With Halloween behind us and the sugar-haze lifting from all of our trick-or-treating excursions, it’s time to focus our attention on the next holiday at hand: Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is a favorite in our food-loving household. My husband and I love to plan the menu, host our families, and enjoy everything this day of gratitude and grub has to offer.
We’ve hosted Thanksgiving for the past seven years (give or take a few years), and in that time we’ve learned many valuable lessons as home cooks and hosts. We’ve tried our fair share of trendy recipes and ways to cook a turkey. We’ve mistimed oven usage and have discovered new family favorites. Quite possibly the most important lesson we’ve learned while hosting over the years: Planning is ESSENTIAL for everyone’s sanity and enjoyment.
The more planning I do when it comes to Thanksgiving the more time I save the day of, and the more time I gain for myself to enjoy the meal, my family, and my guests. Instead of waking up stressed and rushed the morning of Thanksgiving I can rest assured that my planning and preparations will leave me enough time to cook up some delicious food and still get to enjoy my coffee and Macy’s Parade with my kids instead of jumping out of bed and straight into the kitchen.
How To Save Time On Thanksgiving By Planning Ahead
Here is my planning guide for gaining time this holiday season and making your Thanksgiving enjoyable for both you and your guests!
Two Weeks Before
- Clean out your fridge(s), freezer and pantry. Wipe down surfaces, make space and throw away old and expired canned goods and spices. Make lists of essential ingredients that you will need to replenish!
- Get your head count settled. Text, email, or call your loved ones and try to get that head count figured out so you know how many mouths you will be feeding!
- Start making lists. Make your lists for what you will need for food and hosting (napkins, decor, etc).
- Assign food dishes to guests. If you want certain guests to bring certain dishes or drinks now is the time to communicate so they can start making decisions.
One Week Before
- Buy your turkey! Turkeys need time to thaw!
- Buy canned goods and ingredients that will keep until you need to prepare them.
- Make a week meal plan for cooking, and a timeline for the day of Thanksgiving. When will you need the stove vs. the oven? Who will be cooking what? When should drinks be chilling?
Three To Four Days Before
- Clean up the house. Get the whole family involved! Assign zones or rooms to clean up so everyone can pitch in.
- Take that turkey out of the freezer!
- Buy produce.
- Make sides that will refrigerate/freeze and thaw well. Depending on what you are making, some sides or desserts could be frozen or refrigerated. Pie dough, casseroles, or cranberry sauce are all good candidates to be prepared ahead of time.
One To Two Days Before
- Make your desserts. This allows time for pies to set and frees up oven space the day of Thanksgiving!
- Make sides that have not been prepared yet and can be popped in the oven to warm up.
- Lay out serving dishes. I like to lay out the various serving dishes the night before to start setting up the buffet. This ensures I have all the dishes I need, and that everything is washed and ready to go!
- Cook the rest of your dishes! I make our rolls and mashed potatoes the day of – some things will always taste better fresh out of the oven or off the stove!
- Cook the turkey! The star of the show!
- ENJOY. This is the most important part of the day. You have planned, prepped, put in the work, and now it’s time for you, too, to grab a plate, pour a glass, and revel in the full table in front of you!
- Save the dishes for tomorrow! If cleaning up a sink full of dishes at the end of your festivities brings you down, there’s nothing wrong with leaving them until the next day.
While I LOVE a good new recipe, we’ve settled on some tried-and-true dishes that we love to repeat annually. I have made a recipe binder specifically for Thanksgiving, and it lives in my pantry. It holds previous years meal plans as well. My personal Thanksgiving Bible is Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well by Sam Sifton. This book is a true wealth of basic knowledge that can teach any home cook how to up their game and host a fantastic Thanksgiving meal!
A valuable albeit cliché lesson we have learned along the way is: Less is always more. Simplicity always trumps complexity and at the end of the day no one will really care about some burned brussel sprouts as long as family and friends are gathered together.