6 Thanksgiving Day Preparation Tips
Thanksgiving is just two weeks away! Whether that fact makes you terrified or ecstatic, we are here to help! Keeping it real, hosting Thanksgiving can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time. However, having a plan in place can help alleviate the stress so you can enjoy Thanksgiving too! We have 6 tried and true Thanksgiving Day preparation tips. Read on for ideas for inviting guests, menu planning, prepping your kitchen for the big day, decorating your home, and even advice on creating a timeline for food prep. There are even some suggestions on adding those extra special touches that will leave your guests feeling loved and appreciated. You won’t want to miss these ideas for keeping Thanksgiving stress from gobbling up any semblance of sanity you are clinging to.
Family and friends gathering together definitely makes the Thanksgiving celebration more special. Create your guest list with your entertaining space in mind. Inviting loved ones early in the planning process will help increase the possibility of them joining in your festivities. Additionally, having your headcount early will assist you in many of the timeline tasks to follow. While a last minute invitation to include loved ones who may not have other plans is always acceptable, we suggest giving guests anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months of notice.
Sending out invitations that include specific details is always a great idea for big holiday celebrations. Stress and emotions sometimes run high, and a few details briefly highlighted on an invitation can help prevent confusion and misunderstandings. Whether you send a digital invitation via email or a beautifully designed and printed card in the mail, there are a few important considerations to make and thoughtful details to include so guests can feel prepared and comfortable.
Prior to sending out invitations, consider the type of Thanksgiving celebration you’d like to host. Here are a few questions to get you thinking. Do you like formal, dressy occasions or casual, relaxed affairs? Will there be time for mingling, watching the Thanksgiving Day parade, big football games of the day and playing games? Do you want guests to arrive early to assist in the meal prep? Would you like guests to contribute food, dessert, or supplies?
With answers to questions like these in mind, you are ready to add important details to your invitations. While it is recommended that a specific meal time is not listed (in case meal prep or important guests are running behind and the time for eating needs to be delayed), be sure to include a timeframe for arrival and whether appetizers and snacks will be served ahead of the meal. Indicate dress standards (dressy, Sunday best, casual, game day attire, etc.,) so guests can plan accordingly. Make mention of food assignments if any, or include “call for food assignment” as part of the R.S.V.P. instructions. If any special games or entertainment will be included as part of your celebration, let guests know ahead of time. “Join us for turkey and tailgating” or “Join us for Thanksgiving, board games and dessert” are two ways to convey additional activities beyond the traditional meal. Guests may have multiple commitments on Thanksgiving Day, and knowing your expectations will help them in their scheduling and replying.
Planning the Menu
Planning early for your Thanksgiving meal is advised. Because the food is the star of the day, proper planning is paramount. I suggest brainstorming your Thanksgiving menu 3-4 weeks ahead of time. I like to begin by collecting my “must have” favorite family recipes (turkey brine, my mom’s rolls, broccoli salad, yam soufflé, carrot casserole, chocolate pie, etc.). Once those traditional menu items have been added to the list, I like to brainstorm additional menu items that might be needed to create a well-rounded meal or might simply be appreciated by my guests. Be sure to consider their culinary specialties and Thanksgiving traditions, as well as any dietary restrictions. If any new recipes have been added to your Thanksgiving Day menu, be sure to test them in advance to avoid any disappointment on the big day! Make note of any specialty or hard-to-find ingredients or kitchen tools/gadgets that you may need to shop for early (meat thermometer).
Once your menu has been planned, keep organized by creating a Thanksgiving recipe notebook. Type up and print out all recipes needed for your menu. Put them in sheet protectors inside a notebook to keep them safe from spills come cooking day. Include paper and sticky notes for serving size calculations and any ingredient adjustments.
With your recipes organized and serving sizes calculated, create a list of all of the ingredients that you will need. Dividing your ingredients list into two columns—perishable and non-perishable—is highly recommended.
Prior to heading to the store, take inventory of your pantry, spice cupboard, refrigerator and freezer, being sure to check for freshness and quantities. Cross-check your current inventory with your shopping list, being sure to check off items from your grocery list that you already have on hand. This will cut down on unnecessary spending.
I recommend purchasing as many non-perishable items from your list as early as you can. This allows you to take advantage of sales, avoid scarcity situations and last minute holiday crowds. Save items like fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, dairy and poultry for purchasing the week of Thanksgiving.
Preparing the Kitchen
If the food is the star of the show on Thanksgiving, your kitchen is the headquarters for making it so. Preparing your kitchen for the big day should start several weeks in advance. Begin by giving your kitchen a thorough cleaning. Reorganize cupboards and drawers. Check inventory on items you will need for cooking, serving, food storage and cleanup (pots, pans, dishes, glasses, silverware, serving bowls and spoons, Ziploc bags, foil, saran wrap, disposable containers, garbage bags, cleaning supplies) as you prep your kitchen. Attend to spills in your microwave and oven.
