Planning an impressive Thanksgiving menu can be enjoyable for many people, while others get a little nervous when tasked with such an undertaking. But getting a head start and staying organized can make planning a Thanksgiving meal much easier than it looks.
Begin by jotting down ideas of which dishes you want to make this year. Traditional foods like turkey and candied yams may be expected, but it’s perfectly acceptable to think outside the box as well. If you won’t be hosting a large crowd, you may want to serve more manageable Cornish hens in place of a larger turkey.
Root vegetables and squash are seasonal foods that can add some autumn flavor to your Thanksgiving dinner table. Potatoes, corn, turnips and parsnips can be served baked or turned into soups and casseroles.
Thanksgiving is a great time to celebrate local foods as well. If certain items are native to your area, such as grains or game, incorporate these foods into the planning.
Once you have established the menu, you can make a list of what can be prepared in advance and what will need to be made shortly before the holiday or the day of.
Separate your shopping accordingly. Any frozen or canned products can be purchased in advance of the holiday rush and stored until use. Frozen turkeys also can be bought weeks before and then thawed out when they need to be cooked. Any dairy products or fresh produce should be purchased a few days before Thanksgiving and freshly prepared for optimal flavor.
Rather than spending all of your time cooking the night before the dinner, mashed potatoes and casseroles can be prepared and frozen, then reheated on Thanksgiving. Some foods actually taste better when flavors have had an opportunity to meld. Even some baked goods can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen until use. Think about preparing batters for cookies or cakes and then storing them in the refrigerator before finishing them on Thanksgiving. Any work you can handle in advance will save you time in the kitchen come the big day.
Timing can be challenging on Thanksgiving. Whenever possible, free up your oven for side dishes and desserts so that you will have ample space inside. A turkey can take up valuable real estate in the oven, so you may want to consider investing in a rotisserie or a deep-fryer so the turkey can be cooked more efficiently elsewhere. Then you will have plenty of oven space for heating side dishes and desserts.
Dense foods should be placed in the oven first to enable them to heat thoroughly. Finger foods and appetizers may only need brief heating. Do not underestimate the power of the outdoor barbecue for quickly heating up foods if you are short on space in the kitchen.
Delegate some of the work to others on Thanksgiving so you and your family can better enjoy the holiday. Encourage guests to bring their favorite items to serve buffet- or pot-luck style for Thanksgiving. This not only cuts down on the amount of work for the host and hostess, but gives guests an opportunity to showcase their culinary skills as well.
Desserts are often labor-intensive elements of entertaining. Precision in measuring and preparing helps guarantee success. If you do not have the time to bake this Thanksgiving, serve store-bought cakes and save yourself the hassle, or ask guests to bring desserts so you can focus your attention on the main meal.
While prepping for the Thanksgiving dinner, keep the dishwasher empty so you can easily load items as they are used and keep kitchen clutter to a minimum. Increasing the number of finger foods can help reduce the number of dishes used while cutting down on post-holiday clean-up.
When preparing for the meal, keep storage containers at the ready. Have guests fill up take-away containers with leftovers before the table is cleared so that no food goes to waste. Promptly refrigerate all leftovers so that they are safe to enjoy later on.
Thanksgiving is a time when big meals are customary and a good deal of work is required. Breaking down the work into manageable tasks helps the holiday go off without a hitch.