5 Thanksgiving time-savers every cook should know

Nov 13, 2007 at 1:59 p.m. ET

If you're planning on hosting Thanksgiving at your home this year, chances are your plate is all ready full. Your list may be jam packed with planning, shopping, cleaning and cooking. Take a deep breath and let these five Thanksgiving time-saving tips help you save some time in the kitchen and help reduce your holiday stress.

Thankgiving time-saver tip #1:

Make the pies in advance
By baking and freezing your pies in advance, you are guaranteed to cut your time and clean up in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day. While many of the traditional holiday fare can be frozen in advance, a good place to start is with pies and other desserts. They freeze beautifully and can go straight from your freezer to your table with little effort. Good choices for freezable pies are pumpkin, apple, cherry and pecan.

Other good dessert choices to stock your freezer include cheesecakes, bread pudding and most pre-baked cookies. Cool your pies and wrap with tin foil, place in a gallon-sized freezer bag, label and freeze. When you are ready to serve, thaw for about two hours then place in the oven on warm or 200 degrees F to warm up to that "fresh baked" taste. You should avoid freezing any pies made with meringue top. These do not hold the same texture once thawed.

Thanksgiving time-saver tip # 2:

Host a potluck holiday meal
Make Thanksgiving a community affair by simply calling upon friends and family to bring traditional side dishes or desserts while you provide the main course, stuffing and gravy. Just be sure that each guest knows specifically which dish to bring. Items like green bean casseroles, mashed potatoes, yams, rolls and green salads are excellent choices.

If you leave the request for holiday potluck dishes too general, like: "just bring a side dish big enough to feed 12 people," you may end up with four green bean casseroles and not much else. You may even want to make out a list of possible side dishes and write down the name of the guest who will be providing it.

Thanksgiving time-saver tip #3:

Serve Thanksgiving buffet style
A buffet style Thanksgiving meal is a great choice if you would like a relaxed atmosphere. Your guests are free to roam around and choose their own seating, instead of you spending hours fretting over table seating arrangements. Another bonus to the buffet is you can easily use disposable tableware in place of your best china and silverware.

After all the cooking and house work you will have done to prepare for the event, spending two or more hours in the kitchen on clean up duty is just a cruel punishment. You have been a gracious and accommodating host, give yourself a break, your guest won't mind using a plastic fork, really.

Thanksgiving time-saver tip #4:

Ask for help
Invite a guest who is a close friend or family member to arrive an hour before your other guests to help you prepare and set up. Make it fun by serving wine (or apple cider) and cheese while you set up the table and other finishing touches. You'll be glad you did!

Thanksgiving time-saver tip #5:

Carve out a prep day
As your guests arrive, the last thing you want is to be stressing out in the kitchen over chopped onions and missing cranberry sauce. Pick the Tuesday or Wednesday before Turkey Day to prepare in advance. Lots more can be done ahead of time than just getting the turkey out of the freezer to thaw -- everything from mixing the stuffing to making rolls from scratch to organizing the canned goods you will be using. Pick a few things off your cooking list that you think can be easily accomplished before hand and give it a try.

Whether you are hosting Thanksgiving for your family of four or you have your entire family tree on your guest list, these five Thanksgiving time-saver tips are sure bets to cut your time in the kitchen and reduce your holiday stress.

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