Thanksgiving Prep Made Easy

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. You’re surrounded by people that you care about, sharing a delicious feast that took hours to prepare, and you can eat as much pie as you want {who doesn’t love that?}. Ever since I was 16-years old, I’ve helped prepare a semi-homemade Thanksgiving meal for my family, but as I got older and gained more kitchen experience I’ve taken on preparing the entire Thanksgiving feast. My Thanksgiving prep work eventually earned me the nickname Martha as in THE Martha Stewart from my family and we jokingly say that I’m the Asian Martha {HAH!}.

One of the things that I used to struggle with was being there in the moment on Thanksgiving Day. Instead of being able to have quality time with my family, I was hustling and bustling around in the kitchen making sure this or that was done. Because of this experience, I would love to share tips and tricks that has helped me the past few years with Thanksgiving prep. We typically have a sit down meal at the table with all the sides and trimmings spread out but I believe that these tips can be applied towards a buffet type of meal for large gatherings as well.

Two Weeks Out

  • Decide what to make and how to make it happen
  • Look up recipes and print them out
  • Create a grocery list

What will you be making? Will it be a potluck? Are you just having a turkey? Will you have ham or any other main dish to accompany your turkey? Will you be preparing the turkey or ordering it from somewhere delicous? What side dishes will there be and how many should there be? There are just so many things to consider so if you start thinking about it early you will feel less pressure as Thanksgiving approaches. 

My immediate and extended family never eats turkey unless it’s Thanksgiving so I always prepare two 12 pound birds. This helps me cut out the ham and any other meat dishes. There is a dressing, cranberry sauce, two potato dishes, two veggie dishes, gravy, and LOTS of desserts. 

There are some dishes that I can NOT leave out for my family like my sweet potato soufflé but I like to switch the other ones around each year. I spend hours scouring the internet for the “best” side dishes and reading through most of the comments to see what was tried and true. If I like it, I print it out with the picture for reference and file it for safe keeping {yep, I have a thanksgiving folder. I take it very seriously.} Also, you can shrink the recipe so that it all fits on one page.  Nothing worse than trying to read a recipe from the small screen of your phone and having to swipe to see the next step with dirty fingers.  

Finally, create a Thanksgiving prep grocery list. Growing up I watched my mom make my poor dad run to the grocery store multiple times because she forgot an ingredient. Having all of those printed recipes will make this process easier. I always shop at my local HEB so I know the layout of my store by heart. You can also go online and find the store’s layout and a printable shopping list to help make your grocery trip more efficient. No more running back across the store because you forgot a vegetable. 

One Week Out

  • Work on tablescape and decoration
  • Decide what types of dishes and serving platters to use
  • Layout the plates 
  • Cooking checklist

Think minimal for the tablescape. A simple white table cloth with a runner down the middle is perfect. I actually use kraft paper that comes in a roll as my table runner. It screams rustic charm and the color adds warmth against the white table cloth {wait for it…I like the disposable paper ones from Sams.} Add a few candles, greenery, or small pumpkins for some charm. You don’t want to put too much in the middle since the serving plates will go there as well.

Do you like to use the nice plates and silverware on thanksgiving or disposable all the way? I have tried both ways and I have to say that I’m more for disposable. ONLY because I spent so much time cooking already and mountains of dishes are the LAST thing that I want to do after Thanksgiving dinner. I like the pretty set that is sold at Sam’s Club or Walmart. I do however break out the pretty serving platters and I don’t mind washing these.

Figure out which platters or bowls will hold each dish on the menu. I like to write down the name of the dish on a sticky note and place them in the appropriate serving vessel before arranging them on the table for a run through. Think different elevations for your table spread. I use a lot of my cake stands, bowls flipped upside down with plates on top of them, etc. This way you can maximize the space that you have and it’s eye catching.

