Thanksgiving Dinner Planning – Tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving

It is already time to start planning for Thanksgiving. Send out your Thanksgiving Day invitations then start thinking about all things turkey, potatoes, pie, family, friends and football. There can be a lot of details to manage. To help limit potential stress, we’ve put together a time line to help you organize what you’ll need ahead of time.

Two Weeks Before Thanksgiving:

Getting started.

  • Make a guest list and send out invites. Check out our creative Thanksgiving invitations. You can customize them and make them just right for your event.
  • If you have decided to have people to help you, either by bringing parts of the meal (wine, dessert, appetizers, side dishes) or by coming early to help in the kitchen, make sure everyone knows what they are bringing and if they should bring along serving dishes and utensils.
  • Write out the menu and a shopping list (read over each recipe and make your grocery list from the recipe). If you need any recipes ideas, check out our Thanksgiving menu ideas.
  • Write out a cooking schedule and timetable. Indicate the dishes you can make ahead, those that can be frozen, and those that must be cooked at the last minute.
  • If you are going to serve a fresh turkey, place your order at your local butcher or grocery store.
  • To figure out how big of a turkey you need, estimate that each guest will eat about 1.3 pounds, and then round up: 8 guests: 8 x 1.3 = 10.4. Your turkey should weigh at least 11 pounds. 13 guests: 13 x 1.3 = 16.9. So the bird should weigh at least 17 pounds.
  • Once you have decided on your menu, make sure your have all the kitchen equipment you will need to prepare all your dishes. It’s a good idea to invest in a large roasting pan if you are roasting the turkey. You will need a good meat thermometer. Make sure you also have all the necessary serving ware and carving utensils.
  • If youre baking pies for dessert, make the dough for the crust, roll it out, lay it into pie plates, wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze. NOTE: The recommended storage time for unbaked pastry is less than two months.
  • Decide how you are going to cook your turkey. If you choose to barbecue, deep fry, or smoke your turkey, you will not be able to stuff it. Stuffing will have to be made as a side dish.

One Week Before Thanksgiving:

  • Clean out the refrigerator to make room for the Thanksgiving groceries and prepared dishes. Even if it feels unnecessary, you’ll be glad you did it!
  • Do your shopping now and purchase all non-perishables. It’s best to wait until the day before Thanksgiving to buy salad greens, fresh veggies and bread, or seafood.
  • Buy all the ingredients listed for your recipes and put the frozen turkey in the coldest part of your freezer.
  • Check your guest list to see if the number of dinner guests has changed. Adjust recipes as needed for more or less guests.

4 Days Before Thanksgiving:

  • If you’re bought a frozen turkey, you’ll need to thaw it. Every 5 pounds of turkey will require 24 hours of thaw time in the refrigerator (i.e. a 15-pound bird will take 3 full days). Start defrosting the frozen turkey in the coldest part of the refrigerator, in the back. – NEVER DEFROST A TURKEY AT ROOM TEMPERATURE, since bacteria multiplies and breeds at room temperature.
  • The following information on thawing turkeys is from the National Turkey Federation:

Refrigerator Turkey Thawing Time (40 degrees F)

Turkey Weight – Days to allow for thawing turkey
8 to 12 pounds – 2 to 2.5 days
12 to 16 pounds – 2.5 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds – 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds – 5 to 6 days

If you need to thaw the turkey more quickly, you may thaw the bird in COLD water, in the original wrapping. The cold water must be changed every 30 minutes. Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound using this method.

COLD Water Turkey Thawing Time

Turkey weight -hours to allow for thawing turkey
8 to 12 pounds – 4 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds – 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds -8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds – 10 to 12 hours

3 Days Before Thanksgiving:

  • To take some of the stress off Thanksgiving day, get your table linens ironed, designate serving platters, and make sure your glassware and silver sparkles. These are great tasks to delegate to your kids and spouse.
  • Make cranberry sauce and refrigerate.
  • Prepare other sauces, jellies, and dressings (as needed); store in the refrigerator.

2 Days Before Thanksgiving:

  • Do the majority of house cleaning. The most important areas are the kitchen and bathrooms the guests will be using. Resist the temptation to redecorate or rearrange. This is another great task to delegate to the kids!
  • If you are making a gelatin dish, make it now and store in the refrigerator.

1 Day Before Thanksgiving:

  • Finish preparing any pies that you are making.
  • Shopping Day – Purchase perishable items such as salad, veggies and bread. Pick up fresh turkey if ordered.
  • Prepare all the ingredients for a dish in advance that you can, such as washing, trimming and chopping vegetables; setting out your spices and herbs, etc. Clean and dry salad greens, and store in a resealable plastic bag.
  • Make relish plate (olives and pickles)
  • Create your centerpieces and place cards. For ideas check out our Thanksgiving decoration Ideas.
  • Set your table. Set out your best dishes, silver and linens or whatever you like to use for the holidays. Doing this the night before is one less thing to worry about the day of.

Thanksgiving Day:

  • Morning: Remove the turkey from the refrigerator, allowing it to sit for ninety minutes to two hours at room temperature. Meat tends to cook better when you take the “chill” off of it before cooking.
  • Depending on the size of your turkey, youre going to need to start working on it five to seven hours before you plan to eat. Check out our Cooking A Turkey article for approximate roasting times.
  • Make sure that you take the giblets and neck out of the inside of the turkey. Rinse the the turkey in cool water, pat dry, season, and dress it according to your taste and traditions.
  • Prepare stuffing and stuff the turkey. It takes about 45 minutes to clean and stuff a turkey. Never stuff the turkey with stuffing and then refrigerate it overnight or hours in advance; food poisoning will result.
  • Prepare the turkey according to your recipe. If roasting your turkey; baste every 30 minutes with pan juices.
  • Check the temperature using an instant read thermometer. Always use a meat thermometer. Cooking time will vary by different ovens and whether or not the turkey is stuffed. Remember to leave time for the turkey to stand before carving.
  • Complete the vegetable dishes. Reheat before the meal.
  • Make the mashed potatoes.
  • Remove the turkey from oven and make the gravy according to your recipe.
  • Warm breads or rolls.
  • Garnish desserts.

As guests arrive, set out a small appetizer for people to graze on (fresh raw veggies and dip is good one). You do not want your guests to fill up on the appetizer, just whet their appetite and keep them happy!

Sit down and relax! Enjoy some apple cider or a glass of wine. Then when the meat is carved, eat up and enjoy all your hard work. After you’ve had your fill, settle in for a nice post-feast nap before the clean up begins.

You did it!! A successful, stress free holiday meal! Be sure and refrigerate your turkey carcass if you plan to use it to make stock. Also, check out Advice on Handling Leftovers Safely. If you need some ideas for using your leftovers, check out these Thanksgiving leftover recipes.

Planning tips inspired by what’scookingamerica

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