This is the time of year when our sarcasm kicks up. Everything we read suggests that hosting a six-course Thanksgiving Martha-style is as easy as (pumpkin) pie. But creating an elaborate feast that nourishes family and friends is not a simple thing, particularly when each person carries with them their own personal holiday bible (and collection of must-cook dishes, like that green bean casserole circa 1950).
We make elaborate meals every day for a living, so we can attest that pulling off a memorable meal for friends and family takes a lot of planning and work! But like anything that takes a considerable amount of time and effort, it can be a fantastically fun and empowering experience — a privilege, even — to host your own Thanksgiving, whether it’s your first or 50th time. And it can be a whole lot easier if you start now. This minute. Just follow our timeline for a stress-free turkey day.
We’ll break everything down into manageable chunks, beginning with this weekend, with week-by-week installments to ensure you have everything ready for the big day by the 24th, allowing you to enjoy the celebration, stress-free, with guests. Begin by printing out our checklist of all the essentials you need, then start with the tasks below. If you get through these steps this weekend, the week of Thanksgiving will be a joy. We promise!
1. Collect Ideas
Start gathering together all of your recipe and table décor inspirations and pin them to a board above your desk or in your kitchen.
2. Plan the Menu
Decide what you want to make and what you want to delegate and start delegating. Print or copy all recipes and place them in a folder. Click here for the best tips and recipes for the meal.
3. Enlist Helpers
If kids are coming, ask them now if you’d like them to make something special for the table. Sarah’s family still whips out laminated place mats her now-adult sister made for each person in their family. You won’t believe how sweet and chic they look on a table set with her mother’s best. Other ideas include pinecone turkeys, or construction paper turkey hats for all the guests. (Photo courtesy of iStock/SJLocke)
4. Make a Detailed Shopping List
When you’ve got what seems like a million stops to make, and the stress of local traffic on top of it, doing shopping can be overwhelming, leaving you bound to forget something crucial to the meal. That’s where an uber-organized list, sorted by store and section — produce, pantry, meat, bakery, wine, etc. — comes in handy.
Break it down by what day you need to buy everything (non-perishables and ingredients for pie crusts need to be purchased now for next week; perishables for the big meal can be bought days before Thanksgiving). Include ingredients for a big pot of soup, a green salad, and a loaf of good bread. You’ll see why in the second week. To minimize extra trips, call ahead to ensure your market will have what you need (like special berries, if they tend to run out easily) and they can set it aside.
You will be so happy you took the time to do this now when you’re relaxing with a glass of wine two nights before T-Day!
5. Make a Timeline
Decide what dishes can be made ahead (For example, cranberries and salad dressing can be made two days in advance, and most desserts can be made the day before.) and work backwards from the time you want to serve dinner, taking into consideration how long each dish will take (even if it’s six detailed pages long). Then pin the timeline to your inspiration board so you don’t lose it.
6. Take Inventory
Using our Entertaining Thanksgiving Checklist, Make sure you have enough pots, pans, baking dishess, and platters to prepare your meal and plate it. Count your plates and glasses. Make sure your knives are sharp. Do you want to use a tablecloth or not? If so, is it clean and ironed? Is the silver polished (if you're using it)? What about serving utensils? Storage containers to hold all the leftovers (and maybe takeout containers, to send food home with guests)? Now is also a great time to iron those holiday napkins and make sure you have enough candles to make your table glow all night. (Photo courtesy of iStock/SJLocke)
7. Order Your Bird
If you haven’t already — this is kind of a big one. Plan on one and a half pounds of turkey per person. 'Cause you're going to want leftovers, too.
Better now than never. No one wants to fall ill the Sunday before Thanksgiving!
Check back here next week for the next installment!