How to Stay Calm and Create the Perfect Thanksgiving Menu, Trust Me!

3 years ago

Thanksgiving is only one week away (say what?), so it is time to get planning!  I know things can seem overwhelming. The turkey alone can be intimidating for many people, and then you add in the potatoes, the sides, the pie, the gravy, the stuffing. It is enough to scare even experienced cooks away from hosting Thanksgiving.  But it doesn't have to be!  Just be smart in your menu planning and follow a few key tips to keep yourself calm, collected, and in control for the big day.  If you play your cards right, I bet you'll even enjoy it!

Let's start with designing that menu.  Follow this flowchart, complete with recommended recipes, to make your menu.

Creating the Perfect Thanksgiving Menu
All the recipes should be linked in the infographic above.  But just in case, here's all the links in one place, just for you: Cranberry-infused rum | Amaretto cider kiss | Fall fruit sangria | Cherry whiskey smash | Chocolate roasted pecans | Savory pumpkin dip | Pear and goat cheese crostini | 50 vegetarian mains | Roast heritage turkey | Sausage sage stuffing | Spicy chorizo cornbread dressing | Parmesan leek sourdough stuffing | Spicy wild rice mushroom dressing | Ginger-glazed carrots | Mashed root vegetables | Pan roasted Brussels sprouts | Braised kale | Kale and delicata salad | Slow Cooker Sweet Potatoes | Caramelized onion mashed potatoes | Grilled Hasselback | Pumpkin yeast bread | Skillet cornbread | Pumpkin cornbread | Turkey gravy | Wild mushroom gravy | Pan gravy | Wineberry salad | Slow-cooker cranberry sauce | Orange cranberry sauce | Apple pie | Cranberry apple pie | Bourbon pecan pie | Pumpkin pie | Pumpkin butterscotch pudding |

 Now that you've got your menu, let's talk about staying calm during the whole cooking-a-big-Thanksgiving-feast deal.


1. Don't overdo it. Use the infographic to plan your menu. If you only have four people, you can get away with just potatoes OR sweet potatoes, rather than both. And if you really can't decide between yeast bread or cornbread, try what I'm doing: Use one as your bread and incorporate the other into your stuffing!

2. Pick at least a few recipes that can be made a day or more in advance. I'll be making my ginger-glazed carrots on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and gently reheating them just before dinner on Thursday. Some recipes, like my mom's wineberry salad and Bon Appetit's mashed root vegetables with bacon vinaigrette, are even better when they are made ahead of time!

Note: Things NOT to do in advance: Chop potatoes, apples, or other produce that will oxidize and brown when exposed to air. It won't be pretty.

3. Minimize the recipes for day-of cooking that call for the oven, unless they can be cooked before the turkey and allowed to sit, or they take less than 20 minutes in the oven (and can therefore be roasted while the turkey rests and is carved).

4. Use some different cooking methods to clear up oven and stove space. Find a slow cooker recipe, like coconut pecan sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce, that can simmer while you do the rest of the cooking. Or pick something that you can cook in a rice cooker, or that doesn't need to be cooked at all!

5. If your guests want to lend a hand and bring a dish, have them bring one of the following: pie, cranberry sauce, drinks, no-cook appetizers, or already-baked bread. This way, you can avoid scrambling to fit their dish on the stovetop or finding oven time for it, and everyone can be more relaxed to enjoy the day.


6. Pull all your recipes together. Make a complete grocery list. I like to sort my list by grocery store location--all the produce gets grouped together, all the bulk ingredients get one part of the list, etc. Don't forget to consider drinks for adults and kids alike!

7. Before you head to the store, do a quick organizing job on both the refrigerator and the pantry. There are three reasons for this: a) You will want to clear up space for your incoming grocery haul. b) It will make your Thanksgiving ingredients easier to find when you need them. c) You may discover ingredients that you don't need to purchase after all. When I was organizing my pantry this weekend, I stumbled upon an extra bag of brown sugar that had fallen to the back…that's one less thing to get at the store!


8. Go through all your Thanksgiving recipes and highlight steps or portions that can be prepped in the days leading up to the holiday. This could be as simple as cutting up bread for stuffing, or as complex as making one of your make-ahead recipes. Don't forget about vital steps like brining your turkey! Make a list of all these steps and recipe pieces on a note card and stick it on your refrigerator so that you don't forget anything.

9. Start early. Beginning on the Sunday or Monday of Thanksgiving week, do a little prep work each day. Caramelize some onions while you eat dinner one night, make bread crumbs while supper is in the oven, chop veggies while packing up lunch for the next day…you get the idea. Even getting tiny little steps, like chopping an onion, out of the way will make things run so much more smoothly on Turkey Day.

10. Make a schedule for Thursday. Start with your hoped-for dinnertime, and work backward. Don't forget to leave time for allowing the turkey to rest, and give yourself some flexibility in case something goes wrong.

Here's a sample, using just the turkey:

4:00 -- Desired dinnertime

3:20 -- Turkey should be out of the oven

11:30 -- Get the turkey in the oven

I'd work around this to figure out when to fit in my side dishes, potatoes and stuffing.

Using a schedule, you'll know when you need to start prepping ingredients and when to start cooking!

What are your best tips for staying calm while making Thanksgiving dinner?

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