With only 16 days left until the main turkey event, now is the time to start planning. Don’t wait until the very last minute so you’ve got to fight your way out of the store with the last box of Stove Top or pumpkin pie mix.
I first shared this post in 2010, but it’s still more relevant than ever, and has some great reader tips on it, so I wanted to bring it back into the picture for everyone who is preparing themselves for the upcoming feast!
- Start cleaning your house now
If you do a little bit every day, eliminating clutter and getting things in order, you’ll have a lot less to clean when Thanksgiving arrives. If you’re having guests over, focus on those areas that they will be seeing and get your family to pitch in. We’ve all got to learn to clean up our own messes as we make them or quickly thereafter– not 3 days later. My family is infamous for this habit, and it often looks like a bomb went off after a long weekend!
- Pre-order your turkey (especially if it’s farm raised)
We actually ordered our farm fresh turkey at the beginning of October from the poultry farm down the street from us and it may indeed be too late for you to order a bird from your local farm. But a frozen bird can be just as good if you brine it beforehand. If you’ll be using a frozen turkey, consider buying it early (like now) so you’ll end up with the size you need (about 1-2 pounds of turkey per person) but don’t forget to thaw it out the day before either (or two days early if you’re brining)!
- Start buying supplies
If you begin purchasing the non-perishable items already, you will have a lot less to shop for on the days leading up to Thanksgiving, you won’t have to go to four stores to find what you need last minute, and you can space out the spending a bit more so it fits into your weekly grocery budget.
- Plan your menu
I like to go with several classics that I basically only make on Thanksgiving. To be honest, I would love to eat them at other times of the year, too, but I just haven’t gotten around to doing turkey dinner in July yet. If you want to do something new and exciting, consider trying it out a few weeks earlier. You don’t need the stress of trying new recipes and them turning out differently than you expect. I also tend to make everything myself, from stuffing to cranberry relish. It’s not only because I prefer homemade, but because you just can’t get most of the prepared things here in Germany. The one thing I do still use is Libby’s canned pumpkin but this year I’ll be using some of the Baby Bear pumpkins we grew!
- Make a time map
I like to write down exactly what I need to prepare and the day I intend to make it (I bake the pies a day early to free up the kitchen space). I consider it my Thanksgiving Day Game Plan. Then I go through and build myself a time line for turkey day so I know how much time I need to chop, prepare and mix. I may not follow the time table exactly in the end, but it helps keep me from running around like a crazy person during the last hour (although I do a bit of that too). And since my dining table is in our kitchen, I don’t want the guests seeing me freak out! Plus, it helps me to remember all the various dishes I’m making so I don’t end up forgetting to bake the rolls — as I did a few years ago!
- Make as much as you can ahead of time
As I mentioned, I like to bake the pies and cheesecake a day earlier. And I start brining the turkey 24 hours in advance too. Because I make stuffing from old pieces of bread, I actually started a bag in my freezer with the pieces already chopped up. Anything you can do a day or so ahead of time to save yourself stress — do it!
- Make decorations a week ahead or earlier
Don’t be running in four directions, trying to build a centerpiece while you baste the turkey and mix pies. If you want someone else to do the centerpiece for you, by all means let them do it the morning of — but if you are the chef on Thanksgiving day, just be the chef.
- Solicit help
In the past few years,we have always had helpers in our kitchen for Thanksgiving. Some years I’ve even had help the day before. Yes, the pies did get over-salted one year, and sometimes giving instructions can be tedious, but having extra hands to peal, chop and stir are invaluable. If you are willing to give up that much control, host a pot luck Thanksgiving dinner, where the guest brings sides and/or desert so you just focus on the turkey and drinks (or something to that effect).
- Budget in a break on the big day
Just because you CAN be superwoman and wake up at 5am to get everything done in one day does not mean you HAVE to! I’ll never forget waking up to the house smelling like turkey and other yummy foods when I was a kid. But back then we also ate at about 2pm…and now we eat about 5 or 6pm on Saturday. So if you need to arrange the day’s meal a bit later in the day so you can fit it all in, do it. And make sure you allow yourself a few minutes to sit down and drink some water or iced tea in between shifts.
- Your tip!
What do you do to make Thanksgiving run smoothly?