Thanksgiving is about spending time with family and friends, recognizing what we’re grateful and thankful for and breaking bread with the people we love. It doesn’t need to be a complicated meal with too many components. And while it definitely is a special occasion (and my favorite dinner of the year!), the side dishes can be simple recipes that you repeat every year.
Included here is a list of what you can organize ahead to keep your Thanksgiving Day less stressful.
Think like a caterer – the entire meal can’t be cooked from start to finish on the day of Thanksgiving. Create a list of everything that needs to be done for dinner and do anything possible in advance.
I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!
What To Do Now
- MENU! Now is the time!!! If you’re hosting and you haven’t written out your menu, do it today. If you’re attending Thanksgiving as a guest, ask what you can bring.
- Order your turkey. I usually order an organic turkey from Central Market in Houston. This year I’m adding a couple of bone-in turkey breasts for extra white meat. Avoid “self-basting” turkeys injected with anything from chicken fat to salt to chemicals.
- Buy the wine and beverages you will serve. This can be the first thing you do because the alcohol won’t go bad! Yes, it’s delicious, but it also makes your whole house smell amazing. Wine can be planned for and purchased a couple of weeks in advance, as well as sparkling apple cider for youngsters and sparkling water for the table. Each bottle will yield roughly 4 glasses. Keep in mind if you are serving wine before you sit for dinner. It’s also fun to have hot mulled apple cider or hot spiced wine on the stove while your guests arrive. This year for 20 people (with 4 non-drinkers), I’m purchasing 4 bottles of sparkling wine, 6 white and 3 red. I actually have a magnum of red for each table, and we might not even open all three. But they will look fun and festive on the table. I will also purchase 4 bottles of sparkling apple or pear cider!
- Make your pie crust and freeze it. You can freeze it in a disk to transfer to the fridge two days before you need it. Or roll it out and fill your pie plate before you freeze it. Wrap well in plastic wrap and foil.
- Purchase any dry goods that you need for Thanksgiving, they won’t go bad and you’ll have less to deal with later. Stock up on baking supplies like canned pumpkin, spices, flour and sugars, boxed dressing if you use it, chicken stock, and butter.
A Week Ahead
- Get everything out for your table. Count napkins, plates, silverware, glasses, wine glasses, champagne glasses, etc. Set the table a few days before, at least 3 days ahead of time. Go ahead and check it off your list. It will make your whole house feel festive.
- Plan the centerpiece. Whether it’s simple fall leaves and pine cones or gorgeous fall flowers, have it ready a day or two before Thanksgiving. Use a gold or silver pen to write place cards on magnolia leaves or use burlap twine or ribbon to tie your napkins in beautiful bundles.
- Shop for food. Your turkey can be ordered from a butcher two to three weeks in advance, but make sure to pick it up at least three to four days ahead so it has time to thaw in the refrigerator.
- Make cranberry sauce. This will hold for several days in advance, so this is another easy thing to cross off your list early. Or make it now and freeze it! Transfer to the fridge two days ahead of time.
- Set out serving pieces. Label everything with sticky notes so if friends or family are helping you plate dishes at the last minute, they will know what to grab.
- Delegate to dinner attendees. Write down your entire menu from appetizers to dessert and assign some items to family members. You can offer to share the recipe you were planning to use to make sure it melds with your menu.
Two Days Ahead
- Make salad dressing. A few days in advance, make the vinaigrette for your salad course if you’re having one.
- Wash vegetables and chop ingredients. Have everything ready to go. Trim and chop what you’ll need in recipes one to two days in advance so you’re ready to dive into cooking. Mise en place!
One Day Ahead
- Make a do-ahead appetizer: Marinated olives or small mozzarella balls, caprese skewers or a dip and crudités, blue cheese with honey and pecans, cranberry meatballs (make the sauce and put everything in a slow cooker the day of). Download my Simple Holiday Appetizers & Cocktails ebook for more ideas!
- Dessert can be baked the day before Thanksgiving or early the morning of Thanksgiving to free up the oven.
- Make whipped cream for dessert! No one wants to hear the loud mixer whirling in the midst of conversation!
- Assemble any casserole-type dishes that can be baked the day of. Green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, dressing or stuffing can all be assembled one to two days ahead and refrigerated.
- Make your mashed potatoes. Cover them with a thin layer of melted butter, then cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The butter will act as a sealant to keep the mashed potatoes from drying out. As you reheat them on the stove, the butter will be mixed in with the potatoes. Heat them in a slow cooker if you want to free up oven or stove space.