Don’t forget to make room in your refrigerator, freezer & pantry for Thanksgiving meal ingredient storage. There are few things as frustrating as coming home with armloads of groceries only to find no room to put them. Avoid the chaos by giving your pantry a good reorganization. Dispose of empty packages and expired items. Donate extra non-perishable items to your local food bank. After clearing up some space in your pantry, you are ready to tackle your refrigerator and freezer. A week or two prior to Thanksgiving, rid your fridge and freezer of expired food and condiments. Use up any leftovers.
Planning the Food Prep Timeline
Timing the actual prep and cooking of the meal can be the hardest part about hosting Thanksgiving, even for accomplished cooks! There never seems to be enough room on the stove or in the refrigerator or oven! About 2 weeks before, review your menu and determine a food prep schedule. Decide which parts of the meal can successfully be prepped ahead, saving your time, oven and stove for the things that must be prepared the day of. If any parts of your menu can be baked or cooked and then frozen to preserve freshness, even better! Remember, if you are purchasing a frozen turkey, be sure to plan for the recommended number of days for thawing + 1 extra day for good measure.
For items that can’t be prepped ahead, check the recipes and determine the amount of cooking time and temperatures needed. Pair items that can be in the oven simultaneously to maximize the use of your oven. When making your cooking schedule, keep your meal service time in mind and work backwards. Allow a little wiggle room for any mishaps or extra cooking time needed.
Try to do as much prep work—such as chopping and dicing—ahead of Thanksgiving as possible. There are so many kitchen tools, utensils and bowls needed to prep for such a large meal. The amount of washing and cleanup on Thanksgiving will be drastically reduced if as much meal prep is done before Thanksgiving Day.
Don’t be afraid to recruit help! While “too many cooks in the kitchen” can cause chaos, not having enough help can be disastrous too. Friends and family can help prep or store food at their homes and/or even reheat or warm items you’ve already prepared and bring them hot at service time.
Decorating Your Home and Dining Space
Creating an inviting atmosphere for guests is an important part of Thanksgiving Day preparation. Magazines and the internet are full of beautiful inspiration for fall decorating. Harvest colored leaf garlands, pumpkins and gourds make for natural décor choices. Many of these items can be gilded in gold, silver or copper for a formal look. Cozy pillows, throw blankets and flickering candles can bring in that warm and loving feeling to your home. The best part of this Thanksgiving Day preparation is that it can be done weeks in advance! Just switch out your Halloween-specific items, leaving anything that reflects fall and add a few personal touches. If Thanksgiving Day football will play a big role in your Thanksgiving festivities, you can even create a tailgating area with team specific décor and accents like pom poms and pennants!
In addition to staging your home, your dining table can be styled ahead of time too. I like to tackle my table décor and place settings a week in advance, freeing up my time during the week of Thanksgiving for cleaning and cooking. Thoroughly clean your table and chairs. Iron linens such as tablecloths, runners and napkins and lay them as the foundation for your table design. Choose your china, stemware and glasses and make sure they are sparkling clean prior to setting them in place. Gather beautiful Thanksgiving accents to complement your linens and china. These could include beautiful candlesticks, more fall gourds, pumpkins and foliage, figurines to represent the first Thanksgiving, turkeys and more. Centerpieces can be made, place cards personalized with guests names and Thanksgiving favors prepped ahead and arranged to create a beautiful tablescape. Add candles of varying heights for ambience.
Adding Special Touches for Guests
Show guests how thankful you are for them with a few special touches. If children will be in attendance at your celebration, arrange for a few easy activities and crafts to keep them occupied while the meal is being finished or adults are visiting. Turkey coloring pages or Thanksgiving themed activity sheets and small crayon bundles can be set out to keep them entertained.
Arrange for soothing music to be played while guests are gathering. Music has a way of keeping spirits happy and light.
Set up an “I am thankful for…” tree in a central location using foraged branches displayed in a large jar or vase. Provide die cut leaves in various shapes and colors for guests to record the things they are most grateful for. Leaves can be hole-punched and attached to the tree with twine.
Everybody loves Thanksgiving leftovers. Invite guests to take home their own Thanksgiving favorites by providing containers with cute printable tags. Pieces of pie can be taken home in individual pie boxes, while other meal favorites can be stored in takeout containers. Guests will love being able to enjoy their favorite dishes the next day. Add a printable tag or label with the family name and the food item being stored for easy identification. Bonus: by sending more of the food home with guests, you will have less to package up and store yourself!
Following these 6 Thanksgiving Day preparation tips can help you break down what can otherwise be an overwhelming process into more manageable steps. From inviting guests, to meal planning, shopping and prepping the kitchen and food to decorating and adding those special touches, the memories you create over a delicious meal will be well worth your efforts. Happy Thanksgiving!
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