10 Tips for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving
Plan your meal ahead of time and save yourself some stress this Thanksgiving.
Don’t Wait for Turkey Day to Start Preparing
The countdown is on: Thanksgiving is just around the corner. While your mouth may water when you envision the meal, your mind may race at the thought of all of the work involved in pulling off this holiday feast. Instead of worrying, start planning—now. The steps you take in the days leading up to Thanksgiving will make a difference in your stress level on Turkey Day.
Click on for advance planning tips.
Map Out Your Menu
While you may think you know what’s cooking on Thanksgiving, it pays to spell out what your feast will feature ahead of time. This will ensure no last-minute surprises and allow you adequate time to procure and prepare each item. There’s more to the meal than the turkey. Think through the entire dinner—including appetizers, side dishes, desserts, and drinks. Select the recipe you’ll be using for each dish and determine the correct amount to make for your guest count.
Get Your List On
An accurate shopping list is key to a successful Thanksgiving. Read over each recipe in your menu plan and create a shopping list a few days to a week in advance. If your shopping trip requires visits to multiple stores, create a separate list for each venue to help organize your efforts. Include any specific kitchen tools and gadgets—such as a turkey baster, meat thermometer, and roasting pan—and don’t forget to stock up on spices!
Shop ’Til You Drop—Ahead of Time
Why wait and get stuck standing in long lines with last-minute shoppers? Shelves may be swept bare of popular items if you save shopping until the day before the holiday. Beat the crowds and save yourself stress by using your lists as a guide to gathering most of your groceries ahead of time.
Make and Bake Early
Because there’s so much to do on Thanksgiving Day, it pays to start food preparations a few days to a week in advance. Consider baking and freezing desserts, pre-chopping veggies for turkey stuffing and side dishes, and pre-making casseroles. Store extra ice for drinks in freezer bags so you won’t run out. You can even cook the turkey days before the meal, freeze it, and then thaw it several hours before Thanksgiving dinner. It will still turn out moist, juicy, and delicious.
Try It Out
New recipes and equipment can be stressful the first time you try them. Avoid headaches on Thanksgiving by taking your tools for a test drive prior to the holiday. Whether you’ll be serving a new wine, using a new meat thermometer, cooking in an unfamiliar oven, or making a dish that you’ve never created before, try it out beforehand when the pressure is off. You’ll save yourself from unpleasant surprises by learning what you need to know in advance.
Thaw the Bird
Nothing can spoil Thanksgiving faster than discovering the turkey won’t be ready in time for dinner. For perfect turkey timing, you must start planning long before November 24th. Unless you’ve cooked and frozen your bird in advance, be sure to allow three days for defrosting. You want it to be thawed and ready to brine (marinated in salty water) or air dry four days before the meal. To ensure this, transfer your turkey from freezer to fridge one full week before Thanksgiving.
Learn to Delegate!
Don’t try to be a Thanksgiving superman or woman by taking on too much. Holidays are about sharing—and that includes the workload. Though most of the responsibility will naturally fall on the host, you can relieve yourself of some stress by assigning jobs to guests in advance. Family and friends can bring drinks or side dishes, or take on tasks like turkey-carving or table-setting. Clarify responsibilities before the day arrives to avoid last-minute confusion.
Orchestrate the Final Hours
When you plan in advance, fixing a feast becomes much less daunting. The work that remains will mostly be finishing touches. Some day-of preparations include:
- stuffing, roasting, and basting the turkey
- making the gravy
- reheating pre-prepared side dishes
- warming bread
- chilling wine
- garnishing the desserts
As dinner nears, put the cranberry sauce, butter dish, and gravy boat on the table. Make room in the fridge for leftovers and prepare to enjoy an amazing meal.
Forgive, Forget, and Give Thanks
With so much to coordinate, you can expect that something will go wrong. Whether Aunt Betty forgot the pumpkin pie or the gravy turned out too thick, holiday snafus are par for the course. Take these bumps in stride, remembering that the true meaning of Thanksgiving is not to show off a perfect table or turkey, but to feel gratitude for all that you have.