Make a Thanksgiving prep list and check it twice! I do this habitually every week at the bakery and it helps me keep track of what I need to do every day so it only made sense that I made a checklist for the days leading up to Turkey Day. I make a list for Sunday-Thursday that breaks down everything that needs to be prepped and cooked….all the way down to the time that it needs to go in. This way I won’t forget to do something {see bullet two of the next section}.  

Thanksgiving Week

  • Namecards
  • Thaw the turkey 
  • Mise en place

Designated seating is perfect if you know that someone enjoys talking to another person more or for keeping two people from butting heads at the table. I love using name cards to set the seating arrangements for my family. Over the years, I’ve printed them out, attempted hand calligraphy, sugar cookies with their name scribed on it, and had the children decorate name cards for me. One year we found out that my kids have been saying their uncle’s name incorrectly for the past 5 years. The pronunciation was very close but the written version of it was wayyyyyyyy off. It brought a lot of laughter and joy to the table as we sat down to say grace. 

Thaw the turkey. You must thaw the turkey before brining, dry rub, or marinating it. Don’t forget. I’m just going to leave it at that {LOL}.

Do your mise en place {a fancy French term that I picked up from watching Top Chef}. It just means that you have all of your ingredients measured, cut, peeled, sliced, etc before cooking. Everything is prepped so that you can cut down on your time in the kitchen on the big day. I chopped all of my veggies on Monday and place them in containers or baggies in the fridge labeled and ready to go. If a recipe can be prepared ahead of time like on Wednesday, do it! That way you only need to warm it up on feast day.

Additional things to consider

  • No appetizers
  • Doing something special together

Who else starves the whole day to make room for the feast? I sure do and so does a lot of my friends and family. I used to have a whole appetizer spread awaiting them as my family arrives and I’m still working on Thanksgiving prep but what ends up happening is that they fill their bellies up with that before the big meal. So for the last 5 years, no one is allowed to graze on appetizers before dinner. Beers and wine are okay!  

You could pull out some cards, gameboards, or watch football together after dinner. One year we all loaded into cars and went to see Christmas lights together. We’ve stood in line for black Friday sales as well. This year I would love for my family to pitch in and create meal bags for children. Everyone can bring an item for the lunch bag and the kids can help decorate it as well. Whatever you choose as long as you’re together that’s all that really matters.

I am thankful for being able to live each day surrounded by the love of my family and friends. I’m thankful for the Houston Moms Blog team and for readers like you that allow me to shared my thoughts with. I wish you all a wonderful holiday and I hope that I can help at least one person with their Thanksgiving prep this year. I would LOVE to hear about your family’s favorite side dish, Thanksgiving tradition or what you’re thankful for this year.

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4 Responses to Thanksgiving Prep Made Easy

  1. Avatar
    Laura Dalton November 17, 2019 at 4:05 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this Christine! I think I’m going to use your tips for printing recipes ahead and getting all the veggies and ingredients measured early. We like to play games after dinner and usually invite close family friends over to have dessert and play with us. We do Thanksgiving the Saturday before so my brother and his family can come for the weekend and we dont feel rushed. That leaves Thanksgiving day for sleeping in, watching movies or football and chill time. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving this year!

    • Christine N
      Christine N November 17, 2019 at 7:01 pm #

      Thank you for reading and sharing my post Laura. I really like your idea of celebrating early and having Thanksgiving day be chill time. Wishing you and your family a restful Thanksgiving break!

  2. Kathryn Y
    Kathryn Y November 18, 2019 at 9:01 am #

    My biggest weakness is that I never have everything ready at the same time. Then I get stuck in the endless repeat of sticking dishes back in the oven to warm. This year, I will use my warmer, never used it before!!

    • Christine N
      Christine N November 18, 2019 at 12:11 pm #

      The warmer! oh my gosh, I’m with you Kathryn. I always forget to use my warmer. I always make sure that my turkeys are done first since it needs time to rest. I precook as many of the dishes as I can the day before that way they only need to be rewarmed the day of. I hope this helps. 🙂

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