Turkey Day Meal Planning Guide
Plan Your Thanksgiving
Playing host for any meal can be trying, but when that meal happens to be Thanksgiving, stress levels increase.
Like all holidays, Thanksgiving brings special challenges. Coordinating timing for multiple dishes makes proper meal planning crucial.
Whether you’re cooking for two people or 10, these tips will help you navigate through each part of the day to create a memorable holiday feast.
To be sure that food is ready by mealtime, it’s important to get an early start. Jump-start your preparations first thing in the morning by doing the following:
- Clean the turkey—don’t forget to remove the giblets from the cavity.
- If you’re using giblets for the gravy, simmer them, adding water until tender and keep them refrigerated in liquid.
- If you don’t have a disposable roasting pan, prepare your pan by wrapping it in foil and placing the turkey on it. Keep the roasting pan in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
- Make the stuffing of your choice, then cover and refrigerate it.
- Defrost breads and prepare any pre-dinner snacks and appetizers.
- Chill wine, beer, and soft drinks.
Four Hours Before Dinner
Mid-day preparations should focus on the turkey. It’s important to stuff the bird and get it in the oven well in advance of mealtime.
A medium-sized turkey generally takes around four hours to cook, though roasting time will depend on the size of the bird. The USDA’s site can help you determine how long you should cook your bird.
Fill the turkey with the stuffing that you prepared in the morning. Then, put it in the oven to roast. Use a meat thermometer to monitor its progression.
Two to Three Hours Before Dinner
Now that the turkey is in the oven, you can turn your attention to other dishes:
- Prepare any side dishes and desserts that were not pre-prepared. Let them stand at room temperature or refrigerate if they’re ready more than an hour before the turkey is served.
- Clean green beans. Cover and set them aside.
- Cook the yams or sweet potatoes.
- Peel and cube potatoes, then simmer until tender.
One Hour Before Dinner
The smell of a Thanksgiving feast will probably get some stomachs growling at this point. Just a few more steps before everyone can eat. Remember to:
- set out appetizers and serve beverages
- fill the sugar bowl and butter dish
- make a salad
- enlist kids to help set the table
- prepare a small pitcher of half-and-half or milk for coffee and refrigerate until after dinner
Half an Hour Before Dinner
The turkey is done and now it’s time to put the finishing touches on the meal:
- Remove the bird from the oven and let it cool for 20 minutes before carving.
- Start the gravy, using the giblets you prepared in the morning along with turkey drippings.
- Mash the potatoes.
- Reheat the bread, vegetables, and side dishes in the oven, on the stovetop, or in the microwave.
- Place the cranberry sauce, vegetables, and other sides in serving bowls and move them to the table.
- Dress the salad and put the bread, butter dish, salt and pepper shakers, and wine on the table.
Get everyone seated before the food cools and don’t forget to:
- whisk the gravy and pour it into a gravy boat
- pop open some wine for the table
- place a pitcher of water on the table (and be sure everyone has a water glass to help themselves)
- make sure every dish has a serving spoon
After the guests have enjoyed the meal and everyone is full, the meal isn’t over. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without dessert and coffee!
- Brew coffee and tea and set out milk, half-and-half, sugar, and tea bags.
- Put finishing touches (like whipped cream) on pies, and serve dessert.
- Make sure all leftovers are wrapped and refrigerated within two hours of the meal.
- Go on an after-dinner stroll together if weather permits to aid digestion and relax after a successful meal.