
    • Look at the menu and prep anything that can be made ahead and freeze it. – e.g. pie crust, bread dough, casseroles.

One week before:

    • Shop for non-perishable pantry items, décor and paper goods.
    • Create your cooking schedule. Consider the turkey will be in the oven most of the day so think about how much oven time you’ll need for casseroles or desserts.
    • Make a plan for leftovers. If you’re guests are staying over, think of ways you can re-purpose dishes to feed overnight guests.

Three days before:

    • Start thawing the turkey.
    • Shop for perishables.
    • Pull out and wash any serving pieces that have been sitting in storage.

Two days before:

    • Make ahead dishes like cranberry sauce, punch (minus carbonated soda or pop), stuffing, pie crust, bread dough.

One day before:

    • Prepare garnishes, chop vegetables for salads or sides.
    • Bake pies.
    • Set the table.
    • Take items out of the freezer and place in fridge to thaw.

Thanksgiving Day:

    • Get the turkey in the oven.
    • Stick to your plan as much as possible but don’t panic if something goes wrong.

The most important thing is to take a deep breath and enjoy your guests. Yes they’ve come for dinner but they’ve also come to see you. With a little planning and a little delegation, this could be your best Thanksgiving yet!

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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