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Thanksgiving Prep

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Thanksgiving is two weeks away. Can you believe it? I feel like the holiday season has really snuck up on me this year. Maybe it’s because it still feels like early fall outside, with sunny weather and temps in the 60s and 70s. It sure doesn’t feel like winter is on its way in New Mexico.

Two weeks might seem like plenty of time to prepare for Thanksgiving. Enough time that you might consider putting off any preparation until next week or the week after. But by doing a little bit each week leading up to the big day, you can have a smooth-sailing Thanksgiving, no last minute craziness and lots of fun family time.

I thought I would share my “schedule” of sorts with you today. I’ve hosted Thanksgiving four years in a row at my house. Though last year we ate at my dad’s house, I was still the one mainly in charge of the menu, ingredient shopping, and cooking.

Most of the items on this schedule assume that you will be hosting or at least in charge of the Thanksgiving meal. Keep in mind that this list is not all-inclusive. I am focusing on the food preparation aspect of Thanksgiving. I am not including tasks such as table arrangements, place settings, etc.


General Planning

Host or Guest?

Sort out the guest list. Do you know who and how many are planning on attending?

Will you be hosting or will you be a guest this year? If you will be a guest: find out if your host is planning on preparing the whole meal or requesting dishes to be brought in, potluck style.

If you haven’t already, make sure your travel arrangements are in order if you will be traveling.

The Menu

Begin planning the menu. Start with sorting out the recipes for your “must haves,” and your family’s traditional dishes.

After you’ve decided on the dishes you know you will have (your favorite sweet potatoes, your family’s pecan pie, etc.), start thinking about what’s missing. Do you need more sides? Appetizers? Drinks? Bread? Filling in the gaps is a great opportunity to introduce a few new dishes.

Print off all of your recipes. Punch holes in the sheets and place them in a binder or folder with brackets. Label that folder “THANKSGIVING RECIPES.” This will make every year from here on out much easier.

Take stock of your freezer and pantry. Make a list of items you are out of or running low on.

Test new recipes you plan to serve this year.


2 Weeks Before Thanksgiving

Purchase non-perishable essentials. The earlier the better, so you can avoid sold-out merchandise, crowded grocery stores and last minute shopping trips.

Shop with a list to avoid overspending.

Order or purchase a turkey. Store it in the freezer if you bring it home earlier than 4-5 days before Thanksgiving.

Make requests or assignments to your guests (if you want people to bring food). Give them plenty of time to prepare for their dish and/or find a new recipe to share.

Plan entertainment options (or delegate this to someone else). Do you like to plan games on Turkey Day? Do you like to attend a movie together as a family? Are there younger children that might need something to keep busy with while the adults prepare the food?


1 Week Before

Prepare any items that can be made in advance and stored in the freezer. Such items might include:

  - Pie Crusts

  - Toasted day old bread for stuffing

  - Browned sausage for stuffing


2 - 5 Days Before

Thaw your turkey in the fridge. You might need a full five days depending on the size of your turkey. Store it in a large plastic bag to catch any leaks.

Prep work is essential for a simpler Thanksgiving. Chop onions, celery, carrots, and any small items that are part of a larger task and store them in individual containers or small Ziploc bags.

Cook anything in advance that stores well in the fridge. Such items might include:

  - Mashed Potatoes

  - Cranberry Sauce

  - Sweet Potato Casserole

  - Stuffing (I assemble it, but don’t bake till day of)


The Day Before

Assemble casseroles: Items like green bean casserole store well assembled in the fridge. Then you just cook it on Thanksgiving.

Turkey prep: Make sure the turkey is on its way to being defrosting. Prepare and soak in brine if you will prepare your turkey that way.

Bake pies: Pies are great made the day before. Pumpkin pie stores well in the fridge and Pecan can be stored at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.

Plan your schedule: What time will you be eating? Allow enough time for the turkey to cook. Decide when you will begin what dishes or when something needs to come out of the oven.

Clean your house: It is so much easier to tackle a big day in the kitchen when it starts out clean.


Thanksgiving Day

Prepare and roast your turkey: The turkey is what takes the longest. Allow enough time for the turkey to roast and rest before dinnertime.

Stick to your cooking schedule: Especially if you are having guests. The worst feeling is having everyone waiting around for the dinner to be ready. The schedule will keep you calm and under control in the kitchen.

Entertain the kids: If small children are present, have something to for them to do (or delegate that to someone else). Be sure it is an activity that won’t create extra mess.

Cook or warm: Now's the time to cook any of your preassembled dishes that are stored in the freezer or refrigerator.

Set the table: Or, better yet, ask someone to do it for you!

Clean as you go: The mess is so much less overwhelming if you wash dishes and/or run the dishwasher throughout the day. If you have extra hands, it is helpful if one or two people are assigned what I call “damage control duty.”

Enjoy your family! Yes, it’s important for the food prep and meal to go well. We all want that, but what really matters is family. Express your thankfulness and have a good time!

Katie Goodman believes that part of the goodness in life is sharing good food with friends and family. She's a work-at-home mom determined to make family meal time a priority while providing a variety of healthy and delicious food choices. She blogs at goodLife {eats}, where she shares what she finds good in the kitchen and in life.
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