Even with a more timid holiday seasons like 2020 calls for the holidays to be, Thanksgiving can feel a bit overwhelming. There’s just SO much to do! How do you get it all done and keep your sanity and still serve a delicious meal?!
With each year, I learn something new to help me be more efficient, more productive and most of all more prepared for the big day! Here are my most used tips and tricks to help it all go smoothly and to help you look like a pro at this turkey day stuff!
Backwards planning is important because the number one questions your guests will ask is, “What time is dinner?!” You don’t have to be exact, but knowing the approximate time you want to serve dinner helps you know when to cook the turkey, it helps you know when you need to warm up or start your sides. So count backwards from the time you want to eat, allowing enough time to let the bird sit and rest for about 30 minutes and time to carve. The general rule of thumb is 15 minutes per pound unstuffed and 18 minutes per pound of stuffed turkey.
But maybe that’s a little too far ahead of where you are…
Generally, I start actually planning for Thanksgiving in October. It’s nothing intense, and most planning sessions for anything should never be intense! Write down what you plan to make for breakfast, lunch, and then of course the dinner. Include appetizers and if you are having guests over, touch base with them on what they are thinking about bringing, if anything.
Two weeks before
Then, two weeks before the big day I do a major shopping trip. I don’t like to have to try to find these things the week or even just days before the big day. Even on normal years it can be hard to find that seasoning or ingredient you forgot. Go through your menu item by item and write down everything you need to make each dish. Then check your pantry and cross off items you know for a fact that you have like seasonings, flour etc. Make a list of the things you need to have and shop early! Buy everything that will last for the two weeks before and save only the delicate items for closer to the date. I usually only go out on the week of for asparagus and salads. Most other produce will be strong enough to last longer than a few days in the fridge.
The weekend before
The Saturday before: I pull the turkey out of the freezer and put it in the fridge. Keep it on a large plate or baking pan to catch any liquids that will start to leak out to help keep the refrigerator clean. Allow at least one full day of thawing per 4 pounds of turkey, so a 20 pounder needs at least 4 FULL days to thaw. We have a pretty big turkey this year! (My mother-in-law gifted it to us)
Sunday before: I go over my plans for the week and double check that I have what I need to make the week go smoothly. A few minutes of planning and double checking saves you the heartache of going out for butter the night before Thanksgiving and having to drive to three different stores to find real butter! I spend the rest of the day just keeping up on housework (to keep the mess to a minimum) and relaxing to prepare for what lies ahead.
The week of
Monday: Bake the pies. I swear most baked goods taste best a day or two after baking them. Especially homemade pumpkin pies! I bake them early to allow the flavors to develop, make sure my crust goes okay (I’m terrible at crust and usually go with store bought rolled dough). I also do this early because these can be the most time consuming! I gotta keep up with my cleaning schedule so I will also clean the bathroom (and finish my deep cleaning in there) and of course my morning and night routines (they only take an hour or so to do!) I also make sure I have all of the serving ware that I need, I go through all of the bowls and serving spoons and everything and make sure that I have enough of everything and that nothing is broken. This is also a great time to make sure all the serving ware is clean and dust free and ready to go. I also label them quickly with a post it note, because that will ensure that anyone who helps me on Thursday knows what needs to go in each bowl so that I’m not left with the salad going in the largest bowl and the smallest bowl being all that I have left for the mashed potatoes! Other than baking the pies, this only takes me an hour between my cleaning schedule and time to go through everything.
Tuesday: Make cranberry orange sauce (another thing that just gets better after sitting in the fridge for a couple days). Figure out where you want to set up the buffet. Are you doing a small dinner and can fit everything on the dining table? Do you need to clear off the coffee bar, or use the island as a buffet? Do a quick test run to make sure it all fits on the space you plan to use. You don’t want to be frustrated when it’s crunch time on Thursday and you didn’t account for everything to fit in the area you plan to serve it from!
Wednesday: it’s crunch time! Today’s work is ALL about making tomorrow easier! One of my favorite time saving tricks for the big day is to peel the potatoes the day before and keep them in the pan, or a large bowl, filled with water in the fridge. Keeping them in the water and in the fridge stops them from browning and when it’s time to cook them, you just pull them out and either put the pan on the stove or pour the bowl of them into a pan on the stove (or use an even better trick and cook them in the instant pot!) Wednesday is also dining room day so I’ll do a good clean in there especially because that’s where we will all be gathered and eating. I also plan to get some homemade cinnamon rolls going so that they are ready for breakfast the next day (one less thing to cook that day) and do one last tidy of the kitchen, making sure all the dishes are done and everything is ready for the next day! One last thing I need to do is to set some bacon in the fridge to thaw so that we can fry it up tomorrow to go with breakfast and if I’m feeling like being extra I’m sure I can set some aside for the sides!
Now back to that backwards planning….
We’re still on the fence if we are going to bake the bird or if my husband is going to fry it. We’re waiting to see what the weather will be like that day. But here’s a normal schedule that includes me planning to bake the turkey for Thanksgiving day
8 am. Breakfast: Cinnamon rolls and bacon. Orange juice. Make batch of cranberry punch (orange juice and Canada Dry cranberry soda)
9 am. Spinach artichoke dip in big crock pot (for appetizer on charcuterie board)
10 am. Prep bird to bake
11 am. Bird MUST be started by now if not sooner.
11:30 Set up charcuterie board (meats, cheeses, grapes, crackers, breads, artichoke dip) This counts as lunch because, well, that’s how it goes on Thanksgiving!
Noon: squash in small crock pot on high (I use frozen, so it only needs to heat through and be seasoned)
1 Pm. Potatoes in instant pot (will take a little longer than usual because the potatoes will be cold from sitting in the fridge)
2 pm. Asparagus in butter with seasonings (fresh, but only takes a couple minutes to chop up and then fry)
Boil corn on stove (from frozen)
2-2:30 Bird out if baking
3 Carve bird and set up buffet (remember you already set up the buffet this week so this second time should go pretty quickly!)
Around 4 I’ll usually start a pot of coffee and boil water (If anyone wants tea) and set out the pies for dessert.
You’ve worked hard all week, your family can do the darn dishes while you put your feet up and relax for a bit knowing that in just a little work each day you tackled this job and it didn’t need to be nearly as overwhelming as you thought it might be! Job well done!
Do you have any time saving tips to help others through the holiday dinners? Leave them in a comment below and share the wealth!
Until next time friends!